Flypaper

The Education Gadfly

....just a sec....we haven't actually won the 2008 Weblog Awards yet! But you can help us get there by voting for Flypaper in the Best Education Blog category. Voting ends Tuesday, Jan. 13, at 5pm. You can vote once every 24 hours so vote often and spread the word. We'll be sure to thank you in our acceptance speech if we win!

Yesterday's Education Daily carried the headline, "Experts: Uniform standards could gain ground in 2009." Consider this quote from uber-pundit Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy: "Two years ago, I wouldn't have given nation??al standards much of a chance at all, but I think the atmosphere is changing. Teachers, administrators and legislators are thinking about it, as long as the federal govern??ment doesn't dictate the standards."

Perhaps achieving national standards and tests isn't such an impossible dream, after all.

Not surprisingly, our editorial arguing that budget cuts are good for schools has stirred plenty of commentary. It's also exposed a rift between lefty education reformers and those of us on the center-right (not to mention loopy libertarians). Expect more such rifts in coming months and years.

Consider this two-fer from Education Sector. Kevin Carey, writing at The Quick and the Ed, simply refuses to believe that tough budget times could convince schools to make tough decisions and trim their fat:

Underlying the larger argument is the idea that the public schools will implement a whole suite of needed reforms if only we can put them under sufficiently terrible financial stress. I am aware of no evidence to suggest that this will work...Are there any examples--any?--of a state or school district that has ever responded to a fiscal crisis with reforms that actually benefitted students in the long run?

Eduwonk Andy Rotherham* picks up on this line of attack in his own response:

In education tough times can often just force??mediocrity and there is little??evidence that scarcity forces good fiscal decisionmaking.?? Rather, across the board cuts

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Amy Fagan

In this Washington Post piece, the co-founders of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program, a growing and well-known network of 66 public charter schools serving children of color, mostly from low-income families) give some key advice to the President-elect on the topic of education. Among their recommendations, they write that Obama should set a goal that within 10 years every child in America will be on track to earn a college degree or completing career training. They also call for national learning standards and assessments, explaining that the current "maze of state standards and tests" make it hard for great teachers to share ideas, and prevents true comparison of student, teacher and school performance. And, Obama should definitely follow through on his promise to double federal funding for public charter schools that have proven to be effective, they urge.

Photograph by Schlusselbein2007 on Flickr...
Amy Fagan

If any American is in any way skeptical of placing education atop the nation's urgent priority list, they should read this article by USA Today's Greg Toppo. Apparently a new federal study found that an estimated 32 million adults in the USA - about one in seven - have dangerously low literacy skills, such that it's difficult for them to read anything more complicated than a children's picture book! The revelation comes from the Education Department's National Assessment of Adult Literacy, a survey of 19,000 Americans ages 16 and older.

I know driving a school bus can be tough. Screaming kids, early hours, perhaps an empty stomach... unfortunately, none of that means one should make a stop at the liquor store to buy some booze. Guess this school bus driver from Billings, Montana totally missed that memo. The bus was stopped after a bystander saw it stop at a liquor store one morning (news flash: don't drive a huge freaking yellow bus when you want to do something on the lamb!). While no students were on board when the driver made said stop for firy sustenance, she did ask a couple middle school students to hide the booze when the cops pulled the bus over shortly thereafter. Wow. There are so many bad choices going on here I don't even know where to start.

Yep, you read that correctly. 1892 was the last time the NEA did something the Department of Education approves of--or so the story goes in yesterday's swan song release, "Great Expectations." I suppose one can't blame Margarent for at least trying to influence her legacy, although this one is a little heavy on the pictures (of adorable children of course; who doesn't like kids, right?) and a little light on text--or anything substantive. The point is that Joel Packer, according to David Hoff over at Education Week, is going to retire from the NEA after twenty-five years; this venerable union veteran has been a frequent visitor to Fordham (braving the lion's den so to speak) and a comrade in debate. But Packer's a little rusty on his dates; in a conversation he had with Hoff yesterday on said retirement, his parting words were: see, the ED does like us... for work we did 117 years ago. Ah, Mr. Packer, how we will miss you....

Mike has given us some pretty good reasons why schools need to provide a solid education in core disciplines and fret less about so-called "21st Century Skills." I'd add to his list that schools need to focus on core subjects to offset the underexposure to them that too many kids get at home.

Witness Franklin County, Ohio, home to the capital city of Columbus: Franklin County's unemployment rate is 5.8 percent (compared to a statewide rate of 7 percent) and its median household income is $45,459-besting the state average by 5 percent. It is the seat of state government, home to the largest university in the country, and boasts the state's top-performing urban school district. Yet Franklin County's adult illiteracy rate is a whopping 13 percent (up from 8 percent in 1992). Many of these non-readers...

Guest Blogger

A guest post from a Fordham Research Intern, Hannah Miller. Hannah attended the Quality Counts release event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC yesterday.??

Education Week and Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) made a smart choice when deciding the order of events for the release of their 13th annual education report card.

If they'd begun with the state-by-state report cards, the presentation might have been a bit ho-hum. After all, the results were largely the same as the 2008 report (only eight states' grades changed from the year before and those changes were generally modest) and the nation itself received a discouraging grade of C+ on the Chance-for-Success Index which examines the role of education from childhood to employment.

But rather than begin with the latest round of statistics for what has become a tried-and-true formula (though, granted, it is modified from year-to-year), Christopher Swanson, director of the EPE's Research Center, dove right into the Quality Counts 2009 special report.

This year, Quality Counts focuses on English-language learners (ELLs), a traditionally under-studied population but one that's rapidly growing (increasing from 3.2 million in 1995-1996 to 5.1 million in 2005-2006)...

My post from the other day ridiculing the "21st Century Skills" movement sparked some great comments. Allen says:

One worthwhile thing that an outfit like Fordham could do to prevent this sort of nonsense is to provide some historical context. How about an Internet Museum of Edu-crap? Failed, and flung-aside, edu-fads, catchphrases, leaders, ideas and a taste of the wide panoply of nonsense that's afflicted, and continues to afflict, the public education system.

Here's a contribution: there's a public education district somewhere that had, or perhaps still has, a Chief Pedagogical Officer. That's sort of the cargo-cult equivalent of a chief financial officer but without any noticeable responsibilities other then to justify their own, continued existence.

Exhibit Number One for the Fordham Internet Museum of Regrettable Public Education Decisions.

I like it...we'll break ground right away! Meanwhile, Marcia writes:

As a middle school librarian, I continually see students who know how to change the screensaver; turn the screen upside down; work around the school's internet safety features or the firewall ... and on it goes....My concern is for the students (many of the same mentioned above) who can't gather

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