Ted Mitchell and Jonathan Schorr of the NewSchools Venture Fund take to the pages of Education Week to praise Sara Mead's and Andy Rotherham's new blueprint for promoting education innovation via the federal government. Now, I could lambaste Ted and Jon* for holding the same utopian views as Sara and Andy when it comes to Uncle Sam's ability to do right in education. But I'm just not in the mood today. Instead, let us celebrate the fact that Democrats are debating how to improve U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement , not how to eliminate it. Because when we created our little office six years ago, we worried a lot about whether another Administration would eventually try to kill it. If Team Obama wants to make it better, I'm ready to declare victory!

* But I can't help but make the ???Petrilli argument ??? one more time, with respect to the ???political futility??? of trying to harpoon the Historic Whaling Program . Don't get me wrong, this initiative is a boondoggle, through and through. (???Whales: The...

You gotta love California. Seems the Golden State, worried that their wee toddlers' arms are too short for proper tree-huggery, will inculcate them with the prerequisite environmentalism another way: through their stomachs. That's the story coming out of San Diego's Neighborhood House Association (NHA) Head Start program, where their 3 and 4 year olds will be fed "organic and nutrient-dense" delicacies to satisfy that noon-time hunger. What's on the menu? No breaded frozen fish sticks or cinnamon muffins for sure. These tots will get "fresh salmon, shrimp, homemade hummus, healthy whole grain bagels and rolls, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables."

Sounds delicious... for children old enough to eat with proper utensils. I'm all for kicking processed, breaded, fried, and canned foods to the curb. But fresh salmon? And hummus? For three year olds? It's a bit ambitious (I've yet to meet a three year old who'll eat mashed chick peas), but I'll give 'em points for effort since school food is??notoriously disgusting.

With California's budget woes in mind, the plan has bottom line benefits too: NHA Director of Nutrition Services Kristine Smith, RD explains: "We balanced our new menu with...

This week, we start off with a double header on the education system's economic woes--and what to do about them. First Checker explains why districts have so much trouble cutting the fat. Enlightening, surely, but not too surprising. What is surprising, though, is that he used this argument back in 2003, the last time our education system was facing a budget crunch (if you don't believe me, go read it yourself!). Seems somethings never change. Then guest editorialist, and political director for ConnCAN,??Marc Porter Magee gives us six suggestions for what states can do to trim their budgets. Instead of bemoaning the sad state of bugetary affairs, he argues, we should take advantage of the recession-caused political will to start cutting where cutting is needed. Further in, you'll hear about the Bush Administrations last NCLB gasp--new regulations, specifically, and most problematically, upping graduating rate reporting requirements--and an Ed Trust study that tries the same argument without any more success. You'll also find out about the proposed??gay high school in Chicago and subsequent uproar. Reviewed this week is a new book edited by Rick Hess (who reveals on the podcast that...

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(A guest post from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Ohio Education Gadfly)

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland's office recently shared his "Roadmap for Academic Reforms," which appears to be the forerunner or prelude to the governor's long-awaited plan for renewing and strengthening K-12 education in Ohio. The present document, regrettably, is not only devoid of specifics but also brimming with catchy buzz phrases and trendy eduspeak nostrums. As a public service to readers, Gadfly has provided the following translation:

Exciting 21st Century Learning Environments:

Governor's proposal: Our schools must become collaborative continuous learning organizations that build a culture of strong relationships, professionalism, collaboration, and common purpose for all students.

Gadfly translates: Our schools will be leaderless, directionless centers of feel-goodism.

Governor's proposal: Our schools must become a place where everyone feels safe, not just through metal detectors, but through high expectations, strong discipline, positive behavior interventions, a nurturing attention to the needs of each person, and a collective sense of responsibility by parents, educators, and community for our students to be competitive in the 21st century.

Gadfly translates: Our schools will not have the intestinal fortitude to rid...

Former Ed Truster Kevin Carey loves Education Trust's trusty new report on graduation rates (timed to coincide with the new NCLB regulations--see, Democrats and Republicans are already working together in Washington!). Said report explores No Child Left Behind's requirement that high schools reach certain graduation rate benchmarks in order to make "adequate yearly progress," and bashes (the many) states that set these grad rate targets low or expect too leisurely a pace of progress. Carey implies that this shows states are gaming the system "in an utterly fraudulent, cynical way."

