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Stop a Silly Argument: Learn from Success (Joe Nathan)

It’s time to learn from success and stop a silly argument. Thatís my reaction to attending a recent meeting in Nashville, where researchers compared charter and district public schools.

Professors tried to answer the question: which are better: charter or district public schools? As has happened in dozens of other studies, the results, as one researcher explained, ìare mixed.î

So how’s this for a stunning simple statement: There are some excellent, adequate and mediocre charter public schools. The same is true of district run public schools.

Instead of spending thousands, even millions of dollars trying to figure out whether district or charters are better, why not identify the most effective ones, and learn from them?

Former U.S. Congressman, and former Minnesota Governor Al Quie had a wonderful idea in the early 1970s. He applied the Agricultural Extension model to education. In agriculture, extension agents have been used to share research-based strategies with farmers. This allowed the spread of what educators now call “best practices” and helped American farmers be among the most productive in the world.

Quie helped write legislation that did the same general thing in education. Congress created a group to evaluate different approaches to teaching reading, math, and other subjects. Those approaches were then shared with educators in various states, along with funding to help educators learn from, adapt and adopt what had worked well elsewhere.

The “National Diffusion Network” worked well for many years (Full disclosure requires me to note that I worked at a Minnesota k-12 public school selected as a “carefully evaluated, proven innovation.” We helped educators adopt ideas we used, such as holding August individual family/student/teacher conferences, developing an advisor/advisee system so each student would be known well, and creating internships for high school students. Many researchers recommend these strategies now, more than 30 years we began

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The Bush Education Agenda: Then and Now (Dan Lips)

Five years can feel like a lifetime in politics, where momentum can be a stronger force than gravity. For the Bush Administration, five years invested in implementing and defending No Child Left Behind has created a sense of ownership over all aspects of a law that was the result of heavy negotiations.  This was apparent in Education Secretary Margaret Spelling’s recent comment that the law needs few changes in its reauthorization. But compared to the original education plan President Bush offered in 2001, the current No Child Left Behind falls short of the Administration’s goals. 

The Bush Administration unveiled its education reform plan shortly after Inauguration in 2001. (The Department of Education has an archive of the original 28-page proposal here.)  

However, the No Child Left Behind legislation that President Bush signed into law in January 2002 looked very different from the proposal he submitted to Congress in 2001. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA), among others, clearly made their mark on the legislation. 

The President’s plan was built on four pillars: strong accountability for results, research-proven methods, flexibility and local control, and parental choice. On flexibility and parental choice, NCLB bears little resemblance to the President’s original proposal. 

Bush’s plan would have let low-income students attending poor-performing public schools use their share of Title I funding as a scholarship to attend private school. This would have been a significant expansion of parental choice.  

But Congress stripped out the private school choice component early in the legislative process. At the signing ceremony in 2002, a weakened public school transfer option and a modest after-school tutoring program were all that remained of the President’s broad choice proposals.  

After nearly five years, NCLB’s modest school choice provisions are helping few children. According to the Department of Education, only 1

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“R” Stands for Reading Rat Race (Nancy Salvato)

In the Summer of  2001 Dame Marie Clay, creator of the New Zealand based Reading Recovery program, and her entourage came to the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, to speak with House Education Committee Staffer Bob Sweet.  Her purpose was to ascertain whether Reading Recovery would be eligible for Reading First funding once the bill was passed.  Bob explained to Ms. Clay that explicit, systematic phonics instruction had to be included in any program eligible for RF funding because it was one of the necessary key components of reading instruction that had been established through decades of carefully conducted quantitative research.  These findings had been validated in the Report of the National Reading Panel in 2000 and were now going to become an essential part of the Reading First Law.  He pleaded with Ms. Clay to use her extensive network of teacher training programs all over the US to help in the implementation of the RF program.  He encouraged her to provide the leadership within the RR family to make the modifications necessary, and thus make RR eligible for RF funding consideration. 

With a stare as cold as ice, Marie Clay replied that RR would not be making any changes to their program; however, Mr. Sweet could be certain a new description of its components would be written in such a way as to bring it into compliance with the RF law.  Momentarily dumbfounded, he maintained that Reading Recovery could not be eligible for RF funding without modification, and his initial estimation then still stands today.

A little background about Clay’s Reading Recovery program reveals it to be a very expensive program to implement, averaging more than $8,000 per student per year when the expense of teacher development is considered.  This cost is more than one whole year

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