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

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Research or “Consumer-Friendly Evidence Reviews?”

In the war to re-impose an antiquarian rigidity into school classrooms (urban classrooms, anyway), ED is attacking on several fronts. One of the most important and least talked about is the educational research front, where the effort is focused on insuring that all educational program funding decisions are based on “scientifically-based research.”

In February 2005, changes were entered into the Federal Register that essentially re-defined knowledge for purposes of educational policy and decision making. The gold standard established by Grover Whitehurst and Co. has now been defined as the same experimental and quasi-experimental design that is used in medical research. Here are a few clips from that document (click here for [PDF]):
The definition of scientifically based research in section 9201(37) of NCLB includes other research designs in addition to the random assignment and quasi-experimental designs that are the subject of this priority. However, the Secretary considers random assignment and quasi-experimental designs to be the most rigorous methods to address the question of project effectiveness. While this action is of particular importance for programs authorized by NCLB, it is also an important tool for other programs and, for this reason, is being established for all Department programs. Establishing the priority on a Department-wide basis will permit any office to use the priority for a program for which it is appropriate.In February 2005, changes were announced in the Federal Registry that essentially re-defined knowledge for purposes of educational policy and decision making. The gold standard 3586 A FR Vol. 70, No. 15 Tuesday, January 25, 2005 established by Grover Whitehurst and Co. has now been defined as the same experimental and quasi-experimental design that is used in medical research.

The Secretary establishes a priority for projects proposing an evaluation plan that is based on rigorous scientifically based research methods to assess the effectiveness of a particular intervention. The Secretary intends that this priority will allow program participants and the Department to determine whether the project produces meaningful effects on student achievement or teacher performance.
Evaluation methods using an experimental design are best for determining project effectiveness. Thus, when feasible, the project must use an experimental design under which participants--e.g., students, teachers, classrooms, or schools--are randomly assigned to participate in the project activities being evaluated or to a control group that does not participate in the project activities being evaluated.
If random assignment is not feasible, the project may use a quasi-experimental design with carefully matched comparison conditions. This alternative design attempts to approximate a randomly assigned control group by matching participants--e.g., students, teachers, classrooms, or schools--with non-participants having similar pre-program characteristics.
In cases where random assignment is not possible and participation in the intervention is determined by a specified cutting point on a quantified continuum of scores, regression discontinuity designs may be employed.
For projects that are focused on special populations in which sufficient numbers of participants are not available to support random assignment or matched comparison group designs, single-subject designs such as multiple baseline or treatment-reversal or interrupted time series that are capable of demonstrating causal relationships can be employed.
Proposed evaluation strategies that use neither experimental designs with random assignment nor quasi-experimental designs using a matched comparison group nor regression discontinuity designs will not be considered responsive to the priority when sufficient numbers of participants are available to support these designs. Evaluation strategies that involve too small a number of participants to support group designs must be capable of demonstrating the causal effects of an intervention or program on those participants.
Now if you are testing a new drug to determine its effects, that kind of double-blind research sounds entirely appropriate. Control groups, placebos, the whole bit, yes?

The question becomes, is this model feasible for education settings? And if it is feasible, what kinds of research can and cannot be deemed scientific, and thus, acceptable? That’s right, we can’t measure weight loss, blood pressure, or cell count, but we can measure test scores in a way that, by definition, makes them "scientific."

In this epistemologically-arrogant re-definition of what constitutes knowledge, Grover Whitehurst at ED has, in effect, eliminated all of the rich qualitative data that aim at understanding educational experiences within the natural contexts of schools. With this new re-definition of knowledge, on must wonder, in fact, how long that ERIC, now under corporate management, will continue to warehouse all of the qualitative research that does not meet the new criteria for scientific respectability.

Now today AIR (Amerian Institute for Research) announced the results of a multi-million dollar study (Study Rates 22 Widely Used Comprehensive School Reform Models) funded by, who else--ED, that concludes that Direct Instruction (remember the Great Carnine and his Oregon empire built on Bush connections?) is the superior "comprehensive reform model" now in use in U. S. schools. (For those of you who did not see these clips of direct instruction in action, check out these video clips).

What shiftless outfit, we wonder, is at the bottom of the list? That's right, the Coalition of Essential Schools, that old-fashioned bunch of democracy supporters that focuses on developing schools built around the needs of persons and communities. (Remember Coalition principal, Deborah Meier, the only educator to ever win a MacArthur Genius Award?)

Okay, okay, you say, but now AIR shows scientifically that Direct Instruction (drill, fill, and kill) is the best thing since the re-education camp. After all, this is what the newswire says:
WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 /U.S. Newswire/ -- A new guide using strict scientific criteria to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of 22 widely adopted comprehensive elementary school reform models rates 15 as "limited" to "moderately strong" in demonstrating positive effects on student achievement.
Well, it seems that such conclusions may be premature, even though ED coughed up millions to have this study done. Remember the demands for "scientifically-based" research you read above in Grover's proclamation? See if there is any fit with this little admission (listed under Limitations) from AIR's "research:"

Although this report builds on the strong prior work of others (e.g., Borman et al., 2002; Herman, et al., 1999) and the best thinking of the education research community regarding how to conduct consumer-friendly evidence reviews, it falls short of the ideal in a number of areas. We hope that over time—with the feedback of education consumers, researchers, and model providers—we will be able to issue future reports that are increasingly accurate and useful. Relying on existing evidence in providing ratings was a major limitation of this report. Our descriptive information was based on a review of publicly available information, often provided by the models themselves. Given limited resources, verifying the claims made by all service providers was impossible. We did attempt to gather independent information through conversations with a small group of randomly selected principals of schools served by the models reviewed.

However, these were informal conversations, conducted with only a very small number of individuals. Given our limitations, other participants and stakeholders involved in CSR—such as teachers, students, parents, and school board members—could not be reached. During the model selection process, we encourage consumers to probe more deeply for further information to support their final choice of a model. For example, schools and districts are in a better position to request detailed cost information for proposed or additional services from a model provider as part of a contracting process.

Likewise, our quantitative information was limited to a review of available prior research that had been conducted on the 22 models. While we searched extensively to uncover all sources of existing evidence, we were not able to conduct original research or to apply common evaluation measures across all models to ease comparability. Also, because models are evolving and refining their design, we can’t be certain whether the “high” or “low” ratings given to a model are truly representative of the current version of that model. Many models may be “new and improved” but may not yet have rigorous evidence to demonstrate such a claim.

I am glad to know that DI now has the backing of science, as required by Grover Whitehurst and the other great minds at ED. But then, so does intelligent design--at least the backing of creation science, anyway.

Jim Horn

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ohio Supreme Court To Rule in Corporate Charter Case

After years of waiting for the definitive ruling on the legality of corporate welfare schools in Ohio, the lawsuit brought by the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the Ohio PTA, and the Ohio School Boards Association will be heard Tuesday in Ohio's Supreme Court (now 6-1 Republican). See story here reprinted in the Charlotte Observer.

The ruling will have a significant impact, particularly in Ohio, where the state dropped $455 million last year alone for privately-run charters, with $100 million going to David Brennan''s company, White Hat. Brennan was named in the 2001 suit as a "benefactor of unconstitutional activity." Here is how the Akron Beacon Journal reporters present the conflicting points of view:
The two sides disagree on whether charter schools are really public schools on two bases: governance and accountability.

The OFT maintains that charter schools are not public because private companies like White Hat organize the nonprofit boards that run the charter schools. That ensures that the charter boards then will hire the same private, for-profit companies as school manager.

Supporters maintain charter schools are public schools with open enrollment that are held to the same academic standards as traditional public schools.

Opponents also say charter schools are exempt from many state regulationsand are performing far below local traditional schools.

Supporters point to efforts by the legislature to address problems in charter schools as an acknowledgment that, while the system may be imperfect, it is not unconstitutional.

Also regarding governance, the OFT argues that charter schools are unconstitutional because local voters and school boards have no input in the decision to open the schools or how they should be funded.

Supporters say the legislature has the authority to create alternative public schools, and charters are held accountable by independent, state-authorized sponsors.

Why does this sound like corporate corruption to me?

And could there be any chance for conflicts of interest on the part of the judges hearing the case? Here's another clip:

. . . while justices are required to weigh issues of legality, questions have been raised about their own stake in the case.

The majority has benefited from the political fund-raising efforts of Akron businessman David Brennan, who founded the state's biggest charter-school management company.
. . . .

Since 1990, Brennan has acted as a key Ohio Republican Party fund-raiser and helped establish and fund political action committees aimed at electing Republicans to the courts.

State Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, a critic of charter schools, last week called on the six Republican justices to withdraw from the case because of Brennan's campaign influence -- nearly $130,000 in contributions since 1992.

Court spokesman Chris Davey said the justices can separate themselves from the politics.

``The Supreme Court of Ohio has a 200-year history of objectively considering only those matters in the record,'' Davey said. ``Partisan news releases are not part of the record.''

Earlier this year, five of the six Republican justices recused themselves from hearing a case involving prominent Toledo Republican fund-raiser Thomas Noe, suspected of improperly distributing campaign dollars to avoid contribution limits.

Davey said the Noe case is different because it contains potential illegal activity.
_________________

It would appear from Davey's statement that the Court has already decided that there is nothing even potentially illegal about corporate welfare schools.

Gee, I wonder how they will rule on this one--6-1 maybe?

Jim Horn

Kentucky Seeks Sane Changes in NCLB

The Louisville Courier-Journal carries a substantive piece today on the Kentucky Department of Education's effort to get approved changes made in the way it implements NCLB. These changes represent some very good thinking on a very bad law:
EARNING CREDIT
Now: Schools and districts receive credit only if they meet math and reading goals set for all schools, depending on grade level.
Request: Get credit for making progress, including moving students from novice, the lowest level on CATS, to apprentice, the next level.

SUBJECTS
Now: Judged on how they do in reading and math.
Request: Judged on how they perform in math, reading, science, social studies, arts and humanities, writing and practical living and vocational studies.

FREQUENCY
Now: Judged annually.
Request: Judged every two years.

TESTING GOAL
Now: Judged annually on whether or not they reach a goal set for all schools or districts.
Request: Judged on whether they met individual goals based on their past performance.

STUDENT ELIGIBILITY
Now: Schools not meeting goals must provide the transfer option as well as any other consequences, including tutoring, to all students in the school.
Request: Schools could offer transfers and other services only to students in groups that miss testing goals. For example, if a school's low-income students score too low in reading, only those students could transfer or receive tutoring.

"NEEDS IMPROVEMENT"
Now: Schools that miss testing goals in the same subject at least two years in a row face sanctions, even if it's in different groups of students -- for example, if low-income students miss math goals one year, and black students miss the math goal the next year.
Request: Schools would face sanctions only if they failed to make required progress for two consecutive years in the same subject and for the same group.

STUDENT TRANSFERS
Now: Schools not meeting their goals two consecutive years must allow students to transfer to better-performing schools. If they miss a third straight year, schools must provide tutoring.
Request: Kentucky would offer tutoring after two years and transfers after the third year.

IN-HOUSE TUTORING
Now: "Needs improvement" school districts cannot provide tutoring in-house for students.
Request: "Needs improvement" districts could.

ALTERNATIVE TESTING
Now: The most severely handicapped students are tested with a method other than regular pen and paper. Schools and districts can include 1 percent of proficient scores from alternative tests into final scores.
Request: Raises that 1 percent to 3 percent.
And who pops up in the article as the perennial critic of the Ky. Dept. of Ed--who else but Top Gun, Dick Innes, noted "researcher" for the Bluegrass Institute (see yesterday's post) and overall good guy concerned with leaving no child untested--particularly if the results can be used to perpetuate the belief that the wheels have come off the public schools:
"The department has been whining and sniffling and trying to get out of this since it began," said Dick Innes, a policy analyst for the Bluegrass Institute, a think tank in Bowling Green. "I think what it really does is just water down accountability."
Charming.

Jim Horn

Monday, November 28, 2005

Join Bracey in Calling for Staples to Stand Down

Bracey's call is posted here with permission:

What follows . . . is my demand that Brent Staples be fired from his editorial post writing about education for the New York Times because of his systematic disinformation campaign. If, after reading the analyses, you think it justified, feel free to support it with emails to the people named. bkeller is Bill Keller, Times editor; gailc is Gail Collins, editor of the editorial page; public editor is what the Times calls its ombudsman.
________

Staff members who plagiarize or who knowingly or recklessly
provide false information for publication betray our fundamental
pact with our readers.
We will not tolerate such behavior.
--Ethical Journalism: A Handbook of Values and Practices for News and
Editorial Departments
New York Times,
September 2004, paragraph 18.

Dear Public Editor,

The New York Times must fire Brent Staples.

It is true that 2 of the 4 pieces I will be citing are unsigned editorials, but they bear the stamp of Mr. Staples’ rhetoric. Should it turn out that he did not write them, then there are two people who should be removed. The four essays are treated in chronological order.

THE APRIL 18, 2005 EDITORIAL OBSERVER

Brent Staples is to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) what Judith Miller was to weapons of mass destruction (and No Child Left Behind is to public education what Katrina was to New Orleans). A Miller hyped WMD in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Staples has hyped NCLB as a “law that could potentially surpass Brown v. Board of Education in terms of widening access to high-quality public education.” In fact, NCLB is itself a weapon of mass destruction. Target: public education. What else can one make of a law that by 2014 will fail 99% of California’s schools and will fail, on average, 95% of schools in six Great Lakes states and that funnels billions of dollars through public schools and into private coffers? (Sources: Source: Payne, Gavin, “The Implementation of the Accountability Provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act: A State Perspective.” Presentation to the Center on Education Policy’s Forum on NCLB Accountability, Washington, D.C., July 28, 2004; Wiley, Edward W., Mathis William J., and Garcia, David R., The Impact of the Adequate Yearly Progress Requirement of the Federal “No Child Left Behind“ Act on Schools in the Great Lakes Region. Tempe, AZ: Education Policy Studies Laboratory, Arizona State University, Report No. EPSL-0509-109-EPRU, September, 2005; Bracey, Gerald W. No Child Left Behind: Where Does the Money Go? Tempe, AZ: Education Policy Studies Laboratory, Arizona State University, Report No. EPSL-0506-114-EPRU, June, 2005).

THE SEPTEMBER 6 EDITORIAL

In a September 6, 2005 editorial, “Back to School, Thinking Globally,” Staples claims to present and refute three myths.

