According to an op-ed in this morning's Wall Street Journal, Pennsylvania has the highest incidence of teacher strikes in the country. In fact, 110 school districts are at risk of teachers going on strike in the next 6 months. PA apparently has the ninth highest average teacher salary in the country--$54,970 in 2006-2007. Other interesting facts: 42% of the country's teacher strikes occur in the Quaker State and carry no consequences for teachers or unions (some states fine unions for strikes or make teachers give up salary for days missed). Worst of all, in 2007-2008, kids who were chucked out of classrooms while teachers were on strike were on these strike-vacations for an average of 13 days. That's a lot of school days to miss!

The Education Gadfly

Leaders here at Fordham praised the report Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education, released today by The National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers and Achieve, Inc. Fordham president Checker Finn said:

Though America's belated moves toward international benchmarking and ???common' state standards face many perils--done wrong, they could reignite ???culture wars' and sacrifice vital??U.S. curricular values on the altar of nebulous skills--this is a tremendously important initiative," said Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr.. "That it's happening outside the federal??government avoids some hazards. Now the partner organizations must move expeditiously but wisely through those that remain. I applaud their willingness to do so.

Read the Fordham press release here and read the full report here....

They said it was an impossible dream. But look: a coalition of state organizations has announced that they will work toward common standards in reading and math in grades K-12. This is the "Let's all hold hands" strategy to creating national standards that we outlined over two years ago--and probably the one approach with the greatest likelihood of success. Today's announcement won't get much press attention but it sure will be noticed by historians some day.

Photograph by (nutmeg) from Flickr

What's the cosmic significance of the Arne Duncan pick???The Wall Street??Journal's Gerald Seib, channeling Checker, says that it proves President-Elect Obama's pragmatism:

The real prototype of Obama appointees, though, may be Mr. Duncan, the Chicago schools chief who is to become education secretary. A Harvard graduate, onetime professional basketball player in Australia, and friend of the president-to-be, Mr. Duncan has managed to build a reputation as a school reformer without winning the enmity of the teachers unions that often resist school reforms.

How did he do that? "He's a little bit of a Rorschach figure; you can read into him what you want," says Chester Finn, a conservative education expert who served in the Reagan education department yet praises the Duncan selection. He calls Mr. Duncan a "rounded-edges kind of guy" who has "closed some schools but hasn't had mass layoffs" among teachers. "He's a pragmatist, I guess," Mr. Finn concludes. At this point, at least, that seems an apt description of much of the emerging Team Obama.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, channeling (Fordham trustee) Diane Ravitch, says that it shows that you can be pro-union and pro-school reform:

To declare that the only test


Governor Patterson has proposed cutting nearly $88 million over two years in aid to private independent and parochial schools. The funds, specifically, are $44 million a year that is given to private schools to track and report to the state attendance rates throughout the day (apparently NY state counts noses more than once throughout the school day).

The reactions to this announcement have been pointedly negative:

TEACH New York State balked at the announcement, issuing a release headlined: 'Governor to religious and independent school students: Drop dead.'

"Our families cannot absorb any more strain, and the state cannot afford to continue allowing our schools to close--which will only exacerbate the financial crisis lawmakers are desperately trying to solve," said Richard Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference.

Two things. First of all, sure, families are strained financially...but so is the state...and the state gets (most of) its money in taxes from those same families. I've seen this government-must-keep-paying-because-our-families-are-struggling sentiment again and again over the past few weeks. Where do these people think governments get their dollars? Trees? Sure, the federal government can keep printing more cash, but that's not sustainable in the long term....

The Education Gadfly

The one part of our "open letter" to the incoming Administration and Congress that seems to be surprising folks the most is our call to eliminate No Child Left Behind's public school choice and supplemental educational services (tutoring) provisions. Yes, this proposal is counter-intuitive. We at Fordham??are strong supporters of school choice (Jay Greene, it's true! ), and I personally worked on these initiatives while at the Department of Education. But as I wrote a few years ago , these programs are fundamentally flawed and are incapable of being improved. That's because they rely on school districts to do things they don't want to do, and to do them well. Not likely.

Here's how we put it in our letter:

Though we staunchly support choices for parents and believe in bold action at the state and local level in addressing school failure, this is one area where Uncle Sam should keep out. He should leave it to the states to design their own interventions. If he cannot restrain himself from staying involved, he could provide incentives (i.e., extra money) for states or jurisdictions that tackle these reforms aggressively.

That's a recurring theme for us...

Surely you already know that Bethany Little was the uber-insider that first put big odds on Arne Duncan getting the spot as U.S. Secretary of Education. But we also asked you, our readers, to tell us who you thought would be the pick, and two of you got it right: Steve Glazerman, a senior researcher at Mathematica Policy Research (who surely ran a randomized field trial in order to come up with his prediction); and Gregory McGinity, The Broad Foundation's senior director of policy (himself a onetime Washington insider before returning to California).

For their perspicacity, Glazerman and McGinity will get a special gift from Santa this year: signed copies of Checker Finn's latest book, Troublemaker (which makes a great stocking stuffer for any dedicated education wonk).

I am particularly pleased for McGinity (and not because Broad helps to support Fordham's work), but because, let's face it, his Ed in '08 campaign had more than a little trouble this year. So here's a toast to Gregory for ending the year on a high note!

Picture from Christmas Wallpapers...

Now that there's a Secretary-Designate for the Department of Education, we at Fordham are ready with some advice for him. Today we are releasing an "open letter" to the Obama Administration and the incoming Congress about federal policymaking in the years to come. It's our first official statement on No Child Left Behind (and a few other federal efforts) in several years, and it introduces a new "camp" to the debate: Reform Realists . We think that Arne Duncan just might be a "reform realist" himself. (Of course, everyone thinks Arne Duncan is one of their own , so why should we be any different?)

In the letter, we review the current education policy landscape and its main players, and offer our view of the ideal K-12 federal role. We also address the ten big policy battles that are looming on the horizon. In summary, we think that the various education associations, interest groups, experts and think tanks can be broken down into three major groups with distinct agendas:

  • The System Defenders . This camp believes that the public education system is fundamentally sound
  • ...

That's one of the great points in this strong U.S. News and World Report piece by Eduwonk Andy Rotherham.

Critical thinking and problem solving, for example, have been a component of human progress throughout history, from early tools and agricultural advancements to gunpowder, vaccinations, or exploration. And while "global awareness" has historically been as much a martial talent as an economic one, interconnectedness is not new nor is information literacy among elites. Likewise, the idea that there is a hierarchy of knowledge from facts to complex analysis is not a new one. Plato, for example, wrote about four distinct levels of intellect. Perhaps these were considered "3rd-century B.C. skills"?

Rotherham goes on to defend Core Knowledge-style content from the onslaught of the 21st Century Skills juggernaut. (This is what it looks like in one state.) Amen to that.