Statewide textbook adoption distorts the market, entices extremist groups to hijack the curriculum, enriches the textbook cartel, and papers the land with mediocre instructional materials that cannot fulfill their important education mission. This recent Fordham report recommends that legislators and governors in adoption states should eliminate the process, letting individual districts, schools, and teachers choose textbooks themselves. Read it now on

Okay, it's not exactly what Rupert might condone, but since he and his crew are preoccupied and because our News Nuggets shop has plenty to do, I offer some education highlights from my weekend reading:

Charter Fights Move to the Suburbs Winnie Hu had a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times documenting a small trend in the charter movement to open more of the independent public schools in suburbs: about one in five of the nation's 5,000 charters are now in the ?burbs.? Not surprisingly, the story raises some existential questions about public education. ?Mike calls attention to the article in his Myth of the ?good? school post this morning, pointing out that ?One person's `good school' is another person's `bad fit.'? ?But there is also a ?financial question here, which is whether we can afford a good school, or even a good fit, for everyone. Is the computer the answer? Just as we citizens and taxpayers pool our resources to build common roads and ?provide for the common defense,? our ?public school system? has traditionally supposed that we get better education by having common schools. Traditionally, that has meant a central location. But if...

This is indeed a bold consolidation of power. But the plan also calls
for turning Indianapolis into a district of total choice, in which all
schools would compete for students — a bold diffusion of power.

Terry Ryan said it well, praising The Mind Trust’s Indianapolis school reform plan, Creating Opportunity Schools, as a “bold and dramatic transformation of public education akin to what has taken place in New Orleans and New York City." And it's true that “the most controversial part of the reform plan,” as Terry writes, “calls for neutering the role of the current IPS [Indianapolis Public Schools] school board, while turning governance over to a new five member board appointed jointly by the mayor and the City-County Council.” This is indeed a bold consolidation of power. But the plan also calls for turning Indianapolis into a district of total choice, in which all schools would compete for students — a bold diffusion of power. By combining mayoral authority and parental choice, as Paul Peterson suggests in his masterful 2010 book Saving Schools, The Mind Trust proposal would create “a marriage made in heaven”:

Theoretically, the excellence movement’s two central thrusts


The central problem besetting K-12 education in the United
States today is still—as for almost thirty years now—that far too few of our
kids are learning nearly enough for their own or the nation’s good. And the
gains we’ve made, though well worth making, have been meager (and largely
confined to math), are trumped by gains in other countries, and evaporate by
the end of high school.

From where I sit, the basic strategies
aren’t ill-conceived. Rather, they’ve been stumped, stymied, and
constrained by formidable barriers that are more or less built into the
K-12 system as we know it.

This much everybody knows. But unless we want to live out
the classic definition of insanity (“doing the same thing over again with the
expectation that it will produce a different result”), we need to focus
laser-like on the barriers that keep us from making major-league gains. If we
don’t break through (or circumnavigate) these barriers, academic achievement
will remain stagnant.

The barriers I’m talking about are not cultural issues,
parenting issues, demographic issues, or other macro-influences on educational
achievement. Those are all plenty...

Creating Opportunity Schools coverThrough this report (prepared by Public Impact),
The Mind Trust proposes a dramatic transformation of public education in
Indianapolis, akin to the structural changes that have taken place in New
Orleans and New York City. It observes that great schools across the country
share a set of core conditions that enable them to help all students achieve.
Among these core conditions are the freedom to build and manage their own
teams, refocus resources to meet actual student needs, hold schools accountable
for their results(and close those that don’t perform), and create a system of
school choice that empowers parents to find schools that they want their
children to attend. To create success in the public schools of Indianapolis
(IPS), the Mind Trust proposes these bold moves: shift funding from the central
office to schools; give high-performing schools autonomy over staffing,
budgets, and curriculum; provide parents with more good choices; unite all
public schools under a new banner of quality called Opportunity Schools; and
allow the mayor and the City-County Council to appoint the IPS school...