“Worst of all, they (American students) fall further and further behind their peers abroad the longer they stay in school.” This is not true but far too complex to detail here. I refer readers to my article in the May, 2000 issue of Educational Researcher for that exposition (Bracey, Gerald W. “The Third International Mathematics and Science Study and Report: A Critique.” Educational Researcher, May, 2000).

“A second myth—that America’s white elite children compare favorably with those abroad is also false. In the most recent international data comparing students in the top 5 percent in terms of achievement, the United States ranks 23rd out of 29.”

What does he mean by “white elite?” Not exactly a term reeking of precision and it’s not what his ranking refers to, a ranking in which he specifies neither the study nor the grade nor the subject matter. There are many studies. Mr. Staples has obviously chosen a statistic that he thinks will help him make his point. He is also choosing the metric that creates the biggest differences among people or among countries—ranks. When they run the 100 meter dash in the Olympics, someone must rank last. He is still the 8th fastest human being on the planet that day.

From what I can tell, Mr. Staples is looking at the 95th percentiles from PISA—Program of International Student Assessment run by OECD. The 95th percentile for the U. S. is a score of 638. The average for all 29 OECD nations in the study is 660. Is that an important difference? I’m not certain but it is the case the American high scorers don’t score as high as high scorers in most other nations. That’s not true in a number of other studies that Mr. Staples didn’t report. PISA is not the only study, and is not even, as Mr. Staples claims, “the most recent.” More importantly, no one really knows what PISA measures. I’ll be happy to discuss this with anyone who wants further information.

Let’s take the Trends[1] in International Mathematics and Science Study from 2003. In math, American 8th graders overall scored 504, well above the international average of 466. Only 9 of the 44 other nations had statistically significantly higher scores. White 8th graders scored 525, higher than the overall U. S. average.

In science, American 8th graders were significantly exceeded by only 7 of 44 nations, scoring 527, high above the international average of 473. White 8th graders scored 552 (Source: Highlights From the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, December 2004).

U. S. students typically do best in reading and literacy, a field which Mr. Staples ignores. Consider the Progress in Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), conducted in 2001 and released in 2003. The 50th percentile for the highest scoring nation, Sweden, was 565. America’s 50th percentile was 552. Sweden’s 75th percentile was 605 and the U. S., 601. Sweden and the U. S. had identical 95th percentiles, 663. It has been observed on a number of occasions that American schools’ reading instruction emphasizes literature over extraction of information. In the literary subtest of PIRLS, Sweden’s 50th, 75th and 95th percentiles were 564, 603, and 659, respectively. For the U. S., they were 557, 613, and 681—our better and best readers bested the better and best readers in the highest scoring nation overall (Source: PIRLS 2001 International Report: IEA’s Study of Reading Literacy Achievement in Primary Schools, Appendix B. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College, 2003).

Sweden had the highest average (mean) score of 562. American white students scored 565 (Source, PIRLS 2001. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, www.nces.ed.gov/pubs2004/pirlspub/index.asp.)

“The third and most common myth—that the nations that do better than us [sic] are ‘homogeneous’ societies—is also not true. Immigration has transformed much of Europe, as it has the United States.” Is he serious?

Discounting us as “a nation of immigrants” starting with the 16th and 17th centuries, we have been absorbing large quantities of newcomers since the Irish potato famine of 1845.

In 2002, America contained 37.4 million Latinos and 11.9 million people of Asian ancestry. Adding the 38 million African Americans brings the total to 76.3 million, nearly 30% of the total population—and these are not all of the groups. At the same time, the original 15 members of the European Union housed 382 million persons. Had these American minorities migrated to EU countries and spread themselves proportionately to each country’s size, each nation would have immediately contained at least 20% immigrants not counting whatever percent they already had. Yet the proportion of minorities in France even today is given at only 10%. In Germany it’s about the same and, along with Belgium, these are the most immigrant-heavy nations.

The ten nations that the EU added in May, 2004 house another 74 million people and are hardly immigrant-magnets: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Indeed, many of these countries are immigrant exporters (Sources: Eurostat News Release, August 31 2004; Levine, Robert A. “Assimilating Immigrants: Why American Can and France Cannot.” RAND Occasional Paper OP-132-RC, July, 2004).

The students that most outscore American—and European—students live in Asia, rather xenophobic nations, some of them.

He continues: “The nations that have left us behind educationally have a few things in common. They decide at the national level what children should learn and when they should learn it.” An analysis of the top 10 nations in the 41-nation Third International Mathematics and Science Study did find that 8 of them had highly centralized education systems. But so did 9 of the ten lowest scoring nations. National curricula and calendars, in and of themselves, appear to count for nothing (Source: Atkin, J. Myron, and Black, Paul, “Policy Perils of International Comparisons: The TIMSS Case.” Phi Delta Kappan, September, 1997).

THE OCTOBER 22 EDITORIAL

Then came, “Happy Talk on School Reform,” October 22. Early on, Staples chastises President Bush, saying “he should have reminded the nation that as long as it fails to take school reform seriously, American children will fall further and further behind their peers abroad.” The implication, clearly, is that they have been falling further behind. But they have not. In the three TIMSS studies of 1995, 1999 and 2003, only 3 of the 22 nations that participated all three times had larger gains in math than U. S. 8th graders: Hong Kong, Latvia, and Lithuania. Japan and Singapore actually lost ground. This pattern repeated itself in science. Hong Kong is competitive, but it has fewer people than New York City. (Source: Highlights from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, December, 2004).

THE NOVEMBER 21 EDITORIAL OBSERVER

Finally, there is the, how shall we say--astonishing?--“observer” piece from November 21, “Why the United States Should Look to Japan for Better Schools.” It is not an “observation;” it is a rant.

Look to Japan? That was foolish when it was popular in the 1980’s when many Japanese believed that the Emperor’s palace and grounds were more valuable than the entire state of California (high math test scores obviously do not prevent delusions). Even then, Japanese educators flocked to the U. S. to find the secret of our creativity. They still do. Consider this recent quote from Joseph Renzulli, reporting on why a group of Japanese educators visiting his National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut said they were there. Renzulli expressed the usual American astonishment that educators from the nation with some of the highest scores in the world would think they could learn something from us. This was their reply, a direct quote:

“Very simple professor. We have no Nobel Prize Winners. Your schools have produced a continuous flow of inventors, designers, entrepreneurs, and innovative leaders. We can make anything you invent faster, cheaper, and, in most cases, better. But we want to learn what role this “creative productivity” focus plays in the production of creative and inventive people.” (Source: Renzulli, Joseph: “Neglecting Creativity: A Quiet Crisis Clouding the Future of R&D.” Education Week, May 25, 2005).

(Those at the Times will recall Howard W. French’s August 7, 2001 Times article, “Hypothesis: Science Gap; Cause: Japan’s Ways,” citing many Japanese scientists on the various reasons why they don’t win Nobels). No Child Left Behind is the antithesis of creativity.

Looking to Japan, Staples’ essay opens, “The United States will become a second-rate economic power unless it can match the educational performance of its rivals abroad and get more of its students to achieve at the highest levels in math, science, and literacy.”

