Liam Julian

Would you or someone you know love to work in education policy? Are you confused about where to start? Then the??Fordham Fellows program might be for you! The deadline fast approaches....

"Finger scan replaces tickets in lunch line"

This in Idaho, no less, which is one of only five states not to use a unique statewide student identifier (like a social security number) in its data system--out of privacy concerns, one surmises.

Talk about bizarre piggybacking and ahistoricism.

Ronald Reagan didn't make many missteps, but one blunder that's widely acknowledged by just about everyone who follows education was the White House's bungled initial reception of A Nation at Risk in 1983. The "vision" that the President laid out on that occasion had just about nothing to do with what the Excellence Commission said or recommended. It was ships passing in the night.

After dawn broke, Reagan and his team (including Ed Meese) realized that the Commission's report had struck a nerve--even though it had absolutely nothing to do with school choice or with reducing the federal role in education. Whereupon the President began gallivanting around the land with Education Secretary Ted Bell--18 joint events in 11 weeks, it says on page 99 of my book.

But as he traveled he sang from the Commission's hymnal (higher standards, tougher courses, better teachers, etc.), not the one that our good friends at Heritage (and Senator DeMint) are trying posthumously to place in his hands.

From a column in today's Detroit News :

The teachers at Alain Locke Senior High School in south-central Los Angeles' troubled Watts neighborhood were fed up.

They were sick of their 50-percent-plus dropout rate. They were sick of gang violence. They were especially sick of their district bureaucrats' ever-changing education fads.

So they did the unthinkable: They made history by boldly turning over their public high school last fall to a charter school organization--and risking their own jobs.

And from an editorial, also in today's News :

Skeptics in California said it would never happen, but it did. Union teachers at Locke Senior High in Los Angeles have decided to give to charter nonprofit operator Green Dot the chance to make the disadvantaged school flourish again. Green Dot will take over the school by this summer.

Why is this L.A. high school the talk of the News 's opinion pages today? Because Motor City superintendent Connie Calloway plans to restructure five struggling schools in Locke's image.

Sounds like a pretty solid plan. Green Dot made its name as the first charter management organization to invite unions into its schools. But its labor contract is generally several-hundred pages shorter than a typical district contract. And in most other ways it embodies the kind of common-sense practices that produce well-managed schools. Again from the News editorial:

Green Dot teachers are unionized, but they have a much more flexible contract that makes teacher

Jeff Kuhner

Apparently, it's the teacher's fault when students assault them in the classroom--that's how it is, at least, at Reginald F. Lewis High School in Baltimore. Last week, The Baltimore Sun reported that Jolita Berry, after asking a girl in her art class to sit down, was confronted by the student, who threatened to beat her up.

According to Berry, she warned the student: "Back up, you're in my space. If you hit me, I'm gonna defend myself."

But she didn't protect herself. Instead, egged on by classmates, the student viciously pummeled Berry, who lay on the ground defenseless as someone videotaped the ghastly attack on his or her cell phone. The incident was later posted on MySpace.

What's scandalous is not just that a teacher was beaten to a pulp, or that most students in the classroom can be seen reveling in this act of barbarism, but that Berry--not the assailant--was blamed by the principal, Jean Ragin, for having "triggered" the incident by saying she would defend herself. The assault--and the principal's irresponsible and cowardly response--has rightly outraged concerned parents, including Baltimore's mayor, Sheila Dixon.

"That principal might need to be disciplined because no teacher should be disrespected in the classroom," Dixon said at a morning news conference last week.

Dixon added that Ragin's response was "unfair to that teacher." That's putting it mildly.

Adding insult to injury, Berry says that the principal refused to remove the student from school grounds after...

Fordham has argued that principals need to function more like CEOs, handling not just a school's academic mission but also the many complexities of running a small organization. Yet when we asked principals how they view themselves and their responsibilities, we concluded that "they see their role as ???middle manager'--not CEO."

Now the National Association of Elementary School Principals weighs in. NAESP's "Vision 2021" predicts that by the year 2021--the hundredth anniversary of NAESP--principals will be CLOs, or Chief Learning Officers. As reported in Education Week, "In those schools of the future, principals will shift away from a managerial role," using new technologies, focusing on data, and developing "learning communities." But who will run the school as an organization? Here the NAESP gets timid:

Some experts argue that no one person can do the job of principal and new structures are required, like a team of leaders including a business manager or chief of operations and a chief academic officer. Whatever the future configuration, principals will practice learner-centered leadership and seek leadership contributions from multiple sources to balance management and leadership roles.

"Leadership contributions"? Someone needs to be in charge of the school as a whole, to make sure that the school's finances, staffing, facilities, and instructional model are in synch. So who's the boss? If the NAESP is any indication, it seems we were right--today's principals aren't exactly clamoring for this responsibility....

Today, Liam turns in a nice NRO piece on Fairfax County, Virginia's, recently published report that finds that the "'moral character and ethical judgment' of its white and Asian pupils is more developed than that of its black and Hispanic pupils."

These conclusions, drawn from hosts of disparate data about attendance, disciplinary infractions, and teacher observations, have the unfortunate characteristic of being both offensive and useless. Fairfax finds that its black students have more character flaws than its white students--now what?

Liam goes on to argue that No Child Left Behind, by initiating this fetish with "disaggregated data," is to blame for deepening America's obsession with race--and that Congress ought to make NCLB colorblind by focusing on the progress of individual students--not racial groups--over time.

I agree, Liam, that moving to a "growth model" could help move us beyond raw racial calculations (even though schools will find that many of the individual students who need to make the most progress are African-American and Hispanic). But I still think our country is better off having faced NCLB's racial breakdowns and the local conversations they've forced about the achievement gap. Yes, Fairfax County has taken it several steps too far, but other communities in America have faced up to their achievement gaps for the first time ever, and that's worthy of celebration, not scorn....

Senator McCain's wife Cindy was a teacher and a "rodeo queen." One of his key education advisors, Lisa Graham Keegan, was state superintendent and a rodeo star. A coincidence?

Eduwonk returned from a week's vacation to find our complaint in Gadfly that he was a bit too generous with his praise for AFT heir apparent Randi Weingarten. Specifically, we wondered why he would say that "most of the things that the teachers' unions want are in the interest of kids." His response?

Ummm...because it's true? This debate is too often framed by absolutists arguing that teachers unions are always at odds with what's good for kids or, conversely, that they never are and the interest of teachers and students are the same. Lots of things that teachers' unions want are good for kids, too. But some are not...

OK, we're listening, can you name even a handful of the "lots of things" that unions want that are good for kids, too? We'll concede, when it comes to the AFT, that it seeks a common core curriculum, which would certainly be good for the kiddos. What else?...

Liam Julian

That Miami-Dade is considering convening a task force to investigate the testing mania that has reportedly caused some students to be hospitalized illustrates how little trust district officials often place in their principals. School Board member Solomon Stinson so noted. According to the Miami Herald, "he warned against micromanaging teachers and principals, who have a better grasp on student needs."