Photo courtesy of the New York Times

What’s happening today in the dropout nation:

  1. As Stephen Sawchuk reported Wednesday in Education Week, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers were none too pleased with the Obama administration’s effort to transform Title I funding from formula-based funding to competitive grants similar to the Race to the Top reform effort. But don’t think it’s just all about the money. The NEA and the AFT (along with local school districts) have already been the beneficiaries of $100 billion in federal stimulus dollars (along with the prospect of more billions in the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget courtesy of another possible stimulus being pitched around Congress). What it is really about is that the NEA and AFT are slowly being relegated to side players in education decision-making. Even though the Adequate Yearly Progress provisions within the No Child Left Behind Act that the unions oppose are being ditched, the two unions are facing the reality that the traditional system of teachers compensation — degree- and seniority-based pay scales, near-lifetime employment through tenure and pensions that pay out as much as $2 million to a teacher over the course of her retirement — is being relegated to history’s ash-bin. No Child, along with Race to the Top (and various efforts by school districts and states to right-size their finances), will likely further spur this transformation.
  2. Meanwhile in Central Falls, R.I., one of the 93 teachers at the local high school fired by the district last month after refusing to support a school turnaround plan decided to hang Obama in effigy, according to USA Today. Why? Because of Obama’s own support for the district in this imbroglio. This teacher has a right to free speech. He also deserves our scorn.
  3. At Gotham Schools, Matthew Levey argues that teacher quality is just side of the school reform equation. Revamping the curricula taught in New York City’s schools (and other school systems throughout the nation) is also critical to improving how children learn. Writes Levey: “The content we want our kids to learn is the fraternal twin of teacher quality, and it is high time we stopped treating it like a redheaded stepchild.” I agree with his point, but doesn’t the Common Core standards effort (along with the entire history of the standards and accountability movement) undermine his argument?
  4. The Brookings Institution calls for a new federal program to recruit, train and bring teachers to the poorest school systems. All nice and all. But don’t we already have AmeriCorps? Don’t we have Teach for America, which started out as an offshoot of AmeriCorps? Didn’t Martin Haberman start a similar program five decades ago that became the National Teacher Corps? My my my, Brookings, offering old ideas yet again. And, save for TFA (which is fully in the nonprofit sector), the concept has never really worked.
  5. And the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsay Burke takes aim at Obama and Duncan for watering down some of the oft-sabotaged school choice provision within No Child, which allowed for poor students to leave the worst schools for better schools within their district (if available). From where I sit, the provision was often not used because traditional school districts almost never informed parents in time to exercise their choice. Sadly, even when available, the school districts were often so atrocious that there were no high quality schools from which parents can choose. The better solution should have been to allow for vouchers. But Obama isn’t going to ever go there.

Check out this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast on improving teacher quality, along with this week’s report on low high school promotion rates for boys within Kansas City, K.S.’s school district. And read my report in The American Spectator on efforts by the AFT and NEA to start their own charter schools (and take control of existing traditional schools). Apparently, one AFT effort in New York City isn’t going so hot.

By the way: Next week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, which will focus more on improving urban and rural schools, will hit the Internet this weekend.