The American testing system has often been blamed for the simplification of curriculum, the cutting of art, music, and physical education classes, and the decline of quality education overall. Perhaps a laser-like focus on reading and math has produced some unintended consequences but it's a far cry better than recent developments in the United Kingdom. This weekend, the Telegraph reported that traditional subjects are being foresworn for "lifestyle" classes, like sex ed, citizenship, and British national identity. In fact, one survey found the amount of time spent teaching geography has dropped 70 percent. Students certainly should have a civics curriculum, but let's not cut history to do it.

Earlier this year, we ??tapped three young promising scholars for our new inaugural research grant program, known as the Fordham Scholars. Just this week, one of them---Daniel Nadler--- co-authored a fine study, already growing into the ???Scholar??? appellation. The study, published in this month's Education Next, examined alternative teacher certification programs and found that states that offered ?????true??? alternative certification programs???meaning the ones where would-be teachers didn't have to take the same number of courses as traditionally certified teachers???generally had a greater representation of minority teachers within the ranks, as well as higher student gains as measured by NAEP. The study created an index of representation, which was the ratio of the percentage of teachers of minority background to the percentage of the state's adult population of minority background. ??In the 21 states that offered genuine alternative certification routes, the weighted average index of minority representation was 0.6, but in states with ???symbolic??? alternative certification routes, it was just 0.2. It appears that if we want to recruit more minority teachers into teaching, we'd be wise to strike down some of the barriers that keep them out. The study authors explain, ???Hardly anyone bothers...

Guest Blogger

From guest blogger Emmy Partin, Fordham's writer and researcher in the Ohio office:

I'm in DC for the 19th Education Trust national conference. I was proud to be a Buckeye during last night's dinner when Ohio's Wells Elementary--located in Steubenville in the heart of the Midwest's Rust Belt--was awarded a "Dispelling the Myth" award for its success at closing the achievement gap. Despite a student body that is 47 percent non-White, 65 percent low-income, and highly mobile, Wells has boasted perennial high academic achievement. In 2007-08, 100 percent of the school's fifth graders passed the state reading, science, and social studies exams and 83 percent passed the math test.

This morning's plenary speaker was Jason Kamras. Kamras is a former DC middle-school teacher and national teacher of the year who is now DC Public Schools' director...

It's Day Five of Fordham's name-the-next-education-secretary-tracking-poll, and Chicago superintendent Arne Duncan has solidified his position as the top contender. That much isn't surprising, but what's new is the rise of Inez Tenenbaum as his primary challenger. In part that's because our insiders increasingly seem to believe that neither Jim Hunt nor Colin Powell would accept the ed sec job if offered. It also reflects the conventional wisdom that President-Elect Obama might need to appoint a woman to this position in order to balance his cabinet's diversity.

But would Tenenbaum be a good pick? It's true that under her leadership as state superintendent, South Carolina was a poster-child for No Child Left Behind-style reform, setting, as it did, some of the clearest and toughest standards in the country. Her state also became a friendly environment for the Teacher Advancement Program. But that's where her enthusiasm for reform stopped; she was known to toe the party (and teacher union) line on charter schools and certainly vouchers. Her selection would be viewed as a victory for the NEA.

Other folks mentioned today: Caroline


Linda Darling-Hammond, the darling of the teachers unions and ed schools, has been picked to head the education policy team for the Obama transition. This is change we can believe in? The reformers within the Democratic Party might be smart, but they don't appear to have the political juice to beat back the education establishment.

I've been mulling the decision by Democrats for Education Reform to suggest Chicago superintendent Arne Duncan as their top pick for education secretary. At first it seemed like the kiss of death for Duncan. After all, I thought, wouldn't President-Elect Obama choose a consensus candidate, one that both the reformers and the union types within the Democratic Party would applaud? And if Duncan was now seen as part of the reform camp, wouldn't that disqualify him? And regardless, wouldn't reformers rather Obama pick a true believer such as Jon Schnur?

