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)

I'm not sure whether his analysis about the McCain campaign is spot-on, but how are we supposed to feel about Rich Lowry's depiction of us Gadflies?

When you're a gadfly, you can flit above the substantive debate, because it's your posture rather than your knowledge of policy that matters most.


Gadflies are loners because they spend so much time offending their own side.

Now that rings true.

Amy Fagan

Fordham's Mike Petrilli is participating in an online discussion where panelists--even as I type this--are attempting to answer the question "Do we need a new deal for teachers?" ??Moderator Steve Farkas, of the Farkas Duffett Research Group, kicked things off by wondering which groups are truly interested in a new deal and who will lead the effort to change the status quo. Will it be teacher unions, new teachers, district administrators or legislators?

Mike took an immediate bite at that apple. He argued that "harsh fiscal realities will be the true impetus" for making a new deal for teachers that looks something like higher pay in return for less job security and more modest retirement benefits. ??With baby-boomers' retirement burdening social security and Medicare, competition for public funds will become fierce, the era of ballooning school budgets will end and policymakers will realize that teachers' retirement benefits are unsustainable, he wrote. Eventually, the conversation will turn, he said, to a new system of teacher pay--"one that relies more on 'front-loading' teacher pay and moving to a 401(k) style retirement system."

The ongoing discussion runs today, tomorrow and Thursday and is hosted at Other...

Last week, Mike explained (in the Washington Times), that NCLB needs to be "flipped" on its head. What does he mean? Well, "Right now, NCLB micromanages the formula and timelines by which schools are labeled and sanctioned, yet it allows states total discretion over the academic standards and tests used to judge schools (and kids) in the first place." Instead, he explains,

Provide incentives for states to sign up for rigorous nationwide (not federal) standards and tests. Make the results of this testing publicly available, sliced every which way by school and group. But then allow states and districts (or private entities, such as to devise their own school labels and ratings--and let them decide what to do with schools that need help... [R]easonable people on all sides of the issue will see that this approach is better aligned with Uncle Sam's skill set. After all, Washington is at least three or four steps removed from the operation of local schools. There's only so much policy-makers can do from Capitol Hill and the federal Education Department, whatever their intentions.

Diane Ravitch agrees--and elaborates. "In his article, Petrilli said that 'Washington is at least three or four...

Guest Blogger

A post from guest blogger and Fordham Director of Ohio Policy and Research Suzannah Herrmann.

As Stafford mentioned, we just returned from the National Press Club. Since today's presentation by the National Working Group on Funding Student Learning has some interesting implications for state policy, I thought I'd throw in my perspective on what this report could mean for policy in Ohio, Fordham's other base.

The report notes up front that "states will never educate all students to high standards unless they first fix the finance system that support's America's schools." This is not the same thing as calling for more money for schools, but rather it is a call for making sure we get more from the $500 billion Americans already spend annually on elementary and secondary education. This call has special resonance in our home state of Ohio where the Governor has staked his administration's reputation on "fixing" the state's school funding system. Ohio is one of 20 states that have been deemed "unconstitutional" by state high-court judges because funding levels were deemed insufficient. This report "Funding Student Learning" notes that between 1990 and 2005, average inflation-adjusted expenditures on education in America...

As a Maryland resident I have to decide how to vote on the state's Question 2 next week, which would legalize slot machines and use the resulting revenue for education. And while the image of seniors throwing their social security checks down the slot machine toilet leaves me a little queasy, I've come to see this as a brilliant solution to the problems identified by radical Robert Samuelson last week. The financial pressure of baby boomers retiring en masse is likely to squeeze tax dollars that otherwise could have gone to the education of our young. So the slot machine solution is perfect, for it simply recoups a chunk of elderly-entitlement spending and hands it over to the next generation. Sure, it's less efficient than just trimming entitlements in the first place, but politics is the art of the possible, right?


Mike Antonucci wants everyone to know that AFT President Randi Weingarten only makes $350,000 a year.

(You heard it here first.)

We've just returned from the School Finance Redesign Project Panel (and were caught in the rain, no less!) Here are some final thoughts:

Great ideas... not so practical. I'll give you two examples.

In the ideas area, I was struck by Guthrie's thoughts on the transformation of American education. 50 years ago, he asserts, you could drop out of high school and still get a job and have a productive, comfortable life. Today, those jobs that don't require education have either disappeared or moved overseas. As a result, we, as a nation, are facing a momentous task: educating everyone and educating them well. He proposes that we're the first modern, democratic, industrialized nation to confront this challenge. NCLB may be an "awkward instrument" but we are venturing into new territory.

Criticizing NCLB is the new "it" thing to do (presidential election, anyone?). I can almost hear someone saying, "It's an axe when we need a scalpel"...[cue laughter] The point is that Guthrie is largely right. Most countries don't even attempt to educate everyone or consider that doing so is a laudable goal. Take Germany, for example. It fits all of Guthrie's criteria (or those that I...

Panelist James Guthrie of Vanderbilt University asked an interesting question that goes beyond the education community: "What do we do when we don't know what to do? What steps do we take when there is no clear technical guidance for policy?"

As explained by Guthrie, the latest School Finance Redesign Project report advocates:

-Specifying desired goals, but making these goals comprehensive enough to avoid goal displacement (i.e. getting side tracked)

-Making sure our measurement systems are aligned with these goals

-Establishing a comprehensive information system

-Determinig better methods of what works

-Putting the resources near those who deliver services

-Dismantling the current incentive system, which rewards getting as far...

Right now, Amber, Suzannah and I are at the National Press Club for the University of Washington School Finance Redesign Project's conclusionary panel. The report being released is the product of five years of work. The basic premise: schools will never provide quality education if the funding system is broken. Jacob Adams, the panel moderator, says the question to ask is: How can we translate resources into results?

It's going to start with understanding that the school system today is not structured to support ambitious learning goals and then reform the complicated and opaque finance system operations.

To do this, we must answer the following questions:

-How can we effectively deliver, manage and account for dollars?

-What can we do right now?

-How can the policy community support what's going on in schools?

-How can we learn more about school finance to continue...