Amy Fagan

On Wed. September 3, Fordham hosted a lively panel discussion of the David Whitman's new book, "Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism." On hand were Jay Mathews of The Washington Post, and Charles Adams, head of school at the SEED School in D.C. For your viewing pleasure, we've posted a video of their discussion online.

"Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism" book talk from Education Gadfly on Vimeo....

I've been musing for days (here and here ) about who should be the next Secretary of Education. And then along comes David Brooks (writing about Sarah Palin ) and crystallizes it all for me:

It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.

What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events - the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.

How is prudence acquired? Through experience. The prudent leader possesses a repertoire of events, through personal involvement or the study of history, and can apply those models to current circumstances to judge what is important and what is not, who can be persuaded and who can't, what has worked and what hasn't.

So what kind of experience matters most for potential education secretaries? It strikes me that there are two big parts...

There's a lot of political lip-service of late given to ridding schools of bad teachers. But be aware if you're looking to do so in Dallas. A 30-year veteran teacher was fired due in part to low ratings on the "Classroom Effectiveness Index," a value-added evaluation instrument. All of this started back in August when a handful of teachers were let go at the veteran teacher's school. DISD spokesman John Dahlander explained,

If their TAKS rates are low, and they are not even reaching the levels that other teachers are reaching, then they may be recommended for termination. That falls into a small subset of teachers, but it does happen.

Apparently not, John. Seems there's a huge difference between recommending termination and said termination actually happening. The ??teacher petitioned the Texas Education Agency Commissioner to be reinstated and, low and behold, she's back (with back pay). The Commissioner found (a la Broader and Bolder) that the school environment and student discipline problems were to blame for the teacher's firing, not the teacher's performance. Ugh.

According to 2003-2004 NCES data, only 1.9 percent of our nation's public school teachers with more than 3 years of experience...

It's stories like these that just make you shake your head . Sorry Springfield, no new school options for you until your district schools completely tank.

Guest Blogger

A post from guest blogger and Fordham writer and researcher??Emmy Partin.

Ten years ago, Ohio's public schools were in the middle-of-the-pack compared to our peers nationwide. Today, our NAEP scores are on the rise, the average ACT score of Ohio graduates is ninth in the nation, and our funding system is more equitable than most. Still, most fair-minded people would agree that these improvements haven't come quickly enough and that more must be done to close the state's worrisome achievement gaps between rich and poor, black and white and brown, and better prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st century.

So how do we do it?

Governor Ted Strickland has vowed to tackle this task and is wrapping up a 12-city "Conversation on Education" to gather ideas for his school-reform plan. Most of what has been suggested at these invitation-only gatherings involves pouring more money into schools (even as the state has more and more trouble paying its bills), relaxing or abandoning standards and accountability, and eliminating school choice. Such moves might placate the unions and education establishment, and thus make Strickland's 2010 re-election bid a bit...

About this post , several smart reporters have written in to ask, don't I know that Arne Duncan will be the pick as Secretary of Education if Barack Obama is elected president?

Well, no, I didn't realize it was a done deal. And I have my reservations. I think Duncan is a very good superintendent, and I understand he's a personal FOBO*, but his resume has a number of drawbacks. First, while Chicago has made some moderate progress in recent years, it certainly hasn't been home to dramatic improvements. So I'm not sure he'd even have as much credibility as Rod Paige first did when he entered the office. Second, and more importantly, it's not clear that Duncan has the experience or the aptitude to be a force on Capitol Hill, which is a necessity if Team Obama wants to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind act.

Remember the days when education secretaries were former governors? Partly that's because the education reform action was happening at the state level. (You could argue that the momentum has shifted to the districts now.) But former governors have another asset going for them: they are politicians. And the Secretary of...

It's hard not to be shaken by the financial news emanating from Wall Street these days. I can't help but wish I'd studied more economics in college (or that I'd sold our house and started renting a few years ago). But I also can't help but wish that dysfunctional urban school systems could experience some of the "market discipline" that Lehman Brothers is enjoying right now.

Take Detroit Public Schools, perhaps America's worst school system. While the ship is sinking, school board members and the superintendent are squabbling over "rudeness." Is there any reason to believe that the current governance arrangement, political dynamic, and leadership are conducive to the systemic transformation needed to save Motown's children from a life of despair?

What's needed is a fresh start, a do-over, a man-made hurricane that can provide the clean slate for Detroit (and other cities with failed systems) that Katrina provided New Orleans. Simply put, Detroit Public Schools should be declared bankrupt. The state should take it into receivership, declare all of its contracts (including collective bargaining agreements) void. It should slice through any red tape that would keep Detroit from creating a world-class system, including Michigan's inane cap...

Amy Fagan

The accolades keep comin'! We see that George Will has written yet??ANOTHER column??citing David Whitman's new book (published by Fordham) "Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism".??Will focuses his praise this time on Cristo Rey Jesuit High School--one of the six highly effective, "no excuse" schools Whitman profiles in his book.

CRJHS's unique work-study program sends students one day a week to clerical jobs in downtown Chicago law firms, banks and other businesses--exposing many of them to an entirely new world. "Before going to work, many of the school's 14-year-old ninth-graders, like their parents, have never been downtown," Will writes. In the end, he argues that CRJHS's traits--including the work-study program and its zero tolerance of disorder (from gang symbols down to chewing gum)--are possible "because [they are] not shackled by bureaucracy or unions, as public schools are."

You can find Will's first column highlighting Whitman's book??here.