Guest Blogger

David Whitman writes about the coverage of his new book, Sweating the Small Stuff.

On Monday, August 18, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post wrote a complimentary column about my new book, Sweating the Small Stuff, which recounts the tale of six inner-city secondary schools that have succeeded in closing the achievement gap. When a first-rate reporter like Mathews calls your book "splendid," "lively," "readable," and drops a few other bouquets suitable for framing and book jacket blurbs, it may seem churlish to quibble with his column. But his opposition to my subtitle--Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism--and more generally to my use of the term "paternalistic" to describe these gap-closing schools has since triggered a groupthink blogfest decrying my use of the "P-word."

Unlike Mathews and columnist George Will, nearly all of the armchair commentariat criticizing the paternalism label has yet to actually read Sweating the Small Stuff, though they have read Mathews' column and a Fordham Institute press release on the book. Several bloggers, including Joanne Jacobs and Robert Pondiscio at the Core Knowledge Blog, are keeping an open mind about the utility of the paternalism label. But without having read...

Liam Julian

The evidence, as always, is mixed. Yesterday, the New York Times noted that the Big Apple's dollars-for-high-test-scores program hasn't worked. Today, I receive in my inbox notification from the Hoover Institution??that another, similar program "that rewards both teachers and students for each passing score earned on an Advanced Placement (AP) exam has been shown to increase the percentage of high ACT and SAT scores earned by participating students, and increase the number of students enrolling in college...."

Our wonderful research director Amber will no doubt cringe when she reads that I am largely unconcerned with what that which she nominally directs says on this point. The government should not institute programs that pay students in return for good grades, no matter what the research finds (and I promise you, it won't conclusively find anything... but that's a whole other post). Regardless whether you??think the??concept screwy, as I do, or whether you??believe it's a scrumptious idea, it remains indisputable that a school that rewards monetarily those 11-year-olds who ace their spelling??exams is??undertaking a controversial??action--one in many ways tangential to the school's fundamental purposes (a strong argument holds that??paying kids in fact??undermines those purposes)--over which reasonable people??certainly will??have...

Liam Julian

This week's Gadfly is now available for all the world to see. And much of the world, after reading Mike and Amber's editorial, should be quite pleased with itself--the globe, it seems, or at least a significant portion of its citizens, have surpassed the United States on tests of students' academic prowess. Also in this??issue we applaud George Will and denigrate Dallas Independent School District, and Christina turns in a fine short review of Charles Murray's new book, Real Education. No podcast this week; for that, you can thank me when you see me (perhaps here?).

CATO's Neal McLuskey and Eduwonk Andy Rotherham are strange bedfellows, but they both have the same burning question on their minds: Why would national standards and tests be any better than state standards and tests? McLuskey writes:

Why would the teachers unions, public-school administrators associations, and education bureaucrats--with their huge presences in and around DC, their outsized political power compared to parents, and their overwhelming interest in low standards and high funding--have any less sway over the feds than they have over other levels of government?

I understand, as a blogger, that I should provide a glib, snarky response. But in all fairness, it's a good question and a fair concern. In fact, it's such a good question that we dedicated an entire Fordham report--two years ago--to answering it. Andy should know; he contributed to it. (OK, that was a bit snarky.)

In To Dream the Impossible Dream: Four Approaches to National Standards and Tests for America's Schools, we surveyed twelve smart people and asked them to answer this question and others that pertain to the nuts and bolts of...

George Will, the nation's most widely syndicated columnist, weighs in today on Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism. And yes, he does think "paternalistic" is an apt descriptor for these "no excuses" schools (unlike Jay Mathews, Richard Whitmire, and others):

Paternalism is the restriction of freedom for the good of the person restricted. [The American Indian Public Charter School] (AIPCS) acts in loco parentis because [principal Ben] Chavis, who is cool toward parental involvement, wants an enveloping school culture that combats the culture of poverty and the streets.

He and other practitioners of the new paternalism--once upon a time, schooling was understood as democracy's permissible, indeed obligatory, paternalism--are proving that cultural pessimists are mistaken: We know how to close the achievement gap that often separates minorities from whites before kindergarten and widens through high school. A growing cohort of people possess the pedagogic skills to make "no excuses" schools flourish.

Unfortunately, powerful factions fiercely oppose the flourishing. Among them are education schools with their romantic progressivism--teachers should be mere "enablers" of group learning; self-esteem is a prerequisite for accomplishment, not a consequence thereof. Other opponents are the teachers


With the most glorious moments of the 2008 Summer Olympics for Team USA now mostly behind us, commentators are finally turning their attention to the slightly less sexy, but surely more significant Education Olympics. Mitchell Landsberg at the Los Angeles Times's education blog weighed in yesterday.

Gadfly Studios

The Americans didn't win a medal on the penultimate day of the 2008 Education Olympics, leaving them just one more chance for a top-three finish. A special guest joins us, sort of, to size up their chances. Full coverage at

Since the blog has taken a more serious turn as of late, I proffer you this:

"Ga. Schools superintendent to appear on ???5th grader'"

We discovered last week that not only is Debbie Phelps the principal of Windsor Mill Middle School in Maryland, but that Windsor Mill didn't make AYP last year. And only recently home from Beijing, school starts on Monday for Principal Phelps. We trust that the experience of spawning the most celebrated swimmer in history will assist her in making the transition to principal of six-hundred hormone-crazed tweens. Perhaps her recent crowning as Johnson's Baby Mom of the Olympic Games by Johnson & Johnson and subsequent TV ad (comes out on Sunday) will inspire her. It seems appropriate since the campaign, which will donate to a group of global charities in Debbie Phelps' name, chose her because "Debbie represents every mother that has helped her child to succeed." We hope that success reaches into her middle school classrooms....

Perusing last week's Education Week, I came across this article summarizing a qualitative study conducted by Public Agenda on school leadership. The study, funded by the Wallace Foundation, essentially found principals landing in one of two camps--they were either "copers" or "transformers." The copers, as the name implies, were barely keeping up with the day-to-day demands of running a school; they were in put-out-the-fire mode 24/7. But frankly, the "transformer" group was hardly that transformative. We're told they

talked about specific changes they were making now or planned to make in the near future. This year, introduce the new reading curriculum. Next year, get a teaching coach for math. Some had scanned their teacher rosters and pinpointed the teachers they wanted to move out. Maybe it couldn't be done in one fell swoop, but they had their plans.

Since when is simply having a plan, any plan, transformative? And is introducing a reading curriculum, or getting a math coach a transformative plan? (Ridding bad teachers, maybe...) But seriously, are our expectations for principals really that low? It is it too much to expect that...