The summer issue of the American Federation of Teacher's magazine, American Educator, has several must-read articles. E.D. Hirsch explains that closing the achievement gap in reading will require that kids learn decoding skills and also that they work their way through a curriculum that develops knowledge of academic subjects; Louisa Moats describes what it takes to produce reading gains that endure beyond 4th grade; H. Wu shows how the proper study of fractions prepares students for algebra; and Diane Ravitch resurrects William Chandler Bagley, who was wrongly branded a reactionary for insisting-75 years ago-that all children should learn challenging academic material. American Educator is one of our favorite publications-issue after issue is genuinely worth reading-and we salute editor Liz McPike on another terrific example of journalistic excellence and education seriousness. If you'd like a copy of one article or the whole summer issue, send a fax to the American Educator (attn: Yomica) at 202-879-4534.

Children First America has issued an eight-page brief describing bold reforms that the Kiwis have made to their education system over the past decade and a half. New Zealand's powerful, unresponsive, and highly bureaucratic Ministry of Education was transformed into a body that hands block grants to local boards of trustees (one per school) and audits school performance against the requirements written into each school's charter by its own board. Every New Zealand public school and most private schools are now versions of "charter schools," and district-level boards have been eliminated. Private schools may get state funding equivalent to public schools (including capital funding), provided they meet certain facility code standards, teach the core curriculum, and instruct students for the prescribed number of days each school year. Authors Matthew Ladner of Children First America and Maurice McTigue, a former New Zealand Cabinet Minister, briefly examine what test scores reveal about the efficacy of these Antipodean reforms. The 1995 TIMSS math results show that New Zealand's 12th graders scored 22 points above the international average, while U.S. seniors scored 39 points below. Ladner and McTigue conclude their brief with a critique of U.S. authors Edward Fiske and Helen Ladd's recent book...

Nearly all states post report cards on the internet that show parents (and others) how their children's schools are doing, but some of these report cards are more useful than others. The Heritage Foundation has created a web site that highlights the 10 best internet-based school report cards, explains why such measures are important, and includes links to school report cards in all the states. Check it out at http://www.heritage.org/reportcards/

Long-time education policy analyst Henry M. Levin now heads the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, based at Teachers College, Columbia. That center held its kick-off conference in April 1999. The conference papers have now been collected in this volume, which Levin edited. Fourteen of them range across a wide variety of issues that bear, in varying degrees and from diverse perspectives, on the "privatization" debate in education. As with any edited volume, they also vary in quality, insight and value. Since this is an agenda-setting volume for Levin's center, it doesn't purport to offer general conclusions or policy advice. If you'd like to take a look, the ISBN is 0813366402. The publisher is Westview Press, located at 5500 Central Avenue, Boulder, Colorado 80301 and on the web at www.westviewpress.com.

I was out of the country last week and expected to return to find an end to the media frenzy about Education Secretary Rod Paige being (a) unhappy with his job, (b) "out of the policy loop" and (c) on the verge of quitting. Alas, this foolishness seemed, if anything, to have intensified.

Having lived in Washington forever, I know this sort of thing occurs from time to time. Think of it as a form of political fiction writing or rumor mongering. The usual formula is to allege a rift or conflict between a senior official and the White House (or sometimes between White House aides), then make much ado about its significance and implications, using this occasion to cast the incumbent administration in a bad light.

These stories have three possible sources. The likeliest is journalists with little better to do, a yen to make trouble, keen awareness that gossipy stories about people draw more readers than dense articles about policy, and, usually, some anonymous source willing to abet this plan by saying something provocative off the record. Second, opponents of the administration (who may, of course, include the journalists and/or their sources) may deploy this tactic for their own...

School choice researchers and critics discuss the strengths and weaknesses of studies analyzing the effects of vouchers in "The Problem With Studying Vouchers," by D.W. Miller, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 13, 2001 (Article is available only to subscribers.)

(For more on this topic, see "Voucher Vortex," by David Glenn, Lingua Franca, May/June 2001 (not available at http://www.linguafranca.com, but you can order a copy of the magazine))

The National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council is at it again, taking money from the (Clinton) Department of Education to advance the education profession's conventional wisdom while claiming to be engaged in serious analysis. Someone at the Department evidently took it into his/her head in 1999 to ask the Academy to examine the tests that many states use as part of the selection, screening and licensure of new teachers. (This was evidently triggered at least partly by Congress's insistence that states begin to report passing rates on these tests for each of their teacher preparation programs.) The Academy empanelled a fifteen member "Committee on Assessment and Teacher Quality," chaired by David Z. Robinson of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. At least half the committee was drawn straight from the teacher-education-and-licensure establishment, and it apparently took the group no time at all to embrace the assumptions and prescriptions of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF, whose leader, Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, was a member) and its fellow traveling organizations, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC). Indeed, this report's key chapter on "defining...

In "No Vouchers for You," Sam MacDonald explores the growing political divide between black elites and typical black voters over vouchers. Exhibit A is a new study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies that examines divisions between young and old generations within the African-American community and finds, among other things, that "a large majority (69 percent) of black elected officials oppose vouchers, while a large majority (60 percent) of the black public support vouchers." The political fallout from this division is unclear. Will young black choice supporters turn to the Republican party? Maybe not, if the Bush administration's refusal to go to the mat for vouchers is any indication of what the party stands for.

"No Vouchers for You," by Sam MacDonald, Reason Online, June 15, 2001

Diverging Generations: The Transformation of African American Policy Views, by David A. Bositis, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

by Jack Bowsher

This new book by Jack E. Bowsher, who for many years ran IBM's education programs, is a worthy contribution to the standards-based reform movement. In 350 pages, it offers a sweeping rationale for reform-of both school quality and costs-and insists that this cannot be done piecemeal but must be "systemic." The author reviews why past "quick fixes" haven't worked, even as they boosted costs. Then he offers his version of "systemic" reform. Perhaps his most important contributions are the introduction of classroom-level "learning systems" and his suggestions for major management (and "change-management") innovations in schools and school systems. He ends-inevitably but less interestingly-with a ringing call for dynamic leadership! This one is probably worthy of a place on your shelf. The ISBN is 0834219042. It's published by Aspen Publishers, Inc., 200 Orchard Ridge Drive, Gaithersburg, MD 20878. The website is www.aspenpublishers.com.

Over the past few months, federal policymakers have grappled with both education and taxes. Americans want both improved education and tax relief, but some say these dual priorities are in conflict. That need not be so, according to the Cato Institute. In a new report analyzing the effect of education tax credits, Cato researchers Darcy Ann Olsen, Carrie Lips and Dan Lips bring good news to those who'd like to have our cake and eat it too. The study assesses the fiscal impact of a two-pronged education tax credit on state and federal budgets. The plan would contain a "parental choice credit," which would offer a dollar-for-dollar reduction in federal income tax liability of up to $500 per child for money spent on tuition. It would also include a "scholarship credit," which would provide an additional $500 tax credit for donations to a nonprofit scholarship clearinghouse for low-income children. Cato researchers conclude that the plan would cost $9.2 billion in federal revenues but would save $14 billion in state education spending. Most importantly, it would allow 2 million new students to attend private schools. The report's conclusions flow from a (less than universally accepted) theory that students who transfer to...