It's too bad that Lucky Liam is spending a few days being a bon vivant in Montreal because it would have been fun to see his reaction to this story out of California. The Sacramento Bee reported yesterday on a school that would have failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind were it not for the fancy footwork of its principal:

One hundred students were categorized as black when they took the test last spring. But if the school had fewer than 100 students in that group, their low scores wouldn't count. So Principal Jim Wong reviewed the files of all the students classified as African American on the test, he said, and found that four of them had indicated no race or mixed race on their enrollment paperwork. Wong sent his staff to talk to the four families to ask permission to put the kids in a different racial group.

"You get a kid that's half black, half white. What are you going to put him down as?" Wong said. "If one kid makes the difference and I can go white, that gets me out of trouble."

"Go white"? No doubt Liam would say something witty like, "When you divvy up the American people by race, eventually you divvy up individual Americans by race." And he would have explained, as he did in a National Review Online piece, that he is one of the only education analysts in the country...

We appreciate Eduwonk Andy's nice plug of our Catholic schools report, and agree with him that public funding should come in return for some "substantial reciprocal obligations on the part of parochial schools," which he says "they have thus far resisted." We suspect he means the release of test score data, which Scott Hamilton addresses in our report's introduction:

In an increasingly competitive environment for schools, and with the imperfect but rich array of school information about public schools now available, the dearth of student achievement data and other information about Catholic schools represents either archaic (possibly even smug or defensive) secrecy or a grievous failure to observe how the education world has changed since the days when parishioners could simply be admonished to send their children to a Catholic school. In the era of No Child Left Behind, Catholic schools must make a commitment to measure their performance and make the results (and much more) available to one and all. Arguably, they should provide more such information than their public school counterparts.

I'm not so sure that parochial schools would resist this, however, if real money were on the table. At least when I played a bit part in implementing the District of Columbia's federally-funded school voucher program, it became clear to me that the Catholic schools were desperate enough for the dollars that they would have done virtually anything, including making all of their test score data public. It was the secular independent...

Senator Barack Obama appeared on Fox News Sunday and (among other things) spoke of his school reform bona fides. Chris Wallace asked him to name an issue where he'd be willing to buck the Democratic Party, and Obama pointed to education:

I've been very clear about the fact--and sometimes I've gotten in trouble with the teachers' union on this--that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers...

So far so good; though charter schools were mainstream once upon a time (Bill and Hillary Clinton were big supporters back in the 90s), the issue has become increasingly polarized. And while the UFT has a couple of charter schools itself, most unions have been on a rampage against them. And he has gotten in trouble over his pay-for-performance comments, as at the NEA conference last summer. But here come the caveats:

WALLACE: You mean merit pay?

OBAMA: Well, merit pay, the way it's been designed, I think, is based on just a single standardized test--I think is a big mistake, because the way we measure performance may be skewed by whether or not the kids are coming into school already three years or four years behind. But I think that having assessment tools and then saying, "You know what? Teachers who are on career paths to become better teachers, developing themselves professionally--that we should pay excellence more." I think that's a good idea, so...

What he describes here--paying teachers...

In his appearance yesterday on Fox News , Obama said that "I've been very clear about the fact... that we should be experimenting with charter schools." Actually, he hasn't been very clear about that fact, at least during this campaign. (He was a well-known charter supporter during his Illinois Senate days.) His formal education proposal , for example, never mentions the concept. And it's sure not a part of his stump speech. While he hasn't kept his support a state secret (see here , for instance), to my knowledge this is the most high-profile mention he's given to charter schools to date.

If states and school districts based layoff decisions on merit, and not seniority, we wouldn't have to read about ridiculous situations like this. See our report on collective bargaining agreements by Rick Hess and Coby for our reasoning on why the "last hired, first fired" rule should be relegated to the history books.

While most Americans think per-pupil spending in public schools is lower than it really is, many new immigrants think Catholic school tuition is higher than it really is. So said an official at Chicago's Big Shoulders Fund on Friday at a session Fordham sponsored with the Heartland Institute to highlight our recent Catholic schools study.

Big Shoulders has been doing the Lord's work for over twenty years, raising upwards of $150 million to keep inner-city Catholic schools open (or at least stem the tide of closures). A few years ago its leaders wondered why more immigrant families from Mexico weren't enrolling their children in Chicago's Catholic schools. The answer? These families assumed that parochial schools in the U.S. were the bastions of the elite, since that is the case in Mexico, which (like most countries) doesn't have a broad-based system of Catholic education. When Big Shoulders asked the immigrants how much they thought it cost to attend a Catholic school, they guessed way high.

To be sure, we need to find ways to make Catholic schools more affordable for working class and low-income families. But the Church could do a lot of good just by making families aware of how affordable the schools already are....

Congrats to Davida Gatlin, a member of our first class of Fordham Fellows, whose report on alternative certification was released by the Center for American Progress today. And a good report it is, and not just because it cites Fordham's (and NCTQ's) Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative about a million times. Though that helps.

P.S. Do you want to change the world? (Or at least write cool reports?) Hurry up and apply to be in our next cohort of Fordham Fellows.

Sunday's New York Times Magazine features an article on K-12 arts education. The piece sets out to refute Obama's evidently misleading claims that teaching the arts leads to improved student performance on standardized tests.

There is indeed a correlation between, for example, how many years students spend in arts classes and their SAT scores; more art, higher scores. But that doesn't prove that it's the added exposure to the arts that boosts verbal or math performance. Another study shows that students who take more courses in any subject do better on the SAT. Meanwhile, a British study found the opposite: the more arts classes students took, the worse they did on their national exams. A more plausible explanation, Winner speculates, may be that academically motivated students in the U.S. gravitate to the arts, eager to show supercompetitive colleges they aren't just grinds who do well on their SATs. In England, it's weaker students who are steered onto the arts track.

Fair enough, but there are more important reasons to teach kids about art and music. As Checker and (Fordham board member) Diane Ravitch argued in the Wall Street Journal last year, the breadth of our curricular offerings allows us to "acquire qualities and abilities that aren't easily 'outsourced' to Guangzhou or Hyderabad."

Indeed, the iPod, Google, Hollywood--these world-beating American icons sprouted from fertile minds that, though they certainly benefited from some technical know-how, would never have found proper nourishment in a drill-and-kill, math-and-science-only environment. Are we...

Checker writes about the twenty-fifth anniversary of A Nation at Risk in the Wall Street Journal and the Gadfly. He also talked about it last week on "America's Business with Mike Hambrick," a radio show associated with the National Association of Manufacturers: