By Howard Fuller, PhD and Kaleem Caire.

This report, co-authored by the original founder and current head of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, presents a strong argument suggesting that school choice opponents deliberately mislead the public about features of the nation's preeminent school choice program in Milwaukee, WI, as well as school choice issues generally. The many examples presented, in great detail, are convincing as well as appalling. Some of the deceptions spread should be familiar: voucher programs "cream" the best students away from public schools; participating private schools get to handpick the students they will serve (even NBC's Tom Brokaw perpetuated this one on the Nightly News, despite the fact that the Wisconsin law clearly prohibits it); voucher programs are meant to destroy public education; and voucher programs do not improve the academic achievement of voucher students. (If you have any doubt that these accusations aren't true, please visit www.schoolchoiceinfo.org or email me at KLAmis@aol.com.) The report also examines how school choice opponents disingenuously equate school choice with the "Balkanization" of society and racial segregation. Fortunately we have Milwaukee-based leaders of the school choice movement ready to fight for the truth...and for the kids. You can read this report online at http://www.schoolchoiceinfo.org/, or call (414) 765-0691 to order a copy.

As I write, the House of Representatives has just completed floor action on the education bill and the Senate is expected to return to it soon. The Senate has a bunch more amendments to consider, some of them important, some of them even germane. The House (under White House pressure and facing Democratic defections) rebuffed all efforts to make major changes in the committee-drafted bill, which is to say it kept the testing provision, deep-sixed all voucher attempts and sidestepped "Straight A's". With the Senate-House conference still in the future, the final shape of this measure is remains somewhat cloudy.

Several points are worth noting, however, starting with the fact that this is an immense piece of legislation, more than 900 pages long. Tucked into it are hundreds of provisions dealing with everything imaginable, from "impact aid" to school technology to Indian education to sundry teacher issues. Numerous pork-barrel projects and narrow-interest programs are protected. All sorts of weird provisions can be spotted. Their implications will roll on for years to come. Yet the number of people who have actually read the full text of both Senate and House bills can probably be counted on one's fingers. Few lawmakers voting on these provisions are on that list. Lamentably, most who have focused on this bill at all-mainly Beltway insiders-are paying attention only to specific items of direct interest to them or their group. How these features will interact with each other is anybody's guess.

If, for example, you're interested in...

The American Federation of Teacher's magazine, American Educator, offers several gems in its most recent issue. Kay Hymowitz asks what it means for kids when parents have foresworn their traditional role and turned themselves into advocates, friends, and providers of entertainment for their children. Walter McDougall explains why an understanding of geography is fundamental to true education. There is a collection of tributes to pathbreaking reading expert Jeanne Chall, gathered from colleagues, students and friends. Dennis Denenberg laments the replacement of real-life heroes by cartoon heroes and suggests ways of bringing real heroes to life for kids. Finally E.B. White biographer Scott Elledge tells the story behind Charlotte's Web and explains what makes the book great. If you'd like a copy of one article or the whole magazine, send a fax to the American Educator (attn: Yomica) at 202-879-4534.

Achieve Policy Brief

Achieve, Inc., the organization formed by governors and CEO's to track and promote standards-based reform in American K-12 education, recently published a short "policy brief" dealing with the vexing issue of how high to set the bar for high-school graduation. In particular, this 7-pager grapples with whether a state should "set the bar high and risk a backlash when large numbers of students fail to reach it" or "set it relatively low and risk allowing students to continue to graduate without attaining the necessary knowledge and skills." The brief, unfortunately, does a better job of framing the problem than offering solutions. But it gives a few examples of how states have tackled the issue; urges higher education and employers to become more intimately involved with bar-setting (by creating, for example, a "unified system" of high school exit and college entrance); and sketches some "promising practices". Contact Achieve, Inc. at 400 North Capitol Street NW, Suite 351, Washington DC 20001; phone (202) 624-1460; fax (202) 624-1468; or surf to www.achieve.org.

Center on Education Policy

The Center on Education Policy is the small outfit led by veteran Democratic House education staffer Jack Jennings. Last month, it published a 40-page report (prepared by staff member Nancy Kober) on achievement gaps between black and Hispanic students on the one hand, whites and Asians on the other. The topic is important and timely, especially considering that current White House and Congressional ESEA action centers on ways of narrowing these gaps. The C.E.P. report offers plainly stated data, much of it drawn from such oft-trod sources as NAEP and SAT scores. (Less familiar is evidence of an achievement gap at the time of entry into school.) This report offers no grand insights as to what causes these gaps-it summons the usual mix of school, home and societal factors-nor does it break new ground in advancing gap-closing strategies. The central thrust is that "testing and accountability" aren't sufficient. Instead, the report argues, policymakers need to "be bold in providing the full range of strategies, supports, and resources required to raise achievement among Black and Hispanic children....". But of course the report does not begin to offer a "full range" of strategies. Everything it recommends is centralized, top-down and system-driven. There's not a glimmer of market-style or parent-driven reform, of monopoly busting. It's another of those reports-we seem to be awash in them-that does a good job of framing the problem and then delivers the "same old" advice about solving it. If you'd like to see...

