The Education Gadfly

We heard from a reliable little bird that Judith Winston, the Department of Education's former General Counsel and Under Secretary under Clinton, has been tapped to lead Obama's education transition team. Ms. Winston wouldn't confirm or deny the information to the Gadfly but said in a phone call that the transition team "announcements should be made tomorrow or early next week." Hmmm.....

Guest Blogger

Fall intern Molly Kennedy offers up this reading:

First came Michelle Rhee's plan to swap teacher tenure for higher pay. Now comes Pittsburgh Public Schools with another type of possible financial incentive: bonuses for top-notch teachers who choose to work in lower-performing schools. Currently, contracts with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers are based on years of service and education level and don't take location into consideration. Many urban districts have a hard time attracting high-quality, experienced teachers, who have have more say over where they teach as their seniority increases. "It's not an easy issue to address," said Dr. Linda Lane, the deputy superintendent for instruction. You can read more of the article here.

The Education Gadfly

DC media speculation has begun in earnest regarding where Sasha and Malia will attend school and Mike is getting in on the action, recently quoted in DC City Paper's Loose Lips blog .

It's here and it's hot. Leading off this week is Ascend Learning President and Ed Sector Senior Fellow??Steven Wilson. What's he musing over? The scalability of superstar charter organizations. Sure, there aren't enough super smart graduates from top ranking universities to go around but there are other options: legislation that nudges top grads into classrooms, new models made for mere mortals, and more... Up next we tackle the election (of course). Republican or Democrat, you'll find reasons to cheer and fear in this list expectations for the next four (or eight?) years. According to Kevin Carey, who guest co-hosted the podcast this week, one thing we do know (and should cheer) is that Obama is definitely a "self-identified smart person"--and so is Kevin, or so he claims! (You'll have to listen to find out.) Later on, you'll be confronted with more insanity from Wake County, NC and the football crazed antics of a few counties in Georgia. But don't stop! We have an SR for everybody. Stats lovers will find first-year results of the Mathematica teacher induction study. Philanthropists learn about new ways to give with ...

The Education Gadfly

After two years of campaigning and endless punditry and prognosticating, we finally know that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States. So now we need something else to talk about. Here it is: who will be the next Secretary of Education? Does fellow Chicagoan Arne Duncan have the inside lane? Will former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt be the go-to grown-up? Could New Leaders for New Schools founder Jon Schnur bring reformers into power? Or is there a surprise candidate lurking in the heartland?

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 [email protected]. 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.

Clockwise from top left: Jon Schnur, Arne Duncan and Jim Hunt...

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys


By Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli

Reasons for Cheer

1. In a year when the Democratic nominee was practically guaranteed to win the White House, the most reform-minded Democratic candidate won. While his education policies are inchoate and imperfect, Barack Obama's positions on charter schools, merit pay, and even No Child Left Behind point toward a thoughtfulness and willingness to buck the status quo that were strikingly different from the postures of his closest competitors.

2. Support from the teacher unions was not essential to Obama's sweeping victory and frees him--if he's so inclined--to advance policies and programs that they don't love, perhaps starting with charter schools (one of the few issues enjoying bipartisan support during this election).

3. As the first African-American president, Obama will be uniquely positioned to use his bully pulpit to exhort parents, particularly minority parents, to uphold their responsibilities to foster their children's moral and intellectual development. Done right, this could be a powerful complement to whatever formal policies he puts forward.

4. Republican Senators will maintain a hedge against Democrats' worst impulses, keeping as they did the potential for filibuster.... that Andy Rotherham is giving advice to Republicans. On education, he thinks they should "promote sensible middle of the road ideas and rhetoric," as President Bush did during his 2000 campaign. In other words, New Dem Rotherham likes it when Republicans adopt New Dem ideas. You don't say?

Furthermore, he warns the GOP from embracing "the slash and burn and culture war approach of the 1990s" by promoting "a lot of ideas to effectively eviscerate the federal role in education, cut spending, devolve authority to the states and so forth." Hold on, Andy. It's true that the Republicans are always tempted by "culture war" politics, but calling for a more workable federal/state relationship in education is hardly akin to gay-bashing or pushing school prayer.

He then calls Fordham's idea of flipping the federal role in education a "moonshot" which has "little chance of becoming policy." I don't know; a law like NCLB would have once been considered unlikely. But more importantly, shouldn't we think tankers judge education policies by their effectiveness, rather than just their popularity? The Great Society was awfully popular in its day, yet...

Two years ago I complained about the ???apple ballot??? that the Montgomery County Education Association distributed with its election-time endorsements. Well, it's back this year, with ???Teachers Recommend??? still emblazoned prominently (and, in my view, somewhat misleadingly) at the top. But that's nothing compared to this year's great display of teacher union power: Montgomery County schools are not only closed today (purportedly to protect students from intruders, as most schools are used as polling places) but were also closed yesterday.* Which means that MCEA's 12,000 members could spend a long weekend campaigning for Democratic candidates (most likely, across the Potomac in Virginia), and then volunteer at polling places today, all without taking a single hour off of work. That's pretty smart politically, but what's the justification for students to miss two days of school in the middle of the fall semester?

* Update (3:20 p.m.): Fordham Fellow Catherine Cullen tells me that yesterday was a "professional day" for teachers in Montgomery County, meaning they had to work. She's right; this calendar confirms it, though it's still not clear to me if teachers had...

Amy Fagan

As the country decides who'll be the next president, Marylanders may take a gamble for even more ???change??? ??? quite literally. They're deciding whether to legalize slot machines! Supporters, of course, argue that there's a direct link to education -- that the infusion of revenue the machines would create is critically needed in the state, especially for schools. I'm very curious as to whether the majority of Marylanders will agree. And what about the rest of the country ??? do you think it's generally a ???win-win??? situation for a state to use revenues from slots (among other uses) to help educate their children? From previous posts, it seems our own Mike Petrilli (a Marylander!) leans towards a yes, though I refuse to ask him how he voted. Privacy is important, you know ??? that's why the booths have curtains!

Photograph from