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


That's what I would have titled this new National Review Online piece penned by me, Checker, and Rick Hess. (Amy gives a nice summary below.) Yes, we're ready for the hate mail.

Amy Fagan

The Obama economic stimulus plan comes under a bit of fire in this bold op-ed by Checker, Mike and Rick (Hess), posted on National Review Online. They wonder whether such a package will be good for education reform and they suspect the answer will be "no." A state budget bailout (which almost surely will be part of the above-mentioned plan) may very well end up hurting school reform efforts, they write. Since states spend one-third to one-half of their funds on education, a federal infusion of cash to the states would probably translate into a lot of money for public school classrooms. This seems to be a good thing, of course. But, they point out, this kind of a bailout may very well spare administrators from making the difficult (and overdue) choices about how to make school systems more efficient and effective. Tough times often serve as a means to force leaders to identify priorities and trim fat. A federal bailout of school-system budgets would remove that opportunity, they write, and everyone will miss the chance to create leaner, more efficient schools....

It was quite a dry spell, wasn't it? Hopefully the holidays distracted you in your Gadfly-less state of depression. We're back and better than ever for 2009.

In the top spot, find Mike, Checker, and Rick's recommendations for an educated-related bailout. In short, there shouldn't be one. Why? Because it will simply encourage the bad habits to which education leaders are prone when it comes to spending big bucks. Next, read up on the curricular mush being advocated in the UK, the apparent death knell for cursive handwriting, and why 21st century skills are another "doomed pedagogical fad." Then, get the scoop on a new Aspen Institute report on Singapore, the 13th annual Quality Counts??with its special section on ELL students, and last month's NGA, Achieve, and CCSSO's Benchmarking for Success. Happy reading!...

As President-elect Obama and the new Congress work out the details on the final amount of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, there is sure to be much lobbying from teacher unions and other school establishment groups for their share of the $70 to $100 billion likely to go towards public education. Mike, Checker, and Rick Hess have offered great insights into this "pigs at the trough" situation in their NRO piece today. Here's a plea from a piglet in Ohio:

However many billions are tossed at school construction and renovations, please make certain that charter schools get equal access to these dollars. Ohio has been in the midst of a multi-billion dollar public school construction program over the last decade, paid for largely by money from the Master Tobacco Settlement of late 1990s....