Had Mr. Staples researched this topic, he might have noticed that this is precisely the same allegation made in 1983 in “A Nation At Risk.” Pointing specifically to Japan, Germany and South Korea, the authors warned, “If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system” (p. 7). Better rhetoric, but it turned out to be wrong then, too.

Researching the issue, he might have seen the 1994 headline over Sylvia Nasar’s article, “The American Economy, Back on Top.” Many other publications of that period trumpeted the same triumph. We had a recession; many people blamed the schools but voted George H. W. Bush out of office. The economy came roaring back; people did not credit the schools. Sputnik redux. (Nasar, Sylvia. “The American Economy, Back on Top.” New York Times, February 27, 1994).

By 2001, many headlines echoed the one over Bill Safire’s column of March 15, “The Sinking Sun?” In the Washington Post, George F. Will asked a similar question regarding Japan’s economic future: “Another Decade of Economic Trouble?” (March 25). Japan’s students were still acing tests, but that didn’t goose the Japanese economy which at that point had been stagnant or in recession for a decade. Japanese kids continue to ace tests although some are alarmed that on one test they fell to 6th place. The economy is still wheezing.

Meanwhile, though we didn’t know it in 1994, we were in the early stages of the longest sustained economic expansion in the nation’s history. But, three months after Nasar’s article, IBM CEO Lou Gerstner took to the Times op-ed page with “Our Schools Are Failing” (May 27, p. A27). Why are they failing? Because American kids can’t keep up with their peers abroad.

Staples might also have come across a Peter Applebome piece, “Better Schools, Uncertain Results,” New York Times, March 16, 1997. Applebome reported that “many educators and economists are increasingly skeptical of the notion that better schools mean a more prosperous nation.” Applebome quoted Peter Capelli, director of the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce at the University of Pennsylvania, “’The link between education and the national economy is pretty tenuous in all but the grossest sense—say the difference between developed and undeveloped countries.’”

Back in 2001 the United States ranked second in the world in global competitiveness among 75 ranked nations. In 2004, it was #1 among 104 nations and in 2005 #1 among 117 (Sources: The Global Competitiveness Report, 2001-2002, 2004-2005, and 2005-2006, respectively. Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum).

Mr. Staples continues with “The countries that are leaving us behind in math and science decide at the national level what students should learn and when.” But, as noted above, the Atkin and Black analysis found that the countries that we are leaving behind also make these decisions nationally. And “leaving us behind” is a bit hyperbolic, as rhetoric goes. If one looks at the actual scores, one sees that countries often bunch tightly. This is especially if one discards the 600 point scale that these studies use and which makes small differences seem large and looks at the results in simple percent correct. For instance, in TIMSS1995, U. S. 8th graders got 58% of the science items correct, two percentage points above the international average of 56% correct. This score placed them 17th among the 41 participating countries. Had they gotten a mere 5% more correct, they would have soared to 5th place. Had they gotten a mere 5% fewer correct, they would have plummeted to 29th place (Source: Science Achievement in the Middle School Years: IEA’s Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College).

Mr. Staples then impugns every state in the union claiming that “The states have gotten around the new law (NCLB) by setting state standards as low as possible and making state tests easy.” While it is true that Texas said 91% of its 8th graders were proficient in math and NAEP said 24%, two states have tougher standards than NAEP and for fully 13 the difference is less than 10 percent (Source: Testing the Testers. New York: Princeton Review, 2003).

He goes on: “This strategy was exposed as fraudulent just last month, when states that had performed so well on their own exams performed dismally on the alternative and more rigorous test known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.”

Actually, it is NAEP that is out of line. Its achievement levels—basic, proficient, and advanced--are ridiculously high. For instance, in TIMSS1995, American 4th graders were third in the world in science among 26 countries, but NAEP declared only 26 percent of them “proficient” or better. As University of North Carolina psychometrician, Lyle V. Jones reported, NAEP found only 18% of American 4th graders to be proficient in math and a meager 2% to be advanced. He then compared this to their above average performance in TIMSS1995 and observed, “The average math performance for U. S. fourth-graders is significantly above the international average. When U. S. fourth graders perform well in an international comparison, isn’t it unreasonable that only 20 percent are reported by [NAEP] to be ‘proficient or better?’”

We can safely assume it was a rhetorical question.

In fact, the Government Accounting Office, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, and the Center for Research in Evaluation, Student Standards and Testing, have all evaluated the NAEP achievement levels, found them wanting, and said, in polite language, “These things are no damn good.” Here are a few words from the NAS: “NAEP’s current achievement level setting procedures remain fundamentally flawed. The judgment tasks are difficult and confusing; raters’ judgments of different item types are internally inconsistent; appropriate validity evidence for the cut scores is lacking; and the process has produced unreasonable results.”

Fundamentally flawed? Validity evidence lacking? Can you imagine the howls of outrage that would greet ETS or CTB/McGraw-Hill if they dared bring to market a test with such basic failures?

The groups that studied the NAEP achievement levels recommended they be replaced. They have not been replaced and there is no movement to replace them simply because there is so much political hay to be made by saying American kids and American schools stink (Sources: NAGB’s Approach Yields Misleading Interpretations.[2] Washington, D.C.: U. S. General Accounting Office, Report No. GAO/PEMD-93-12, 1993; Assessment in Transition: Monitoring the Nation’s Educational Progress. Mountain View, CA: National Academy of Education, 1997; Grading the Nation’s Report Card: Evaluating NAEP and Transforming the Assessment of Educational Progress. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences; Jones, Lyle V. “National Tests and Educational Reform: Are They Compatible?” William Angoff Distinguished Lecture, Educational Testing Service, later published by the Policy Information Center, ETS, 1997).

(For what it is worth, the states with the largest NAEP-state discrepancies are mostly in the Deep South and Southwest. The bottom 12 are TX, AL, NC, OK, ND, HI, IA, TN, WV, FL, NM and MS. Source: Testing the Testers, op. cit.).

Mr. Staples’ position that schools stink calls to mind Mr. Cheney’s position that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and is in cahoots with Al Qaeda. Barring a fifth heart attack, we must suffer Mr. Cheney’s delusions another three years. There is no reason to put up with Mr. Staples’ false information another minute.


[1] When this study was first conducted in 1995 it was called the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, TIMSS. But, because it was repeated in 1999 and again in 2003, the meaning of the “T” was changed to “Trends.”

[2] NAGB is the National Assessment Governing Board which sets policy for NAEP.

More Failure Quicker, Please

As the corporate welfare education engineers ramp up their criticism of the states' slowed march toward the inevitable failure that NCLB demands, thus putting on hold the Whittle dream and the Falwell nitemare, we can expect to see localized attacks on state departments of education such as this one in Kentucky by the "non-partisan" Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions in Bowling Green, KY.

These folks have just released a study authored by "education analyst," Richard Innes. Mr. Innes is a former fighter pilot, engineer, and
one of the initial program developers during the introduction of automated teaching machines into the Air Force’s pilot training program in 1971. And, of course, we know that the Associated Press has noted Mr. Innes's credentials in its news piece. Yes? NO.

The "study" shows that the Kentucky Department of Education is not doing enough to label special education students as failures.
Here the charge is made that the failure to accurately show how many special ed students are failing constitutes neglect on the part of the state testing system: "Kentucky's testing policy continues to inadequately measure results with far too many of the commonwealth's children being left behind."