Committee for Economic Development

The Committee for Economic Development (CED) is a business group with a respectable past, particularly when it comes to issuing solemn pronouncements, but in recent years it hasn't been much of a player in K-12 education. Now CED has weighed in with a 44-page "policy guide" intended, says president Charles Kolb, to serve "as a guide for making assessment an effective tool to improve student learning and achievement". There isn't a lot here that will be new to veterans of standards-based reform but the document could be a worthy primer for newcomers, particularly in understanding the place of testing within a reform framework-and not becoming paralyzed by anxiety that the tests aren't yet perfect. Chapter 4 (on using tests to hold students and educators accountable) is especially welcome, as it explains how several states currently handle test-based accountability. Contact the Committee for Economic Development at 477 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022. Phone (212) 688-2063; fax (212) 758-9068; or surf to www.ced.org.

Education Commission of the States, April 2001

How different are state charter school programs? Very. The Education Commission of the States has issued an informative guide to state charter school policies. In chart format, it features sections on school basics, finance, autonomy, teachers, and accountability. Among the questions covered are which states allow existing schools to convert to charter status, whether the state has a cap on the number of charter schools, and who can approve charter schools. If you have a question about state charter policies, you're likely to find the answer in this handy reference tool. View it online at www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/24/11/2411.htm or contact ECS at 707 17th St, Suite 2700, Denver, CO 80202-3427; phone 303-299-3600; fax 303-296-8332.

Learning First Alliance

The Learning First Alliance has produced this 39-page guide as a follow-up to its 1998 publication, Every Child Reading: An Action Plan, which set as a goal that virtually every healthy child born in the 21st century should read well by age 9. Containing consensus recommendations from the dozen education groups that comprise the Alliance, this guide is meant to assist planners of professional development for reading and language arts educators to set goals, select viable programs, and allocate resources wisely. Most useful are charts detailing concepts (teacher knowledge), practices (teacher skills), and possible professional development experiences that yield success in eight components of effective, research-supported reading instruction for the primary grades. The guide (and other Alliance publications) can be found at www.learningfirst.org/publications/html. Hard copies may be purchased for $3 plus shipping and handling from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development by calling 1-800-933-ASCD ext. 2.

National Academy of Sciences

It exaggerates only slightly to say that, whenever the august National Academy of Sciences turns to testing (which is often, as sundry federal agencies keep commissioning studies in this area) it finds that no existing test is good enough to be used for any real-world purposes in this lifetime. The Academy's approach to testing resembles the search for the Holy Grail or for intelligent life in outer space: a continuous quest toward a worthy end that is never actually attained. This solemn, bulky (300-page) new report from the Academy's "Committee on the Foundations of Assessment" will probably be read only by psychometricians and cognitive scientists. But you might want to have a look. Though the authors do indeed take a dim view of most current testing, they set forth a coherent theory of testing, a reasonably intelligible model of testing, and a useful explanation of trade-offs that get made due to the multiple uses we make of tests. Also helpful is some of the discussion about technology-based opportunities for improved testing. The central message, however, recalls a gazillion earlier Academy reports on testing and assessment. It contends that today's testing doesn't incorporate modern advances in cognitive and measurement science. It is notably more interested in classroom uses of testing by teachers than in the evaluation-and-accountability functions of interest to education policymakers. And it is dismissive toward tests that measure students' acquisition of basic skills and specific knowledge, no matter how much such things matter in...

In a sideshow to the main debate over ESEA, the Senate passed an amendment on May 3 that would add $18.1 billion to the federal budget for special education over the next 10 years and would change special ed funding into an entitlement that Congress would be required to fund regardless of budget considerations.  This measure has drawn criticism from the White House and others for not addressing the need to reform special ed before pumping more funds into it. 

What would "reform" of special ed look like? Rethinking Special Education for a New Century, a new collection of 14 papers released last week, catalogues the most pressing problems of the federal special ed program and offers some principles to guide the program's reauthorization in 2002. Published jointly by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the Progressive Policy Institute, the report recommends—among other things—that Washington make IDEA performance-based rather than compliance-based and focus on prevention and early intervention wherever possible.

 In a New York Times article on May 13, Kate Zernike shows how the Greenwich, CT school district has done similar things, balancing its special ed budget and bringing the percentage of children in special education down from 17 to 13 percent (as well as reducing the number of lawsuits). Greenwich has also strengthened its general education curriculum so that students are less likely to fall behind and move into special education, and has installed an early-reading program that relies more heavily on phonics.

Would that more communities learned from...