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 purposes of policy or politics. Third, it's possible that someone within the administration-conceivably the person alleged to be unhappy-is using this public mechanism as a way to "send a message" into the Oval Office.

Whence came the Paige rumors? We'll never know for sure, but possibility three is not to...

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.

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/

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 on school choice in New Zealand, When Schools Compete: A Cautionary Tale. This book asserts that school competition in New Zealand has not improved those schools that lost enrollments as a result of the nation's reforms. Ladner and McTigue argue that Fiske and Ladd fail to muster any evidence that...

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.

The Educational Research Service's new study of high-performing districts expands on an appraisal of high-performing schools that it published three years ago. This one highlights four districts: Brazosport Independent School District (in Clute, Texas); Twin Falls School District (in Idaho); Ysleta Independent School District (in El Paso); and Barbour County School District (in Philippi, West Virginia). All four districts serve a significant number of low-income children, yet showed significant gains in student achievement over the past five years. The study found an unsurprising correlation between strong leadership, a culture of high expectations, clearly articulated goals and standards, and a combination of empowerment and accountability among school staff and student achievement. A key factor contributing to district success, however, was item-level analysis of assessment results so as to identify specific weaknesses in students' knowledge and skills. This helped schools to focus classroom and individual instruction on improving these areas. Extensive efforts to provide immediate and appropriate corrective instruction contributed to the impressive score gains that these four districts made. To order a copy of the report, surf to http://www.ers.org/CATALOG/description.phtml?II=WS-0420&UID=2001070509040164.12.103.182 or contact the Educational Research Service at 1-800-791-9308.

A year after the University of California system made changes in its admissions policy designed to increase campus diversity, Hispanic admissions soared 18%. But many of these newly admitted students may have benefited from a loophole in the admissions policy that has created an unintended reward for speakers of second languages, reports Daniel Golden in a June 26 article in the Wall Street Journal.

The U.C. system began this year to assign increased weight to the SAT II achievement tests and less to SAT I scores. Students are now required to take SAT II exams in writing, math, and a third subject of their choice, which can include foreign languages. Golden reports that many applicants from immigrant homes who are native speakers of other languages are improving their prospects for admission by acing a language test meant for students whose first tongue is English. At Jefferson High, for instance, a predominantly Hispanic, low-achieving school in Los Angeles, students averaged 715 out of 800 on the Spanish exam but 390 on the verbal SAT and 402 on the math SAT.

There are other winners besides Hispanic students. Golden found that Asian-Americans whose first language isn't English scored 761 last year on the SAT II Chinese test, 752 on Korean, and 735 on Japanese. Steven A. Holmes reports in a July 1 commentary in the New York Times that the College Board has added new SAT II tests in foreign languages in response to lobbying by ethnic groups. Korean-Americans even got a...

Fresh from Canada, this compact package of ten papers, edited by the Fraser Institute's Claudia R. Hepburn, looks at whether and how competition-based reforms could benefit the Canadian education system. More than a few of its lessons also apply to-indeed, many were derived from research performed in-the United States. The compilation is partly the result of a spring 2000 Fraser Institute conference on school choice. South-of-the-border contributors include our own Checker Finn, with "Reinventing Public Education via the Marketplace" (based on the keynote address he gave at the conference); economist Caroline Hoxby, contributing an eye-opening essay called "Analyzing School Choice Reforms that Use America's Traditional Forms of Parental Choice"; and Jay Greene, providing "A Survey of Results from Voucher Experiments: Where We Are and What We Know," which dispels many common misconceptions about voucher research. From the Canadian side, William Robson offers "Publicly Funded Education in Ontario: Breaking the Deadlock, " which explains why that province could use an infusion of parent-empowering reform, especially to reduce its stubborn achievement gap between poor and wealthy youngsters. The University of Calgary's Lynn Bosetti shares "The Alberta Charter School Experience." (Alberta was the first province in Canada to enact a charter law which, though limited to just a handful of schools, is already revealing benefits for students.) A print version of Can the Market Save Our Schools? will be available in July and can be purchased by contacting sales@fraserinstitute.ca or by calling (604) 688-0221, ext.580 or (800) 665-3558, ext. 580. Or you...

The University of Washington's Paul Hill has written a fine short background paper for the Progressive Policy Institute on "charter districts," an idea that has been gaining interest as the charter-school movement has spread. (President Bush, it may be recalled, also proposed a "charter states" program, although Congress knocked the stuffing out of it.) In five pages, Hill explains his version of a charter district, namely a public school district that charters all its schools instead of running any of them directly. (Another concept of a charter district would be one that obtains freedom from state regulations, union contract constraints and other impediments to operating its schools as it thinks best, in return for demonstrated improvements in pupil achievement. One can also envision a hybrid of those two concepts.) He notes that several U.S. school systems are already all-charter, that several more are moving in that direction, and that seven state charter laws would permit any district to do likewise. Appended to this paper is a useful one-page synopsis by Andy Rotherham of Chester-Upland, Pennsylvania's recent move (under strong state pressure) to out-source all of its schools that weren't already public charter schools. You may obtain it from Progressive Policy Institute, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Suite 400, Washington DC 20003. Phone (202) 547-0001. Fax (202) 544-5014. E-mail ppiinfo@dlcppi.org or surf to www.ppionline.org.

One in 10 Rhode Island students was suspended last year, and either sent home or forced to sit in isolated rooms for hours. The Providence Journal looks at who is suspended (disproportionately black students), why (less for violent offenses than for truancy and tardiness), and with what result. You can find this multi-part series at http://projo.com/extra/suspensions/.