A new round of the popular education board game, Poverty Matters, began last week with a New York Times op-ed
by Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske, titled, “Class Matters: Why Won’t We
Admit It?”  (Interestingly, the essay is really about poverty, not
class, and the paper that Ladd wrote on which the essay is based is
titled Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence.  See also Kathleen Porter-Magee’s The `Poverty Matters’ Trap from last July’s Flypaper.)

Ladd and Fiske’s essay was one of those broadsides that spreads
through the teacher ranks like a brush fire. I received my email copy
from one of our district’s veteran teachers, a hard-working, dedicated
woman who rarely misses an opportunity to remind me that she and her
colleagues would be doing a fine job were it not for unmotivated kids
and their irresponsible parents.  And Diane Ravitch weighed in
calling to mind, in tune with the season, the story of Scrooge and Tiny
Tim, offering to “update this tale for today’s school reformers” by
calling attention to Ladd and Fiske’s op-ed. (Ravitch says she uses
Ladd’s Education and...

voodoo doll photo

The power of the voodoo. Who do? You do. Do what?
Photo by Juha-Matti Herrala

2005’s hurricane catalyzed one of the largest
governance experiments in American education to date, as Louisiana implemented
its Recovery School District law under which it took responsibility for the
worst schools in the Big Easy (and a few others throughout the Bayou State).
While other state-takeover initiatives have seen mixed results, Louisiana’s push has yielded big upticks in student-test scores. Two reasons why
Louisiana’s initiative has fared well: It doesn’t get bogged down in the
schools’ day-to-day operations. (It offloads that responsibility onto school
leaders—where it belongs.) And it scraps the current edu-governance system (no
more school boards, locally elected or otherwise), giving site management over to
charter networks and other external providers. The idea has some converts:
Michigan (with
its Education Achievement System
) and Tennessee both recently announced the
creation of their own...

While I’m still digesting the papers and footage from the recent day-long Rethinking Education Governance for the 21st Century
symposium (sponsored by Fordham and the Center for American Progress), I
want to call your attention to some intriguing outlier governance
events and stories.

First, on NPR recently,
CNN host Fareed Zakaria said that the Founders were so “obsessed with
the problem of absolute power” that they created an unworkable
government. “The system in Washington is so unwieldy that in order to
get everybody to agree, [it] would seem to take a miracle and would
perhaps take decades.” Is that good or bad?  (Checker and Mike
suggest that, as far as education governance goes, we’ve got to return
more powers to the states.) On the same NPR show, former Congressman
Mickey Edwards argued that the problem is not the Constitution – and the
governance structure it created – but the party system. Sure, you can
create an efficient government, like China, said Edwards, “the people
just get in the way.” He continued: “Well I think that’s nonsense. We
don’t need to...

It wasn’t considered one of the top five moments of Saturday’s Republican presidential debate, according to the New York Times, but it should have been. After Romney attacked Gingrich for his Harvard proposal to put poor kids to work as school janitors (see my post last week) the new GOP front-runner, having taken some hits for his earlier  comments (see my friend, Bronx teacher Mark Anderson), proves himself an able barometer of public opinion, dropping the kids-as-janitors idea but not losing his direction:

Kids ought to be allowed to work parttime in school,
particularly in the poorest neighborhoods, both because they could use
the money — if you take one half of the New York janitors, who are
unionized and are paid more than the teachers. An entry-level janitor is
paid twice as much as an entry-level teacher. You take half the
janitors, you could give lots of poor kids work experience in the
cafeteria, the school library, in the front office and a lot of
different things. I’ll stay by the idea that young people ought to learn
how to work. Middle class kids do it routinely.


School reforms abound today, yet even the boldest and most imaginative among them have produced—at best—marginal gains in student achievement. What America needs in the twenty-first century is a far more profound version of education reform. Instead of shoveling yet more policies, programs, and practices into our current system, we must deepen our understanding of the obstacles to reform that are posed by existing structures, governance arrangements, and power relationships. Yet few education reformers—or public officials—have been willing to delve into this touchy territory.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Center for American Progress have teamed up to tackle these tough issues and ask how our mostly nineteenth-century system of K-12 governance might be modernized and made more receptive to the innumerable changes that have occurred—and need to occur—in the education realm. We have commissioned fifteen first-rate analysts to probe the structural impediments to school reform and to offer provocative alternatives.