Well, that may well be true (we've not been shy about blasting states for their low expectations), but Carey leaves out a major factor: the definition of a high school "graduate" is malleable, so aiming to get everyone over that bar might result in the bar itself being lowered. This is not a hypothetical situation; it's exactly the dynamic with NCLB's requirement that 100 percent of students be "proficient" in reading and math by 2014. While this provision hasn't caused a "race to the bottom," it has led to a "walk to the middle" in an environment that discourages...

There's been a lot of debate recently about the degree to which the feds can coerce states or school districts to do things they don't want to do (see here, here, and here, for example). Now there's some new empirical evidence that addresses the question. "Paying for Progress: Conditional Grants and the Desegregation of Southern Schools," written by Fordham Scholar Nora Gordon and her colleagues Elizabeth Cascio, Ethan Lewis, and Sarah Reber, goes back to the desegregation battles of the 1960s and finds, in essence, that the threat of withdrawing federal largesse can motivate districts to change policies. In this case, the more Title I aid a Southern school district received from Uncle Sam, the more likely it was to play ball. But there are some important caveats: first, the amount of desegregation experienced even in these districts was modest. And second, it took a lot of money to get districts to act--on average, $1,000 per pupil, which was 60% of the total per-pupil costs at the time.

What's the take-away for the current conversation around federal education policy? I think it's true that big-time formula funds such as...

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Fall Intern Molly Kennedy offers up this reading:

Alyson Klein of Education Week details a few tight Congressional races in which battling candidates have different views on education issues and how to deal with NCLB. As we all know, the economy has sucked the life out of most other issues and, as a result, despite the need for reauthorization, most candidates offer little more than "broad, largely critical rhetoric on the law without much policy detail," writes Klein. Read more here.

I don't much cotton to this bloggish practice of holding internal conversations in public view, but this time I think Mike is over the top--and he didn't ask my advice before "publishing". He's right about NCLB's built-in flaws and the need to rethink the law??so as to set them right. A fair amount of that is statutory repair work; some, however,??is regulatory. Insofar as it's possible to repair NCLB unilaterally, i.e. by action of the executive branch alone, most??of what the Education Department announced today strikes me as steps in the right direction. Some of it involves imaginative new interpretations of the statutory language and??some is trying to rectify the Department's own regulation/implementation foul-ups the first time around. But better late than never, I say. Why should??Margaret Spellings leave office with problems undealt with (the more so when they're problems she caused or helped to cause)??

Before the 2004 presidential election, it was obvious what the liberal advocacy group Education Trust thought about President George W. Bush. In short, Ed Trust got what it needed from Bush--advocating, as he did, for the No Child Left Behind act, a law that Ed Trust staff played a large role in crafting--and ??would be happy to see him go. But for Education Trust and other liberal reformers, the Bush Administration is the gift that keeps on giving, as the NCLB regulations announced today illustrate. Simply put, there is nothing "conservative" about them.

There was a time when the Bush Administration talked proudly about four "pillars" of NCLB, including "flexibility." Consider these comments from President Bush on January 23, 2001, in announcing his No Child Left Behind proposal at the White House:

The agents of reform must be schools and school districts, not bureaucracies. Teachers and principals, local and state leaders must have the responsibility to succeed and the flexibility to innovate. One size does not fit all when it comes to educating the children in America. School districts, school officials, educational entrepreneurs should not be hindered by excessive rules and red tape


If you're part of an Administration facing epic unpopularity, one that has led 90 percent of Americans to believe the country is on the wrong track--and more than a few to wonder if the nation's best days are behind it--perhaps you should be careful with your imagery. Yet here's Margaret Spellings telling the Associated Press, ??"What's going on right now in our high schools is that kids, lots and lots of minority kids, don't get to the 10th grade. Rome is burning."

And she's going to put out the fire with her new No Child Left Behind regulations, due out by noon today. Stay tuned.

Above: "The burning of Rome" painting by Robert Hubert (1733-1808)