And, of course, we know that the Bluegrass Institute is all about caring for kids with learning disabilities, don't we? After all, this is an organizatioin based on principle, and the first principle is this one:

PRINCIPLE No.1: Free people are not equal, and equal people are not free.



Sunday, November 27, 2005

Maggie--You're doing a heckuva job!

The spirit (and management) of Brownie's FEMA lives on at ED. Here is a piece sent by Nancy Patterson that offers the perfect example of ED rhetoric vs. ED reality.

One of the latest pushes under NCLB is secondary literacy, and to address that the U.S. Department of Ed sent out a September request for grant proposals. The grant proposal for "Striving Readers" had to be submitted by school districts and had to be 60 pages long. Those districts interested in this funding were required to get an external evaluation of the reading program that was to be funded. So, school districts hoping to receive money from this grant (between 1 and 5 million dollars) had to produce 60 pages, including a large section of "scientifically rigorous" evaluation, develop a program that would be funded, and seek outside evaluators before the November 14 deadline. Ok. Not fun, but not impossible. However, the grant proposal had to be submitted electronically by 4:30 on November 14.

Unfortunately, it looks like the DOE could not handle the electronic submissions and schools trying to upload their proposals found that the submit button disappeared before the 4:30 deadline. And districts trying to get further information about the grant in the weeks prior to the deadline could not get help from the DOE. Individuals calling the DOE to ask about the Striving Readers Grant got a voice mail message saying that the voice mail was full.

Katherine Doherty at the DOE admitted to individuals at one school district that many districts had difficulty meeting the deadline because of computer glitches, although apparently she claimed the glitches did not originate at the DOE end. But if many districts were trying to upload at about the same time, which is par for the course when submitting a grant, and the DOE server couldn't handle the traffic, not everyone would be able to submit by the 4:30 deadline. Transmissions begun before the deadline would not have made it. And, in fact, they did not. The "submit" button for one urban district in Michigan was no longer available at the very moment (4:29) they were going to upload the grant request. And, of course, districts applying for the Striving Readers Grant would not be districts that had the strongest technology infrastructure.

Seems like the Department of Ed has once again left people behind, not only in its failure to address the realities of on-line grant submissions, but in meeting the needs of districts attempting to get clarification on the grant requirements. And their questions went unanswered weeks before the grant deadline because the DOE couldn't handle the calls.

Announcements about the Striving Readers grant recipients should be coming out in a few weeks. I wonder how many districts should be on that list but won't be because of DOE foul-ups.

Nancy Patterson, PhD
Literacy Studies Program Chair
College of Education
Grand Valley State University
patterna@gvsu.edu
http://faculty.gvsu.edu/patterna
Exposure of the incompetence, hypocrisy, collusion, and corruption at ED, the corporate media, and the "think tanks" (why do I think of the septic systems my dad used to install?) is one of the weapons we have to fight back the ed privatizers and the corporate socialists intent upon control of the American education system.

If you have documented stories that fit any of the above criteria, send them along to Schools Matter at the email address shown here.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

NY Times Mistakes Front Page for Editorial Section?

It is disappointing enough to see the Editorial Board of the NY Times blandly cave to the Business Roundtable technocrats in the education industry, who, themselves, are pumping a nationalized, stupidifying, and undemocratic plan for the future corporate management of public schools. That kind of betrayal of the public trust can be expected, I suppose, in an era when human worth is viewed as a form of capital, to be used, expended, transferred, bought, and sold—in much the same way that editorial opinions are traded in today’s corporate media environment.

It would appear that now, however, editorializing has moved to the front pages, and Sam Dillon’ piece in today’s Times offers a prime example of how opinion can be masked by simply choosing sources who offer information that presents the preferred facts, such as they are. Dillon’s piece, which should have been called “Corporationists Support National Testing,” is a how-to on pushing an editorial stance by selective sourcing.

Even though Dillon states that “some educators saying that numerous states have created easy exams to avoid the sanctions [of] President Bush's centerpiece education law, No Child Left Behind. . . ,” do have a look at this star-studded line-up of non-educators in Dillon’s piece (in order of appearance):
  • Michael Petrelli, former executive in K-12, the Internet education company and current vice-president of the right wing Fordham Foundation;
  • Standard & Poor’s SchoolMatters (NO relation), a division of McGraw-Hill, which is in the “growth model” business, as well as the supplier of a national database where you can look up any school’s test scores while checking on how many brown kid they have);
  • G. Gage Kingsbury, a psychologist/psychometrician and father of the first computerized adaptive test (also now into “growth models”);
  • Inez Tannenbaum, Superintendent of South Carolina Schools, who actually did teach a couple of years before becoming an attorney;
  • Diane Ravitch, conservative professor and former Asst. Secretary of Education under Bush I;
  • John Boehner, Republican Chair of the right-wing House Committee on Education and the Workforce;
  • Susan Traiman, Director, Education and Workforce Policy for the Business Roundtable.
Between Susan Traiman and Margaret Spellings, who is near the end of Dillon’s fair and balanced source list (and who needs no further introduction), Dillon throws a small turkey bone to those stubborn naysayers of national corporationism, lumping us all together as liberals, greedy test makers, or racists protecting states’ rights:
Opponents include liberal groups that dislike all standardized testing; the testing industry itself, which has found lucrative profits in writing new exams for all 50 states; and political conservatives who fiercely resist any intrusion on states' rights to control curricula and tests.
I have been reading coverage on ed issues for a few years now, but this is the worst case of stacking the deck that I have ever seen. But, then, I don’t read the news scripts from Fox.

Jim Horn

Friday, November 25, 2005

Creating Justice from the Injustice of NCLB

Judy Rabin takes a break from a research project to send this along:

"A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn." --Chief Justice Earl Warren

The recent ruling by a federal judge in Michigan who dismissed legal challenges to NCLB on grounds that Congress has the right to impose mandates on the states should be a clear signal for opponents of NCLB to change strategy. Howard Zinn’s recent article, "Creating Justice," discusses the historical role that the rule of law, the Constitution, and the Supreme Court have played in terms of protecting the rights of citizens. Zinn’s main point is that social justice and change usually take place because people protest, organize and shake things up, “because the courts have never been on the side of justice, only moving a few degrees one way or the other, unless pushed by the people.”

Well, it's time to shake things up. What is disturbing about the current legal challenges against NCLB is the premise of the argument itself. Basing the legal challenge on unfunded state mandates or flexibility implies that throwing more money at testing and other elements of the legislation or giving states more flexibility will solve the problems or rectify the injustices being created by the law. By continuing to frame the legal challenges around costs and flexibility, the discourse over the more egregious and harmful effects of NCLB on children, teachers, and schools are not being addressed and have not yet entered into the public debate.

It is becoming increasingly clear this battle has got to be fought on the grounds that NCLB is a violation of the most basic and fundamental human rights to freedom and is a clear violation of the Constitutional right of due process as stated in the Fourteenth Amendment: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

It would be a good idea to take a close look at the Brown decision and Chief Justice Warren’s opinion for what it says about equality and education. This might lead to future challenges to NCLB as a violation of a child’s fundamental right to an equal education and to a "real" education. Here are some excerpts from the decision:
“Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, an in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms."

