This new report from the Campaign for Youth Justice makes a powerful case that too many 15, 16 and 17 year olds are held in DC Jail. What makes this especially terrible for the kids and our community (to which they will return one day) is that we have few education and counseling options available at the jail for teens. So they just sit there, locked in their cells for almost the whole day.

The report has a number of sensible policy recommendations, including 1) requiring that kids who are tried as adults be held in juvenile facilities while the await trial, and 2) mandating that a judge review all cases in which prosecutors seek to try kids as adults, and make a case-by-case determination that the transfer to adult court makes sense. More here.

I’ve said that I’m drawn to the idea of merit pay, but the details seem really hard to get right, as the Working Group on Teacher Quality has recently argued (pdf). Maybe so hard that it isn’t worth it. I’m not sure, and I don’t want to give up on something that seems, in the abstract, to have common sense going for it. But most of what I hear from the gung-ho merit pay crowd avoids the tough questions and instead simply asserts that people who who support merit pay, like Bloomberg (and maybe Obama) are courageous, and those who oppose it are pandering and stuck in liberal orthodoxy. But this seems like an example of an area where the details really matter.

So my question for Whitney Tilson, Joe Williams, Andy Rotherham, Edspresso etc., is . . . if you were a non-pandering reform-oriented superintendent, what exactly would your merit pay proposal be? Specifically, here’s 5 questions to start with:

1) Would you propose using value-added assessment, and what would you do if you were in one of the overwhelming majority of districts that don’t have the data systems to support that?

2) Do you endorse what Aspire schools do, and include school-wide measures of achievement and parent satisfaction surveys? Or would you base the merit pay solely on test scores tied to an individual teacher’s classroom?

3) How much weight, if any, would you give to the judgment of principals above and beyond standardized measures? Would there be any appeal process for teachers who felt they had been judged unfairly?

4) What about the areas that aren’t routinely tested? Are those teachers eligible for merit pay, and if so, who decides and on what basis?

5) Finally, if we accept as we must, that doing this right will cost more money (not the pay itself, but the investment in the assessment tools), how much should we be willing to pay?

This last one matters a lot since smart, not-stuck-in-liberal-orthodoxy school leaders like Emily Lawson, who are actually trying to implement merit pay, have argued that good merit pay plans are 1) costly to implement, and 2) would rank relatively low on her list of priorities for improving teacher quality.

Today’s Washington Times reports on DC voucher program. Representative Norton predicts it is going down:

Congress authorized the program for five years, and must reauthorize it next year if it is to continue. Mrs. Norton said she will do her best to make sure that doesn’t happen, and now that her party holds the majority in Congress, she could be more successful than she was in 2004.

“I think there’s very little chance that, when this runs out, it will be renewed, ” she said.

Mrs. Norton met with officials from the Washington Scholarship Fund, which administers the scholarships. “I have said to them that I think the only responsible thing to do is to prepare the parents to understand that the program is unlikely to be funded, that it was experimental, it was never meant to be permanent.”

My views here. Eduwonk also noticed inconsistencies in how voucher proponents defend the program.

It’s early, but it appears that new DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee and union chief George Parker are off to a good start. The City Paper story is quite thorough and should be required reading for anybody interested in the question of labor-management relations in schools. Kevin Carey and Ezra Klein have pointed out how some on the left seek to show their independence by thoughtlessly blaming the unions for school failure. (Which is not to say that unions, just like management, don’t sometimes take positions that are bad for kids.) But if one were to list the problems in DC schools, union opposition to reform has to rank very low. Even better, I think there is a decent chance that Rhee and Parker will do some things that are genuinely reform-oriented in this next round of contract negotiations.

Update: Parker is not alone. Leo Casey highlights a good Ed Sector report showing the diversity of views among local union leaders.

I love that Michelle Rhee is going out and doing community meetings. According to my sources she was a big hit doing a morning reading to the kids at Oak Hill, the juvenile detention center which most DC leaders want to forget, but which Adrian Fenty, Vinnie Schiraldi and David Domenici are turning around. Rhee clearly gets that to make big change she is going to need popular support. And she’s being public about some things which are obvious, but which too few school leaders in D.C. ever admit: 1) the central office is not working well, 2) parents and teachers can no longer be treated as a nuisance by folks downtown (serving them is why the central office exists), and 3) starting now everyone downtown is going to be held accountable for educating kids. More here.

Good audio debate on NCLB here. Per usual with these things, both sides overstate their case. But the callers had good questions. A good reminder to the policy wonks of some of the concerns that parents have, pro and con.

One of the most disappointing things about the reaction to the Supreme Court decisions on race and pupil assignment have been the number of people who write things like “good schools are more important than integrated schools.” There are a number of problems with this formulation–among them the idea that we should have to choose between one of the two.

For one of the best statements of why integration still matters, and the ways in which it is currently threatened, check out the latest by Gary Orfield and his colleagues.

First, they lay out the research on racial isolation and academic achievement:

Although colleges and universities differ in their criteria and process for admissions, common elements to their admissions decisions for students include 1) whether a student has or will graduate from high school, 2) standardized test scores, and 3) number of advanced and Advanced Placement courses. Research consistently finds that minority students graduate at significantly lower rates in racially isolated minority schools; in fact, minority isolation is a significant predictor of low graduation rates, even when holding constant the effects of other school performance indicators. Academic achievement scores of students are also lower in segregated minority schools, and this effect can cumulate over time for students who spend multiple years attending segregated schools. Finally, many predominantly minority schools do not offer as extensive advanced curricular opportunities and levels of academic competition as do majority white or white and Asian schools.

To this, many will respond that we should make racially isolated schools better, and will point to examples of some KIPP schools and others where students of mostly one race do very well. I agree–if only out of necessity, we have no choice but to do everything in our power to make segregated schools better. But while we do that, let’s not forget that something is lost in the process:

In addition to offering different opportunities for academic preparation, research has also found that integrated schools offer minority students important connections to competitive higher education and information about these options. There are strong ties between successful high schools and selective colleges. Minority students who graduate from integrated schools are more likely to have access to the social and professional networks normally available to middle class white students. For example, a study of Latino students who excelled at elite higher educational institutions found that most students had attended desegregated schools — and gained academic confidence as well as critical knowledge about what they need to do to accomplish their aspirations (e.g., which courses to take from other, college-going students).

White students also lose if schools resegregate. Desegregation advocates assert that public school desegregation is powerful and essential because desegregated schools better prepare future citizens for a multiracial society. A critical component of this preparation is gaining the skills to work with people of diverse backgrounds. Segregated schools in segregated neighborhoods leave white as well and nonwhite students ill-prepared for what they will encounter in colleges and university classes or in their dorms.

Over 50 years ago, Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport suggested that one of the essential conditions to reducing prejudice was that people needed to be in contact with one another, particularly under appropriate conditions. Research in racially integrated schools confirms that, by allowing for students of different races and ethnicities to be in contact with one another, students can develop improved cross-racial understanding and experience a reduction of racial prejudice and bias. Importantly, research suggests that other interventions such as studying about other groups are not as effective or as long-lasting as actually being in contact with students of other racial/ethnic backgrounds.