"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Who Needs the New York Times?

The NY Times, once the mainstream media source to actually print the opinions of liberals alongside conservatives, has a story in today's Education Life, "Who Needs Education Schools?," that reflects how much things have changed toward being the same. The story, a poorly-edited hodgepodge of opinions by conservative propagandists, makes the case that public education colleges are hopelessly out of step with the new purpose of education, i.e., raising test scores. The only exception to the article's conservative lineup of experts (Dianne Ravitch, David Steiner, Harold Levy, David Levin, Kati Haycock, and Anthony Carnevale) is Columbia's Arthur Levine, who speaks so convincingly out of both sides of this mouth that he may remain accused of having latent liberal tendencies.

Without doubt, the most striking content of the piece comes from Anthony Carnevale, the newest economist turned education expert to be named a Fellow at the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). In a remarkable display of Alice in Wonderland logic, he makes the case that public education colleges, the NEA, and their weak teacher candidates are the culprits in the continued de-skilling of teaching and the teacher proofing of school by the rise of the textbook/testing industry lobby:

Among the historically intractable problems in retaining teachers are low status and low pay, says Anthony Carnevale, a senior fellow at the National Center on Education and the Economy. Because the public sector will never pay as much as the private, he says, and because unions have resisted extra pay for high-demand skills like math teaching, the gap in ability between teachers and other white-collar professionals will become bigger, not smaller.

In Mr. Carnevale's bleak picture, learning will no longer be an act of discovery but a process of drilling in predetermined principles of success. Teachers will become part of a docile force of assembly-line workers, trained to execute someone else's plans, with little room for serendipity. Some teachers complain that this is already happening in urban systems, including New York's.

In this model, education schools will have to compensate for a meager talent pool by idiot-proofing teacher training. "You tie their teaching methods to standards so that in a very aggressive way they learn to teach to the results of those tests, like a soldier," Mr. Carnevale says. "The voluntary military didn't always get the best of human capital. But what you did was make the training so rigorous it didn't matter."

Let's see if I have this right: these liberation-minded Deweyans and Freireans in the schools of education are responsible for turning our future teachers and children into non-thinking drones?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

NCLB and the Re-segregation of Schools

It did not take No Child Left Behind to begin the resegregation of American public schools. As reported by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, that process began in late 1980s as a result of a number of factors, not the least of which were some critical federal court cases in the early 1980s that struck down attempts to achieve racial balance within and across districts with the use of busing.
What we are beginning to see now are the effects of NCLB on this trend toward resegregation. In today's Oregonian, a teacher talks about a disturbing trend in Portland that threatens years of conscious effort to integrate Portland's neighborhoods. Since property values and buying patterns are actually being affected by test scores, and because those schools with sizable minorities are finding themselves on the Federal watch-list, students, both white and minority, are given the opportunity to enroll in other Portland schools not watch-listed. This effects a brain drain from these watch-listed schools, and it discourages new families from moving into these neighborhoods if they can afford to buy elsewhere. Carol Berkley, a teacher in Portland, explains in today's Oregonian:
So while certain special groups of students are not achieving in accord with federal guidelines, while others are actually improving, we need to be careful not to generalize about the quality of individual schools. That, however, is just what the federal government is doing, and it's contradictory to Portland's recent success in developing integrated neighborhoods.

No Child Left Behind mandates that any student in our watch-list cluster can transfer out of his or her current school because a special group of students has failed to meet the federal testing guidelines. This mandate threatens a de facto redefinition of the discriminatory practice of redlining, from one based on mortgage loans within targeted neighborhoods to one based on test scores in targeted neighborhoods, and that very perception is already scaring families away.

Why is it that all students in these schools are invited to transfer elsewhere? Why not just those student groups whose scores didn't improve?

As No Child Left Behind and its guard dog, the Annual Yearly Progress reports, advance each year toward more rigorous sanctions, be aware that Portland's outer eastside is at risk. Neighborhood associations, urban planners, business people and others who have a vested interest in the health of the outer eastside should demand information about which students are taking advantage of the transfer program. Are they the special-category students whom the progress reports have been tracking? Or is the pattern something different? Are we "brain draining" schools of higher-achieving students?

With the yearly progress reports advancing in their sanctions, inadvertent brain draining could be just the tip of the iceberg. Redlining has been outlawed for a long time, but No Child Left Behind may just resurrect it.