The relevance of Warren’s argument to NCLB is that he went beyond the accepted notion that having equal physical facilities provided black children with an equal education. Warren extended the concept of equality to include a much deeper interpretation of equality, one that incorporated the "effects" of separation on the psychological well-being of the child:
"To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority unlikely ever to be undone. The effect of this separation on their educational opportunities was well stated by a finding in the Kansas case by a court that nevertheless felt compelled to rule against the Negro plaintiffs: 'Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to (retard) the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.'"

With its embedded stigma of failure associated with standardized tests, what is NCLB doing to the motivation and ability of a child to learn? In effectively negating Plessy, Warren stated, "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." In 2005, we need to ask if the type of education a child receives also be inherently unequal. The evidence is piling up and has been clearly documented that NCLB, with its punitive consequences, sanctions and emphasis on testing and failure is not only leading to further segregation but is causing intellectual and emotional harm to children. Like segregation itself, it is inherently unjust and causes damage that can never be undone. Increasingly, the most vulnerable and under-funded schools are being turned over to private, for-profit management organizations with scripted, mind-numbing narrow curriculum.

The Brown decision established the doctrine of sociological jurisprudence in education by invoking the Fourteenth Amendment. It's time to revisit Brown and create new frameworks for legal challenges to NCLB on the grounds that it is an inherently unequal and unjust law.

Getting back to Zinn: "The law can be just; it can be unjust. It does not deserve to inherit the ultimate authority of the divine right of the king."

Judy Rabin
Graduate Student
Monmouth University

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My Review of Whittle's Crash Course

Whittle, C. (2005). Crash Course: Imagining a Better Future for Public Education. New York: Riverhead Hardcover.

288 pp.
$24.95 ISBN 1594489025

Reviewed by Jim Horn
Monmouth University

If you support the notion that publicly run, publicly controlled, public education is the imperfect, yet essential, public business that may be our best institutional tool for realizing a democratic republic in America, then you are likely to find plenty to disagree with in Chris Whittle’s vision (or is it a nightmare?) for turning schools into companies, companies that are to be paid for with tax dollars. With $400 billion annually at stake, the public schools are, by far, the juiciest prize for a new type of corporate welfare known as the EMO (education management organization). Chris Whittle’s new book, Crash Course. . ., lets us look down the sights as he takes aim at his biggest target yet. . .

Read the rest here at Education Review.

Coalitions of the Unwilling

A good deal of misleading press coverage has resulted from Spellings’ announcement for some kind of experiment in growth models to be used in 10 states chosen during the next year through an application process. For instance, this Washington Post piece almost seems giddy in its praise and appraisal of how this bold move will beat back the cascades of criticism of NCLB:
The Bush administration has begun to ease some key rules for the controversial No Child Left Behind law, opening the door to a new way to rate schools, granting a few urban systems permission to provide federally subsidized tutoring and allowing certain states more time to meet teacher-quality requirements.

The Education Department's actions could signal a new phase for school improvement efforts nearly four years after the law's enactment. Taken together, these actions amount to a major response to critics who have called No Child Left Behind rigid and unworkable. They also help the administration combat efforts to amend the law in Congress.

The latest shift, announced Friday by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, is an experiment allowing as many as 10 states to try "growth models" for determining whether schools make adequate yearly progress. Such models could enable states to credit schools for the academic growth of individual students even if their test scores fall short of state standards.
And then a couple of graphs down comes this, which negates all the rosy PR that this move was intended to engender:
Spellings said she would not compromise on essential principles. Foremost, she said, is ensuring that all students are tested in reading and mathematics from grades 3 through 8, and once in high school, with results reported separately for racial and ethnic minorities, disabled students and other groups. The law's twin goals are to close achievement gaps and ensure that all students reach proficiency by 2014. "A growth model is not a way around accountability standards," Spellings said Friday in Richmond.
Now who will the ten states be? We learned from this Friday's post that the ten states chosen for the experiment must have in place the kind of longitudinal data gathering apparatus that was called for on November 17 (one day before Spellings’ announcement) by the Data Quality Campaign, led by Achieve, Inc., Bill and Melinda, the Alliance for Excellent Education, Council of Chief State School Officers, The Education Trust, National Center for Educational Accountability, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Schools Interoperability Framework Association, Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services, and State Higher Education Executive Officers.

I suggested, too, in Friday's post that it would be left up to the states, desperate for a way keep their schools from being turned into corporate welfare charters, to dig up the cash to create these massive databases. Well, it seems that they will have some help from the Federal treasury that ED dispenses so generously when corporate interests come calling. eSchool News Online reported November 21 that ED’s Institute of Education Science (IES) has just announced the shovelling of $52.8 million to 14 states to begin the implementation the kind of databases that the corporate technocrats and the ed industry are screaming for:
States receiving the grants are Alaska ($3.5 million), Arkansas ($3.3 million), California ($3.3 million), Connecticut ($1.5 million), Florida ($1.6 million), Kentucky ($5.8 million), Maryland ($5.7 million), Michigan ($3 million), Minnesota ($3.3 million), Ohio ($5.7 million), Pennsylvania ($4 million), South Carolina ($5.8 million), Tennessee ($3.2 million), and Wisconsin ($3.1 million).

The grants were made under the Educational Technical Assistance Act of 2002, Title II of the statute that created IES. All 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia were eligible to apply, and IES received 45 applications.

The winnings states reportedly were chosen in a competition based on the merit of their proposals. Proposals were assessed based on aspects such as the need for the project, the quality of the project's design, and the quality of the management plan, ED said.
Can we assume that the ten states will be chosen from the fourteen listed above? I think so.

What will all this mean to NCLB’s underlying requirement that America’s public schools be deemed failures by 2014, and what will it mean for the poor and brown canaries in this dark mine that NCLB has dug? I noted at a public meeting last week that NCLB is the educational equivalent to a foreign policy based on our Iraqi exploits, and it would seem that for the time being that Maggie and her lawyers at ED are not yet in a cut and run mood.

What the current PR campaign and the wave to "growth models" will mean is that, if McGraw-Hill’s (S&P’s) growth model is adopted, then we will have a statistical formula based on test scores corrected for poverty. While this may sound good, in the sense of finally recognizing the direct correlation between test scores and family income, what it will do in the long run is to make poverty more invisible than a black man sitting on a pile of rubble in the 9th Ward of New Orleans. If we can “correct” for poverty, the rationale for dealing with the underlying opportunity and achievement gaps will be weakened even more than now--if that is possible.

In the meantime, the poor and the brown will be blamed for their own lack of educational preparation for the global economic war that the Business Roundtable is now waging for corporate control around the world. If you doubt it, see this piece in the corporate rag, Business Week, which is playing their fear-mongering media role in this corporate assault by declaring “America the Uneducated” as a way to instill fear of and resistance to the browning of America, while providing a rationale for the planned expansion of the exportation of more jobs that they have always maintained as in the best interest of the American people. Here are a couple of clips:
But now, for the first time ever, America's educational gains are poised to stall because of growing demographic trends. If these trends continue, the share of the U.S. workforce with high school and college degrees may not only fail to keep rising over the next 15 years but could actually decline slightly, warns a report released on Nov. 9 by the National Center for Public Policy & Higher Education, a nonprofit group based in San Jose, Calif. The key reason: As highly educated baby boomers retire, they'll be replaced by mounting numbers of young Hispanics and African Americans, who are far less likely to earn degrees. . . . Within a decade, the Conference Board projects, students in such countries will be just as likely as those in the U.S. and Europe to get a high school education. Given their much larger populations, that should enable them to churn out far more college graduates as well. More U.S. white-collar jobs will then be likely to move offshore, warns National Center President Patrick M. Callan. "For the U.S. economy, the implication of these trends is really stark," he says.
Wonder why educational preparation and graduation rates among the brown and the poor are on the decline? Could there be a link to the current testing hysteria in America that is killing interest in school and learning, demoralizing and chasing away large segments of the most vulnerable populations? Could it be connected to the $14 billion that the House Budget bill cuts out of college tuition assistance to fund the continuing tax cuts for the rich? Or is it just the old historical problem of those lazy and shiftless minorities who plan to inherit our American dream, as the Business Week piece suggests?

