Dan Lips of The Heritage Foundation argues that there's much more to the conservative education agenda than just choice--that "the pundits who are pushing for the Republican Party to develop new ideas should appreciate the scope and success of conservative reforms in education." He makes a decent case, pointing to a variety of reforms in Florida (under Jeb Bush) and a couple in Tennessee.

Of course we've said for years that choice and accountability go hand-in-hand, but also that such reforms to the structure of schooling have to be accompanied by changes in how schools and districts actually operate--e.g., in their curricular, hiring, and staffing practices. But it's great to see these views echoed by Heritage--I guess there's nothing better than a Democratic administration to bring some realism to the right.

The former IBM CEO gets no support for his proposal to eliminate the nation's 15,000 school boards from Fordham trustee Diane Ravitch in this piece.

I can see why a former CEO would like to get rid of school boards, but that would be like saying that corporations should not have a board of directors, an audit committee or any other oversight. That would leave executives free to make decisions without having to be burdened with questions, discussions or conflicts.

Certainly, decisions about education could be quickly made and imposed if there were no local school boards. And we would surely have a more efficient--if less democratic--government if there were only an executive branch, with no Congress and no Supreme Court. In political science classes, we call that dictatorship or autocracy.

Wham! No doubt, Ravitch has a certain autocrat in mind. Then she really gives it to the Wall Street crowd (in no less!):

Given the current woeful state of America's businesses and our financial system, it would seem that our business leaders should be a bit more reticent in trying to impose their model on


A few weeks ago, when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released its new strategic plan for giving in k-12 education, our own Checker Finn expressed concern that charter schools and other forms of parental choice were missing from the menu. But in a speech at George Washington University yesterday, Mr. Gates himself cleared up any confusion by endorsing these innovative options repeatedly:

In schools across the country, we're seeing results that smash old prejudices about what poor students can achieve. High Tech High School in San Diego, Green Dot Schools in Los Angeles, Aspire High Schools in California, KIPP schools that have spread across the country, and YES College Preparatory Schools in Houston. These schools are doing work that should be talked about everywhere....

These are not isolated examples. There are public schools and charter schools serving some of the most disadvantaged students in the country, and yet they are recruiting great teachers, making the curriculum more rigorous, using data to see what works, and graduating students ready for college.

Gates Foundation staff: got the message?

Bill Gates picture from Microsoft

Heart graphic...

Forms of weighted school funding (WSF) are gaining traction in Ohio at the state and district levels. Emmy Partin nicely summarizes the State Board's upcoming vote on a version of WSF, which she notes includes "weights for students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, limited English proficient students, and gifted students." Unfortunately, the plan is flawed. Emmy writes:

The [recommendation of the school-funding subcommittee] ultimately falls short of a true WSF plan, however. The subcommittee report continues central office control over real spending decisions and does not empower school leaders closest to the children. Nor do the recommendations call for funding to follow the child from school to school. Unfortunately, as written, the recommendations are a missed opportunity and may simply result in funding the education status quo to the tune of $1 billion more per year (see here).

Developments in Cincinnati look more promising, as the CPS board and interim superintendent plan to restore WSF in 2009-10. (Under former superintendent Steven Adamowski, Cincinnati began WSF in 1999, only to discontinue it in pieces over recent years, well after his departure.) Reports the Cincinnati Enquirer:

With student-based budgeting, the money follows

Amy Fagan

David Whitman, author of "Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism," wrote a piece for the Huffington Post Wednesday. In it, he broke down the looming battle that Barack Obama will face in the education realm. The Left is essentially divided into two camps - those who support school reform (including the emphasis on accountability and tracking in No Child Left Behind ) as the best means to close the achievement gap; and those, including unions, who ??favor more out-of-school interventions (like adding health clinics or expanded preschool programs) along with dismantling much of NCLB. Obama, Whitman wrote, so far has managed "to keep a foot in both camps," but soon will have to "pick and choose among his priorities." Welcome to the presidency!

Whitman noted that the six inner-city secondary schools he profiled in his book were all extremely successful in closing the achievement gap ??-- because they consistently puts the needs of the kids first. By contrast, he argued, "the nation's dysfunctional inner-city high schools are designed to serve the interest of adults."

Whitman wrote:

It's often said that radical school reform is impossible without the involvement of the

Amy Fagan

The buzz about who'll be the next education secretary seems to be picking up a bit. The AP reports that Virginia Governor Tim Kaine says he doesn't want the job. Apparently, he mentioned it during his monthly radio show this morning, restating his intent to remain in Virginia through the end of his term in January 2010....

Amy Fagan

The AP reports that Arne Duncan, Chicago Public Schools chief, did indeed meet with outgoing Education Secretary Margaret Spellings this morning. In an interview with the AP, Duncan said the visit had nothing to do with the possibility of being chosen to serve as the next education secretary. But, of course, Duncan is among a few names being circulated as likely candidates for the post. He told the AP: "I was just meeting with Secretary Spellings; we're hoping she comes to Chicago next week to talk about some of the work that she supports in Chicago." He said he has "no idea" when the education post will be announced. He also chatted briefly about what needs to be addressed in education and expressed high hopes for Obama's plan. You can read the whole story here....

We know it was tough to be Gadfly-less through Thanksgiving (although we hope our sumptuous video menu helped tide you over). Good news: we're baaaack. This week, the top slot features a guest editorial from Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass of Massachusetts' Pioneer Institute on the future of the MCAS. Recent recommendations on how to amend this top notch test to include "21st century skills" seem more likely to backtrack the assessment than actually hop it into the 21st century. Then check out some unbelievable stories from Florida (Carvalho's head is still in the clouds), California (Thanksgiving an occasion for violence?), and New York (the clock's run out on those Rubber Room reserve pool teachers).

You'll also find a lively discussion on this week's podcast (featuring not only guest co-host Dave DeSchryver but also Monty Python) and two letters to the editor from Michael Casserly of Council of Great City Schools and Andy Smarick of the U.S. Department of Education. The former loved Eric's op-ed from two weeks ago and the latter wants to clear up some confusion surrounding NCLB's recent four-year graduation rate regulations. Finally, take a...

The Education Gadfly

Arne Duncan loses 7 percentage points today, but it hardly matters given his substantial lead. Caroline Kennedy scoots up the big chart today, inching past Ray Mabus, whose support is increasing ever so slightly. Word on the street is Freeman Hrabowski doesn't want the job . John Deasy's name was mentioned for the first time today, but no one gave him enough votes to get him on the board. Given that he recently accepted a position at the Gates Foundation , it seems unlikely to us that he will be tapped, but stranger things have happened.

Who has retired from the spotlight? These names have had their moment on stage and have been heard from no more: Napolitano, Huckabee, Richardson, Canada, Lomax, Oprah. Powell, who is now at 2% of the vote, falling from 13.5%, may be about to join the group.

I'm not siding with those who fear the red pen, but colors can matter ??? here's a description of a study which found referees in fencing were biased toward those wearing red (rather than blue), and the same writer points to other research showing that hockey and football players wearing black uniforms act more aggressively, and are perceived as being more aggressive. But what I really want to know is, does the color of school uniforms affect test scores?

Field hockey photograph by KamalSell from Flickr