Carol Berkley teaches reading, language arts and social studies at Portland's Binnsmead Middle School.

Who is Jay P. Greene, and Why is He Going to Arkansas?

Today's Arkansas Times has a great piece of reporting by Doug Smith. Smith reports that Jay P. Greene, lead education propagandist for the Manhattan Institute, the conservative think tank, has been pegged to head University of Arkansas at Fayetteville's new Department of Education Reform. It seems that Greene's previous self-published "research" to pump school privatization through vouchers will now have an actual university to sponsor the junk studies and "working papers" that have been widely cited in the Washington Times, the New York Sun, the National Review Online, and other non-academic, non-peer reviewed outlets--all of them fair and balanced, of course.

This is all interesting enough, but what make it really interesting is, as Smith points out, the money for financing (20,000,000 dollars) the new department (and its endowed chair) comes from Arkansas's other favorite son, Sam Walton and the Walton Family Foundation. Now we are talking serious money, enough to lure Greene from his Manhattan Institute digs (located somewhere outside Orlando, Florida, by the way).

One must wonder if Greene will take along his fellow academic researcher and co-author, Marcus Winters. There must be something a chief researcher can do at UA Fayetteville with a bachelors degree in political science.

the "liberal education media"

Yesterday Susan Ohanian's excellent site posted, alongside her own, Gerald Bracey's reaction to a Jay Mathews' piece in the Post about education reporting. Both are worth reading, as reminders of how successful those who howled about the "liberal media" have been in pushing the corporate media in their direction.

In terms of those reporters who are writing about education as they wait their turn to move up to real reporting jobs, they have historically fallen into line with those who criticize public education. While success stories do not sell papers, claims of failure do.

Just one example: In 1957 when the USSR launched Sputnik, hypercritics of the schools such as Admiral Hyman Rickover, claimed that public education needed to be overhauled to turn out mathematicians and engineers to catch up with the Reds. The media was all over the story, declaring the mushy schools had put our national security at risk. Well, 12 years later when the USA put men on the moon, there were no education story in the media to celebrate the turnaround in the American education system.

In the meantime, Rickover and Bestor and other supporters of the traditional curriculum had successfully used that fear to move the school curriculum toward their preferred mold. What a motivator fear is, as Barry Glassner points out so well in his The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Basic Training for the School Wars

An all-out assault is underway against public education, formed by an impressive phalanx of fundamentalists, free-marketers, and propagandists. Even though the ferocity of the attack is perhaps unprecendented, the use of lies, statistical manipulations, and fear-mongering is nothing new in the history of educational reform. Snake oil salesmen have always had to conjure an illness in order to move their products.

Let me recommend an illuminating title that puts into focus how attacks on Am. public education have been used as political foils, for education profiteering, and to push social agendas by those rankled by the overly-democratic aspirations of free public education: The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools.

Whether debating school issues in the grocery checkout line or before a Congressional committee, this book provides a basis for distinguishing ideological bullshit from fact. Be prepared, be brave. Save the Republic.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Accountability, or someone to blame?

One of my students emailed me yesterday to say that something is happening in discussions among mothers with school-age children. Suddenly, they are terrified that their children will not pass the annual tests mandated by NCLB. These middle class mothers blame the teachers for not preparing their children for the test. Many teachers, in turn, blame bad parenting or the mandated curriculum that does not seem aligned with the tests that students are required to take.

But there is a growing chorus who are blaming the testing orgy, itself--a policy carefully put together with an unachievable goal of 100 % proficiency in reading and math by 2014. While poverty schools, both rural and urban, are now going on the federal "watch-list" (they are the canaries in this coal mine) for the second or third year, and thus facing more and more sanctions, those middle class preserves are now beginning to realize how likely it will be that their kids' schools will also become subject to the list of sanctions that were crafted to weaken support of public schools and to open the door to school privatization. After 3 or 4 years on the federal watch-list (great term, "watch-list"), parents and school boards will be ready to try some of the "free-market" solutions that inspired this reform from the beginning. This is the plan to shatter the resistance to bringing in corporations to manage the public schools.

The rise of the corporate welfare school (companies taking public dollars to manage the schools and hire the teachers) depends upon the failure of the public schools, and that "failure" is happening now in the name of accountability, high standards, and ending the achievement gap. No more cynical or inhumane game could be conceived in the name of education.