If we value the democratic experiment that public schools have imperfectly helped to keep alive, parents, teachers, and academics will begin a systematic and targeted resistance to the current testing insanity, a resistance that will bring this war against the poor and the public schools to a close in 2007, when reauthorization of NCLB is scheduled to be taken up by Congress.

Support Our Schools—Bring Them Home.

There is much to give thanks for in America every day, while there is much work to be done—let’s make sure that we can say that on many Thanksgivings to come.

Jim Horn

Monday, November 21, 2005

More Stupidity by Brent Staples and the NY Times

Blaming the schools for all sorts of societal failures has become such a part of our tradition that the history of American schooling is constituted now as an unending succession of criticisms, reactions, and reforms, none of which is allowed time to work before being replaced by the next one that is intended to solve another collective illness that can be blamed on a bad educational system rather than the real culprits—most often bad planning and decision-making at the national level, or the unchanging realities of poverty and discrimination that sustain achievement gaps. It is customary, too, for media elites to use the economic scare arguments to push one or the other favored educational reforms as a way to mask the inability or lack of will to address the underlying problems for which the schools continue to be blamed.

The current debate is no different, and Brent Staples’ fad du jour in today’s Times is a fine example. Instead of addressing the problem of poverty and racism that undercut the democratic aspirations to which we continue, so far, to give lip service, commentators like Staples and politicians like Bush rarely waver in blaming the schools for putting our economic security in jeopardy by failing to achieve what poverty and racism make impossible. The sad, but irrefutable, fact remains that the achievement gap that we hear so much about is a product of the income and opportunity gap, which is a product of a tradition of racism that goes back over 300 years in this country. It is a problem that will not be resolved by pretending it is the fault of the schools.

What makes this morning’s New York Times school demonization editorial any different from the average garden variety one, is that this time, in its haste to lambaste the schools by making test score comparisons with other nations, Staples does not bother to note that the other better nation, this time Japan, has been in economic recession for over 15 years, despite its seemingly advanced education strategies grounded in homogeneity and groupthink. I ask you, Mr. Staples, is this the kind of model that we should emulate to keep America from becoming “a second-rate economic power?”

With this current round of frenzied attacks on American public schools coming on the heels of the greatest economic boom of all times in this country during the 1990s, one must wonder what form the attack would take if the American economy had been in recession, like Japan’s, since 1989? We would have already boarded up the windows of the public schools and given all the children their little vouchers to the nearest Baptist academies, or else enrolled the poor ones in the corporate welfare MacSchools based on instructional robotization—and America would have become no closer to economic recovery than the Japanese are today, still funding almost half their annual budget through borrowing.

But at least, by then, the real school agenda would have been achieved, and we could find another public instituional enemy to blame for keeping us from a well-deserved happiness that awaits us in our future, once that future can be cleared of civic purpose and the constraints of conscience.

Jim Horn

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rhetoric and Reality, Cont'd

THE LIE (sometimes referred to by the squeamish as "counter-factual data"):

As we improve the quality of a high school education, more and more students will graduate ready for college. Our higher education system needs to have a place for these students if they choose to continue their education. We should send students a clear message: If you work hard in school, you can go to college--regardless of how much money you or your family has. --M. Spellings in opening remarks at the first meeting of the Secretary's Commission on the Future of Higher Education

THE TRUTH (the Senate version only contains $8 billion in student loan cuts):

The House bill would cut $14.3 billion from student-loan programs at a time when college tuition and fees are increasing. It would also slash $11.4 billion from Medicaid and $4.9 billion from child support enforcement programs.

“It's the largest cut in the history of the student-aid program,” Meehan said. “That's exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.”

The bill would repeal capping the interest rates of federal student loans at 6.7 percent for students and 7.9 percent for their parents.

It would also increase loan-consolidation fees, amounting to an additional $5.5 billion in new student charges nationwide. --Lowell Sun Online

Friday, November 18, 2005

Big New Databases and Small Incentives

Can you imagine an interlocking national data system of demographic and assessment data that has the capacity to track individual students, teachers, and even teacher preparation programs from the global level all the way down to the individual program level in schools and colleges?

Actually, it is imagined in Chris Whittle’s new book, Crash Course, in which he lays out the fantasy for an education world controlled by school companies that are funded by tax dollars (the corporate welfare “charter”model). Tracking student, teacher, and teacher prep program productivity (test scores) will require such data systems that Whittle calls School Information Centers (SICs). Here's a clip from my review, to be published soon:
These SICs are the huge centralized assessment database centers that “store and protect electronic information on everyone the company [school] serves and employs” (p. 184). SICs will also have an early warning system, much like the ones on commercial airliners that warn the pilot of impending disaster. When a student approaches a crisis point, behaviorally or academically, an alarm goes off to administrators, teachers, and parents on their laptops (everyone has laptops).
Science fiction, or entrepreneurial delusion, or just sic-k, you say? Well, yesterday, a coalition of groups led by Achieve, Inc., along with Bill and Melinda and Standard & Poor's, etc. announced just such a plan as part of the Data Quality Campaign (DQC). DQC calls for states to create just such databases that will offer the longitudinal data that Whittle and the ed industry hungers for. According to their report, Ten Essential Elements of a State Longitudinal Data System (pdf), these databases, once established by the states and interconnected, will
follow students’ academic progress as they move from grade to grade;
determine the value-added and efficiencies of specific schools and programs;
identify consistently high-performing schools so that educators and the public can learn
from best practices;
evaluate the effect of teacher preparation and training programs on student achievement;
focus school systems on preparing a higher percentage of students to succeed in rigorous high school course, college and challenging jobs.
To achieve all of this “following and evaluating,” states must build these databases based on 10 “essential elements:”
1. A unique statewide student identifier
2. Student-level enrollment, demographic and program participation information
3. The ability to match individual students' test records from year to year to measure academic growth
4. Information on untested students
5. A teacher identification system with the ability to match teachers to students
6. Student-level transcript information, including information on courses complete and grades earned
7. Student-level college readiness test scores
8. Student-level graduation and dropout data
9. The ability to match student records between the Pre-K and post-secondary systems
10. A state audit system assessing data quality, validity and reliability.
The question probably forming in your mind by now is, how does Achieve, Inc. get the states to spend the billions necessary to create these databases? And why should the states bother to do so, when they already have databases that are serving their purposes?