But now I see how crafty those DFERs are. They must believe that Duncan is a shoe-in for the job (largely because of his close personal relationship with Obama). So now, if he's the pick, the reformers can claim a victory. Very smart.

So yes, I'm coming around to the view that Duncan is the most likely candidate. (See Alexander, here I am, again, admitting the errors of my ways!) But it's not a sure thing because of the diversity factor. Depending on the other Cabinet choices, Obama might need to select a woman or a minority for the ed sec job. Which means that...

For better or for worse, I believe that arguments such as this one from Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), in a letter in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, will carry the day in the new, smaller, more conservative House Republican caucus:

Wow! In "??'Compassionate' Conservatism Was a Mistake" (op-ed, Nov. 7) Dick Armey fails to mention that as majority leader in 2001-2002 he was the architect of "compassionate conservatism" in the legislative branch of government.

I firmly believe that congressional Republicans laid the cornerstone of compassionate conservatism when individuals who had supported education reform sold out and passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. When faced with the choice of empowering parents, local schools, and state or federal bureaucrats, Dick Armey and our current and future minority leader John Boehner stood firmly on the side of federal bureaucrats. NCLB was the most massive shift from personal freedom to government intervention. They not only facilitated it, they engineered it.

The rest is history. Once you've sold out parents and children, voting for massive spending increases to fund NCLB, selling out freedom in other areas became very easy, almost necessary.

The disappointing thing

Laura Pohl

Shine those instruments and start practicing: high school bands across the country thinking "Yes, we can" march in Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration parade have a little more competition than usual. The Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, which collects applications, is receiving 10 applications an hour and had more than 400 as of yesterday, according to The Washington Post. This compares with the last inauguration, where 47 civilian marching bands were picked from 343 contenders. The parade application deadline has been extended to 5 p.m. Tuesday. Step in time...

Picture by RickC from Flickr
The Education Gadfly

Checker's weighing in on The Gates Foundation's new education strategy with an op-ed on While Checker lauds the emphasis on high school completion, college readiness, national standards and strengthening education data, some areas are left wanting.

Two cheers are surely deserved. It's too early to know, however, whether a third is warranted. For what was emphasized in Seattle, and in the materials released so far, is mostly an educator's (and student's) version of education reform, not a parent's, taxpayer's or policymaker's version. Indeed, the word "parent" scarcely appears, nor "choice," "charter" or "governance," nor much by way of politics, policy or finance.

Read the whole column here.

Democrats for Education Reform is circulating a document with its wish list for the transition, including suggestions for key education jobs in the Obama Administration. I read this as a guide to the positions the folks listed below would like for themselves. (And, for the most part, education reformers should be thrilled to see them get their way.)

  • White House Policy Czar: John Podesta
  • Domestic Policy Director: Jon Schnur, James Kvaal, Roberto Rodriguez, or Michele Jolin
  • OMB (position unnamed): Michael Dannenberg
  • Secretary of Education: Arne Duncan (strong preference), Wendy Kopp, Jon Schnur, Hugh Price, Alan Bersin, Mike Easley, Kathleen Sebelius, Janet Napolitano, Roy Barnes, or Bob Wise
  • Deputy Secretary/ Under Secretary: Andrew Rotherham, Russlyn Ali, James Shelton, or Ted Mitchell
  • Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education: Michael Bennet, Anthony Alvarado, Patricia Harvey, or Bart Peterson
  • Title I Director*: Zollie Stephenson or Brad Jupp
  • Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education: Kevin Carey, Barmak Nassirian, or Bob Shireman
  • Assistant Secretary for Planning & Evaluation: Robert Gordon, Kevin Hall, Alice Johnson Cain, or Andrew Rotherham
  • Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs: Roberto Rodriguez
  • Assistant Secretary for English Language Acquisition: Peter Zamora
  • Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement: Kim Smith, Kevin Chavous,
  • ...