So the blaming that is going around among teachers and parents needs to be solidified against the culprit, rather than blaming one another for events that neither created nor can control. Peter McWalters, Commissioner of Education for Rhode Island, believes the political solution, indeed, rests with teachers and parents, as they begin to talk about the harsh realities of their students and children and schools. When parents, then, begin to talk to their state and federal lesgislators, that is when the political rhetoric and realities will begin to change. Teachers can't make that political move because they have already been politically marginalized as selfish union members who only care about their paychecks. The MacSchools of the future that neo-cons envision will assuredly will not have union members.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Unqualified editorializing

Last week USA Today provided a good example of how wishful thinking gets in the way of common sense judgments. When NAEP reported a 9-point drop in the achievement gap for 9-year olds between 1999 and 2004, those who had already experienced the conversion to the utopian promises of NCLB raised their voices in hallelujahs. NCLB works!

Think about it. NCLB was signed by the President in early 2002. States began the steroidal testing policy in 2003. The NAEP tests were given in the Spring of 2004. Could it too early to attribute the demise of the achievement gap to a policy that had one year to work?

And even though NAEP has urged caution about attributing "cause" to any changes, such caution does not apply to those who view every event as an opportunity for political gain. And if there is no political gain to be attained, then we can pretend that nothing happened. If the NAEP scores in 2009 show the achievement gap holding or widening, don't look for USA Today to attribute any shortcoming to the political policies to which the paper has already subscribed.

Friday, July 22, 2005

"Scientifically-based" and Profit-based teacher preparation

George Bush's former Texas reading czar, Reid Lyon, said in 2002 that “if there was any legislation I could pass it would be to blow up colleges of education.” One can imagine that Dr. Lyon, recently departed from NICHD, is now planning to do the next best thing, to create, with serious Texas money behind him, the new American College of Education—a very different kind of teacher preparation, we might imagine. Envisioned as a nationwide chain of store, er, campuses, ACE hopes to prepare teachers for the MacSchools of the future, private, too, of course. Supplying the capital for this venture is Randy Best, founder of Voyager Expanded Learning, a scripted, phonic-based approach to literacy, and now patented, that's right, patented as the only reading system "guaranteed against illiteracy." These are serious capitalists, er, educators here.

New and improved teachers?

The ABCTE is one of the preferred solutions of the "change everything" crowd now in power at the Dept. of Education. Somehow, a major in a subject area and passing an Internet test will create the "high quality" teachers called for in No Child Left Behind. Despite plenty of research to show that teacher education programs contribute significantly to new teacher success, the neo-cons would prefer, as former head of NIHCD blurped in 2002, “ to blow up colleges of education.”

Not only does the new education order want teacher candidates “protected from the ‘liberal agenda’ of teacher education programs” (Berliner, 2005), they also want a teacher corps without the bothersome and expensive headaches of collective bargaining units. In other words, they want to bust the NEA. This is part of a larger agenda to turn public schools into corporate welfare schools, or privately-managed charters, that take public education dollars and give them to corporations that hire and fire, make curriculum decisions, and give the tests.

Leaders in the charter movement such as Chester Finn have said as much: "What the charter designation does is create the opportunity to build such schools with less bureaucratic (and teacher union) hassle."

Who is Chester Finn? Among the many conservative causes and think tanks he participates in, is the ABCTE, where he sits on the Board of Directors. Such symmetry.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The revolution starts . . .now

The greatest problems facing schools today are linked to a national policy that hopes to "change everything," as former Deputy Secretary of Education, Gene Hickok recently noted in a speech to a group of charter school advocates and entrepeneurs in Florida.

This space will explore how that "everything" is already changing in public education and in policy circles and the public perception. Too, this space will advocate for a reexamination of the purposes of schools that is long overdue, before that "change," now spearheaded by a psychometric blitzkrieg of
"metastasized testing" destroys a public education system that took almost 200 years to build.

Lastly, I hope to have some fun covering and uncovering the limitless supply of heartless stupidities against children and teachers and parents, all enacted to further the neverending cycles of what has come to be innocently known as "education reform." For starters, check out this site--it is the brainchild, or brainsomething, of the same Gene Hickok that began this post, and it is supported by the Dept. of Education as an alternative to those radical "diploma mills" that normally prepare teachers. Come one, come all--step right up and become a teacher today for 500 bucks. More on this later, much more.