The answer is, of course, provided now (one day later) by Margaret Spellings, who announces (in this AP story at CNN) the shift toward allowing states to use growth models (improvement over time) to determine AYP. And guess what, the use of these growth models will require the type of longitudinal data that Achieve, Inc. asked for just yesterday:
The Education Department, eager to show it is not weakening the law, will require states to take many steps before they can qualify for the "growth" option. States must have data systems to track individual students, close achievement gaps between whites and minorities, and prove they have at least one year of baseline testing.
Wonder who will judge whether these "data systems" are up to par? Could it be, let's see, the DQC? Subtlety is not Maggie's strong suit.

As I pointed out yesterday, the offering of growth models as a way to meet AYP could potentially get in the way of the assured failure plan that is the linchpin of NCLB. Without the assured failure, Whittle, Achieve, Inc., and the education privatization venture can go home for now. The announcement today, however, does not disappoint the education industry, because this growth model offering is more atmospherics than substance, aimed at containing criticism more than bringing about substantive changes in NCLB. In fact, the assured failure grounded in impossible demands remains unchanged by ED's new and improved"generosity" today:
The states that win approval for the new flexibility, however, must do more than show growth. They still will have to get all children up to par [100% proficiency] in reading and math by 2014, as the law requires, and show consistent gains along the way.
So what will be paraded as a more humane approach to testing cannot mask the deep bow once more by ED to the corporate privatizers, who want nothing more than the public creation of their perfectly-intrusive databases that their school companies can come to inherit without ever spending a dime.

I think the states will need a bit more incentivizing than Maggie is currently offering in today’s deal. What this blatant hypocrisy provides is more rhetoric and another unfunded mandate in the form of a limp carrot.

JH

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Impossible Goals and Certain Failure















Here is a chart (click it to expand) from a Massachusetts study done by Ed Moscovitch of Cape Ann Economics (Full Report: Facing Reality). It shows what everyone knows who has examined the consequences of this reckless attempt to undermine and replace public schools in the U.S. As the numbers of failing schools rise as they are now in Illinois as well, as reported in Chicago Tribune today, public attitudes toward the public schools will plummet unless this thinly-veiled attempt at school privatization is exposed:
More than 200 schools--10 times as many as last year--face the most drastic federal sanctions for poor performance, and state education officials are bracing for the number to multiply. By next year, the figure is likely to double, state school Supt. Randy Dunn told Illinois State Board of Education members at a meeting in Chicago on Wednesday.
Or try this one from Minnesota:
Increasing Number of Schools Could Face Sanctions. Analysis showed that 80 to 100 percent of Minnesota elementary schools will likely fail by 2014 to make “adequate yearly progress,” as defined by the 2004 federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Many of these schools could face restructuring or other sanctions prescribed by the law.
Will ED announce tomorrow a change in the strategy of assured failure for the public education system? Will America Wake Up to What is Going On?
JH

Growth Model for NCLB?

The story is circulating that ED will announce tomorrow a proposal for use of growth models in determining adequate yearly progress for NCLB.

Back in October, one day after the release of the latest NAEP data, McGraw-Hill/Standard & Poors released a document that may be seen as tipping the hand of their BushCo. cronies at ED.

Here is a chunk from an October 21 post that offered this brief analyis of S&P's effort to introduce a growth model that ED might buy, while making sure no school will be let off the hook when it comes to impossible expectations. Remember: if impossible expectations are taken out of NCLB, then school privatization will have suffered a severe setback for now:

Leveling the Playing Field: Examining Comparative State NAEP Performance in Demographic Context insists that, "once the playing field has been leveled by taking student poverty into account, most states actually perform as might be statistically expected."

In an attempted explanation that is Kafkaesque in its hopeless absurdity and absurd hopelessness, and one that hopes to reassure those at ED who have crafted a national policy around impossible expectations, they say this:
Note that “expectation” is used to refer to statistical probability, not educational goals. The correlation between performance and poverty does not mean that students living in poverty cannot learn, or that less achievement should be expected from them as a matter of educational policy.
In other words, don't worry if these kids in these poor schools don't have a chance in hell—keep those demands in the impossible zone! (The Fordham hoods could take some lessons from these guys on how to talk out of both sides of their mouth at the same time).

What does it all mean? Does it mean that S&P would like use NAEP and their "leveled playing field" model to craft their own impossible performance expectations for the nation's public schools?
JH

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Save Head Start ---Call Your Congressman Now

Click here to get information on the impending vote to cut HHS programs, including $11 million to Head Start. And here is a link to Congress.org where you can get the phone numbers.

A Break

It's 70 and breezy on the Jersey shore. Found this on my run today:

Blues

What does one call that element
Between turquoise and silver,
The shade where sea and sky meet,
That cataract of juniper berries
Clustered against November
Wind. Surely Martha Stewart will
See it, too—then I’ll get some for
The porch swing when spring comes
Around.

JH

A Letter to President Bush

Here is such a good letter that speaks to the crackpots in Kansas, Washington, and elsewhere, who would now re-define science to fit their religious beliefs. Thanks, Didi.

Dear Mr. President,

I am shocked and saddened that the Kansas Board of Education has decided to allow the teaching of "Intelligent Design" as an explanation for the evolution of life.

It would be appropriate if you, as a prime supporter of "Intelligent Design," would give a lecture to the American people explaining what exactly "Intelligent Design" means and how it explains living things. Clearly, the last twenty years have demonstrated that the great advances of molecular biology and DNA studies have placed Darwin's Theory on a much more solid scientific foundation. As a matter of fact, DNA studies have demonstrated the close relationship between the human species and the apes. It is totally "unintelligent" how a great country as ours has fallen victim to the nonsense of "Intelligent Design."

Examples of evolution are playing a major role as we speak, namely; the potential pandemic that is unfolding in Asia. As you probably have read in the papers and been briefed by your staff, the present crisis that we face with the Avian Flu is predicated on the scientific theory that the existing strain of the flu might "mutate" into a strain that can become contagious in humans. Are the supporters of "Intelligent Design" dealing with this fact or are they advocating some type of religious Armageddon driven by "Intelligent Design."

The history of science and the well-being of the human race have been held back in the past by religious, Communist and Nazi distortions. In the 16th century, Galileo went on trial for advocating a heliocentric theory of the planets. In the early part of the 20th century, a courageous teacher in Tennessee was brought to trial for teaching Darwin's Theory in a public school. In the 1930s the field of genetics was destroyed in the Soviet Union because it did not conform with the Marxist theory of Historical Determinism. In the Nazi era, Einstein's theory of relativity was dismissed in Germany because it did not conform to the racial edicts of the Third Reich.

What is history going to say about America in the 21st century? "A bunch of fools tried to fool themselves and everyone else."

America deserves better that these charades.

Sincerely,
Jed Solow
NYC

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Report on Milwaukee Voucher Program

By Barbara Miner

Reporters often ask me for a 30-second sound bite on the quality of the private schools in Milwaukee's 15-year-old voucher program, the nation's oldest. I usually say there are good schools—especially those with stricter requirements and a history that pre-dated vouchers—lots of average schools, and some not-so-great schools.

That answer is history. It's increasingly clear that a disturbing number of voucher schools are outright abominations.

An investigation this June by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found problems in some voucher schools that—even to those numb to educational horror stories—break one's heart. No matter how severe one's criticisms of the Milwaukee Public Schools, nothing is as abysmal as the conditions at some voucher schools.

From Rethinking Schools Online. Get the rest of the story here.