Flypaper

Andy Rotherham, the go-to New Dem on education for the better part of the last decade, doesn't seem to grasp the opportunity at his fingertips. First in the "Open Letter" to the New Administration and Congress published by Fordham last week, and then in this National Review Online piece by Rick Hess and me today, several of us on the right are arguing that the No Child Left Behind act is, as Robert Gordon once wrote, a "the sort of law liberals once dreamed about."

You might think that Andy would be heartened by this development, claim credit for pulling the wool over the Bush Administration's eyes, and mock those who have called him a closet Republican. ("See--the Bushies are closet Democrats," he might say.)

Instead, he reacted to our NRO article by writing that "the fight for the Republican soul on education policy is on." Sure, that's true enough, but at a time when the Democrats for Education Reform are being accused of adopting the Republican agenda, you might think he'd point out that:

--While accountability was a conservative idea, a race-based accountability system, and one that...

Rick Hess and I have a piece on National Review Online today about President Bush's education legacy. I guess you might say it's not really in the Christmas spirit. We argue that Bush??sold out??his principles when negotiating the No Child Left Behind act:

The compromises that the administration struck...led Bush to champion a law that dramatically expanded the federal role in education; adopted an explicitly race-based conception of school accountability; focused on "closing achievement gaps" to the exclusion of all other objectives; proffered a pie-in-the-sky civil rights-oriented approach to school "accountability" (even for students with cognitive disabilities and English language learners); created a burdensome federal mandate around teacher qualifications that hampers outfits such as Teach For America; devised a compliance apparatus that is even more burdensome than the previous regime; and significantly increased federal spending on education.

But we were just warming up:

Decades ago, Newt Gingrich and other reform-minded conservatives used to savage Bob Dole as a "tax collector for the welfare state" - arguing that "green eyeshade" Republicans were simply enabling Democrats who gleefully maneuvered the budget balancers into backing the tax increases needed to fund expansive programs. Democrats got the credit while Republicans got tagged

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Or so a study released yesterday by the Education Trust has found. The report, No Accounting for Fairness , looks at funding patterns in the state's fourteen largest school districts; it uses average teacher salaries, which typically make up 80-90% of school expenditures, to evaluate whether extra funds given to these districts for poor children are actually being spent in high-poverty schools, assuming that salaries are positively correlated with teacher experience. The study then uses teacher salaries to estimate per-pupil spending by school.

The findings are revealing: only three of the fourteen districts, EdTrust found, had higher average teacher salaries at high-poverty schools. In the other eleven districts, lower-poverty schools paid their teachers less--and (we can assume) have less experienced teachers. In Akron, for example, the average difference between a high-poverty and low-poverty school teacher's average salary was $4,000. Furthermore, based on these salary numbers, these eleven districts are spending less per-pupil in high-poverty schools than they are in low-poverty schools.

While it has yet to be proven that more money is the silver bullet solution to low achievement for poor students, we can safely say that it does take more money to educate them. Ohio...

The Education Gadfly

Having a slow work day as everyone takes off for the holidays? Then sing along to this new classic set to the tune of "Frosty the Snowman" with lyrics by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. You can peruse more Fordham videos here, including our open letter to President-elect Obama and our popular "Byte at the Apple" event highlights. Happy Holidays!

This weekend the Post also published a letter of support from D.C. Public Charter School Board member Will Marshall, whose day job is president of the Progressive Policy Institute. He wrote:

The Dec. 14 front-page story "Public Role, Private Gain" labored to concoct a conflict-of-interest scandal at the D.C. Public Charter School Board . All it lacked was evidence of wrongdoing. As members of the Charter School Board, we regret that the target of this journalistic drive-by was our highly effective chairman, Thomas A. Nida .

Particularly offensive was the insinuation that Mr. Nida voted to shut down a charter school to benefit the bank that employs him. Every time our board has closed a charter school it has done so because that school was demonstrably failing to serve its students and D.C. taxpayers.

Members of the board are volunteers; we are paid nothing for the many hours we devote, on top of our day jobs, to ensuring that all District children have access to good public schools.

With supporters from Fordham and PPI, not to mention the Post editorial board , I'd say there's a bipartisan...

We lambasted WaPo last week for its inappropriate and overly harsh treatment of DC Charter School Board Chairman Tom Nida (here and here , too). This Saturday, the Post amended its position with the following:

Much of the credit for the success of the charters must go to the volunteer public charter school board, which, in the span of a dozen years, has overseen the growth of a sizable school system. The Post investigation raised questions about whether its members, in particular??Chairman Thomas A. Nida , paid sufficient attention to conflict-of-interest rules. It's important that the matter be investigated, and both D.C. Attorney General??Peter J. Nickles and the city's campaign finance office are looking into the situation. The board should revise its practices to bring better transparency to its actions. But calls for a purge of board members are premature. Consider, for instance, that there were sound educational reasons for some of the actions that have been called into question (such as closing schools that were failing to adequately educate their students). It would be wrong to discount the important work done by the

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Usually school districts see themselves as competing with charter schools for students. Not the Recovery School District. Superintendent Paul Vallas plans on increasing the market share of charters in New Orleans by converting more schools to charter schools. The schools under consideration for the switch are mostly low performing--and Vallas hopes that their new found charter status under private leadership might be the ticket to seeing test scores rise. Higher performing and career schools are also under consideration. The plan has the support of State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, too, which is key since all charter switches will require state approval. Vallas explains:

"This is the tide. You're swimming against the tide if you don't embrace this approach. That's why I came down here," Vallas said. "If you create a district of charters and independent schools, you insulate the district from the adverse effects of having a monopolistic education system."

The next step is figuring out an accountability system for schools serving K-2. Since students don't take the LA test, iLEAP, until third grade, there's little way to evaluate charter schools serving younger students.

I like the sound of this plan, if only because of Vallas' attitude about...

According to an op-ed in this morning's Wall Street Journal, Pennsylvania has the highest incidence of teacher strikes in the country. In fact, 110 school districts are at risk of teachers going on strike in the next 6 months. PA apparently has the ninth highest average teacher salary in the country--$54,970 in 2006-2007. Other interesting facts: 42% of the country's teacher strikes occur in the Quaker State and carry no consequences for teachers or unions (some states fine unions for strikes or make teachers give up salary for days missed). Worst of all, in 2007-2008, kids who were chucked out of classrooms while teachers were on strike were on these strike-vacations for an average of 13 days. That's a lot of school days to miss!

The Education Gadfly

Leaders here at Fordham praised the report Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education, released today by The National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers and Achieve, Inc. Fordham president Checker Finn said:

Though America's belated moves toward international benchmarking and ???common' state standards face many perils--done wrong, they could reignite ???culture wars' and sacrifice vital??U.S. curricular values on the altar of nebulous skills--this is a tremendously important initiative," said Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr.. "That it's happening outside the federal??government avoids some hazards. Now the partner organizations must move expeditiously but wisely through those that remain. I applaud their willingness to do so.

Read the Fordham press release here and read the full report here....

They said it was an impossible dream. But look: a coalition of state organizations has announced that they will work toward common standards in reading and math in grades K-12. This is the "Let's all hold hands" strategy to creating national standards that we outlined over two years ago--and probably the one approach with the greatest likelihood of success. Today's announcement won't get much press attention but it sure will be noticed by historians some day.

Photograph by (nutmeg) from Flickr

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