Gadfly Studios

The world's greatest athletes kicked off the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in grand style today at the National Stadium in Beijing. Meanwhile, across town, another breed of competitor was celebrating the start of this year's Education Olympics:

There's much more at

Are we really this far gone? The Wall Street Journal announced this morning, "Problem: Boys Don't Like to Read. Solution: Books That Are Really Gross." I salute the WSJ for this particular syntactic masterpiece of a headline, but let's not jump on the bandwagon because we want to use the word "gross" on Page One.

I can understand why boys may not dig Charlotte's Web or Little House on the Prairie, but there are plenty of other children's or young adult books geared towards the rougher sex. What about The Jungle Book or some of Grimm's scarier fairy tales? Plenty of children's books are not about bunnies and rainbows--but are still age-appropriate for 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds. Yes, you might be keeping your son from blowing things up on his PlayStation, but isn't reading a book about blowing things up just as bad? I would argue that the nuance of the English language and the rampant imagination of a typical child would make reading about something gory and inappropriate worse than seeing it on television.

The moral of the story is simply that we need to get all kids to keep reading, not by writing books...

Liam Julian

This week's Gadfly is out, and it features a fine article about how Ohio's education woes are being reinforced and why it matters for the rest of the country. Rick is back on the podcast this week, and so is Intern Amy, who today ends her Fordham affiliation and notes that the best part of working for us was getting to leave the office.

"Broward cracking down on school shoppers "

Broward County parents: Don't put shopping for a school on your back-to-school list. For the first time ever in the district, it could lead to an arrest.

Broward School Board members on Tuesday voted 6-3 to give district schools the right to report to authorities parents caught lying about their home addresses to get their kids into schools outside the area where they live. Elevating such a fib into a third-degree felony starting this coming school year sparked a long discussion at Tuesday's meeting, where the item was up for final approval.

''There shouldn't be school shopping,'' said board Chairwoman Robin Bartleman said.

Just when you thought public school choice was universally accepted...

A question to ponder if new research on Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS) pans out. Robotic teachers, you ask? CNN has more.

The Magnolia State, long the basement-dweller among states for its laughable standards for "proficiency" on its NCLB tests, is raising the bar, reports Education Week. This is consistent with a pattern we noticed in last year's Proficiency Illusion report, where states with some of the lowest standards (such as Texas) bring them up a notch, while states with high standards (such as South Carolina) let them slide a bit. Thus, we found a "walk to the middle," as opposed to the "race to the bottom" that we expected. So to Mississippi we say: welcome, walkers!

Photo by Flickr user christianabe....

Now you know the thesis of this Education Week commentary by USA Today editorial page writer Richard Whitmire; here are the key paragraphs:

I attended a press briefing not long ago by former Arizona schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan, McCain's top education adviser. Although the McCain campaign talks strong on school accountability, she had nothing good to say about the NCLB law. All children proficient by 2014? Let's stop pretending. The federal government sanctioning state schools? Not our way of doing business.

Many conservatives have long disliked the law's federal intrusions. McCain is not going to stand in their way. It's not his issue. Under a President McCain, it would only be a matter of time before NCLB got renamed and pushed back to the states.

A few weeks ago, I listened to an Obama education adviser, Mike Johnston, brief the press. Obama has "no intention" of backing off tested accountability on math and reading, said Johnston. While a President Obama might rename the law and offer some additional measurements of school performance, odds favor his disappointing the teachers' unions.

The "press briefings"...

The Voice of San Diego, ??a local independent paper, examines the ongoing deliberations over a new teachers union contract in that fair city. The interesting context, picked up by the piece, is that San Diego's new superintendent, Terry Grier, enjoyed one of the most flexible teacher contracts in the country in his last post in Guilford County, North Carolina--that according to Fordham's Leadership Limbo report. (Check out video of Mr. Grier's comments at a panel we held to discuss the report.) And guess which district has one of the worst contracts, according to our analysis? That's right; none other than San Diego.

Of course (and unfortunately), it won't be so easy for Superintendent Grier to simply replace San Diego's restrictive contract with Guilford County's flexible one. As the National Council on Teacher Quality just reported, it's state law that matters even more than local actions when it comes to teacher policy. Which means that Mr. Grier might soon be having Carolina on his mind....

The Gadfly briefly addressed this issue a few weeks ago and the editors at Newsday have taken it up in another form on their blog, Viewsday (ha ha...). New York State has been engaged in a heated debate over special education, specifically whether more or all students should be mainstreamed. More recently, and this is what the Newsday editors were really concerned with, the discussion has turned to what to call diplomas granted under Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Should they really be called a "diploma" if they're not worth the same as a regular high school degree? This may not be a matter of semantics.

Employers and universities should know what kind of course work stands behind that piece of paper. While NCLB has attempted to address the state-to-state and school-to-school discrepancies, we're a long way from national standards. Labeling IEP degrees "IEP certificates" rather than "IEP diplomas" could have a few benefits; I'll focus on two. First, many too many students wind up in special education because teachers want them out of their mainstream classrooms for reasons other than their physical or learning disability. Perhaps they're disruptive, have social adjustment issues, or are bringing issues...