Guest Blogger

From Fall intern Molly Kennedy:

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the faltering economy is forcing schools to tighten their belts. The number one cost-saving step school districts have already taken? Altering thermostats. That's according to a survey by the American Association of School Administrators. Other steps include hiring reductions, fewer supplies, larger class sizes, and a decrease in extracurricular activities. Read media coverage of the survey here, here and here.

Thermostat photograph from midnightcomm on Flickr...
The Education Gadfly

(Due to technical difficulties, we're giving everyone another chance to enter the name-the-next-education-secretary contest. If you already entered, please enter again).

Think you know your who's who in education policy? Well here's your chance to prove it. Don't wait! Cast your vote by 6:00 p.m. Friday and enter to win an autographed copy of Checker Finn's Troublemaker! Just email us your best guess to If multiple people pick the eventual nominee, books will go to the first three entrants. So vote today! Winners will be announced as soon as the nomination is made.

So reports the Associated Press. Will our Washington Insiders believe him? Diane Ravitch will be disappointed if he's serious. (So will I.)

I attended an advisory panel meeting today for a study looking at how to retain talented Gen Y teachers in the classroom. I was rather skeptical from the beginning, as I doubt that it's possible to keep talented young people in any job for more than a few years. The nature of most young high-achievers is that they want a variety of challenges and experiences.

Still, two profound insights surfaced today, both of which were new to me. First, one participant (a former teacher turned district official) argued that one of the most powerful levers for keeping great people in the classroom is to let go of ineffective teachers. Survey data from Education Sector's recent report on teachers, Waiting to be Won Over , backs this up. Great teachers are endlessly frustrated by watching colleagues who are burned out, putting in minimal hours, and doing harm to children. And if they don't see leaders address these underperformers, the high performers are going to go someplace else. (I think that's true in any workplace, by the way.)

So that leads us to a conversation about tenure reform, right? No, not necessarily. The...

Maybe it was Diane Ravitch's strong arguments, or perhaps our insiders took a peek at this document, but former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt has taken a tiny lead over Chicago schools superintendent Arne Duncan in the race for 400 Maryland Avenue (previous results here and here). Meanwhile, NYC Chancellor Joel Klein is hanging tough, and has now moved into third place. Which I can't quite understand. Don't you have to assume that AFT president Randi Weingarten will have a veto over any Obama nominees for the ed sec job? And wouldn't she use it when it comes to Klein? (Especially in light of this petition which urges Obama to go in another direction.)

Still, our ten insiders have spoken:

Keep your eye on Atlanta superintendent Beverly Hall; David Hoff, for one, says she's a real contender. Other folks mentioned today: Peter McWalters, Jon Schnur, Susan Castillo, Tom Payzant, Kathleen Sebelius, Erskine Bowles, Bob Wise, and Roy Romer.


Laura Pohl

The Los Angeles Times reports that several charter schools in California are outperforming traditional public schools in the state when it comes to serving children in poverty. Ben Chavis, the head of American Indian Public Charter said it's easier to teach poor students because they are more motivated than affluent students. "It's the opposite of what everybody says," he said. "It's easier to do it with the poor kids and the minority kids because they have nothing, so they should be the highest." Read more here.

It's Day Two of Fordham's pick-the-next-secretary-of-education daily tracking poll (results from day one are here), and Chicago superintendent Arne Duncan and former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt have established themselves as the early favorites. Colin Powell is still in the hunt (no pun intended), though perhaps our insiders are wondering about the likelihood that he'd say yes were President-Elect Obama to offer him the job. Meanwhile, Freeman Hrabowski, the one higher education expert listed yesterday, has apparently fallen out of contention. Keep your eyes on Virginia governor Tim Kaine, who pops up on the radar screen for the first time today.

Other mentions (in this order): Beverly Hall, Erskine Bowles, Caroline Kennedy, Chris Edley, Paul Vallas, Bob Wise, Roy Barnes, and Roy Romer. No longer named by anyone: Andy Rotherham, Kati Haycock, Norm Francis, and Michael Bennet, plus, as mentioned above, Freeman Hrabowski.

Today we live in a different country than we did even 10 days ago. Back then we were partaken with partisanship and infected with invectiveness. Now we watch with awe as the sitting president and the president-elect prepare for yet another peaceful, democratic transition of power. We strain to get a glimpse of the new First Family. We wonder where the girls will go to school. It's as if the mass catharsis of last Tuesday night's river of choked-up tears washed away all of the ugliness of the long election season.

So it is in that spirit that I respond to Leo Casey's post from a fortnight ago, when he accused me of taking up the "politics of resentment and fear" by pursuing "???divide and conquer' strategies designed to set working people against each other."

With pages right out of a Depression era playbook, he proclaims that public school teachers and retirees - not Wall Street financiers and the corporate benefactors of his rightwing political friends - enjoy unearned and undeserved privilege. Our sinecures? Nothing more than our health care insurance and our pensions. Father Coughlin and Huey Long meet the


Columnist Richard Cohen caught my eye today by endorsing Al Gore for secretary of state, but much of his column is spent suggesting Joel Klein for secretary of education: to Gore at State, nothing would show how much the Obama administration will break from the past than by elevating the secretary of education to the inner Cabinet. My choice: Joel Klein , New York City's schools chancellor.

Many people lament all the energy that is not being drilled for offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge . But far fewer people get as exercised over the brainpower that is not being tapped in this country on account of an inexcusably awful education system. Klein would change that by, among other things, altering the way teachers are compensated. Good teachers would earn more than average teachers and teachers who want to teach in the toughest, meanest and most desperate schools would earn most of all.

Teachers unions -- another Democratic Party interest group -- hate merit pay, so here's another opportunity for Obama to prove his mettle. The object is to reverse the current situation, in which


"Michelle Obama visits Washington private schools "

The soon-to-be first lady toured Georgetown Day School in the morning and Sidwell Friends School, which Chelsea Clinton attended, in the afternoon. In between, she spent about two hours visiting the residential portion of the White House with first lady Laura Bush. Their husbands met privately in the Oval Office.