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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

New Study on Standardized Testing

We're up to the $3.2 billion annually on standardized tests, according to a new study by Education Sector entitled Margins of Error: The Education Testing Industry in the No Child Left Behind Era (click for pdf) . Includes important reference material on expenditures by states and on the major and niche players in the testing frenzy.

Patriot Acting

Sometimes the violations to civic dignity are so appalling and egregious that conservatives are even roused to the point of public comment. Two examples: 1) Bob Barr is angry, and 2) Fox News is reporting it:
WASHINGTON — A new provision tucked into the Patriot Act bill now before Congress would allow authorities to haul demonstrators at any "special event of national significance" away to jail on felony charges if they are caught breaching a security perimeter. . . . "It concerns me greatly," said Bob Barr, former U.S. prosecutor and Republican representative from Georgia. "It clearly raises serious concerns about First Amendment rights." . . . .

Monday, January 30, 2006

Scraping for the Stars

Today Bob Herbert's comments focused on one of our greatest sources of unacknowledged failure in America: "nationally, just two-thirds of all students — and only half of all blacks and Latinos — who enter ninth grade actually graduate with regular diplomas four years later."

Sadly, Herbert does nothing to connect the dots between dropout rates, the relentless spread of high school exit exams, and the increasing number of poor American children. Here are some figures that might shed a little light on where we are and which direction we could be headed:
Of the 10 states with the highest percentage of African-Americans, 9 have high school exit exams.
Of the state with the highest percentage of Hispanics or Latinos, 8 have high school exit exams.
Of the 10 states with the highest percentage of whites, 1 has exit exams.
Of the 10 states with the lowest graduation rates, all 10 have high school exit exams.
By 2009, five new states will be added to the 20 states now requiring high school exit exams.
President Bush is pushing for annual testing in grades 9, 10, and 11.
Now factor in the millions of minority children who are failing once, twice, three times in elementary grades as a result of the racist testing policies of NCLB, and you have enough built-in failure to assure, perhaps, that, by 2050 when the majority of the American public is brown or black, as noted by Herbert today, the majority of these folks will constitute a permanent underclass that will require the direction of a well-educated white elite whose concerns for social justice have been educated right out of them by a relentless reduction of democratic aspirations to a tunnel vision of economic might. Here, for instance, are the LEAP passing percentages for just one urban school's 4th graders in Louisiana since 2000. We must wonder how many of these children will ever earn a diploma:

30% pass in 2000
48% pass in 2001
46% pass in 2002
55% pass in 2003
58% pass in 2004

The Florida solution, just announced today, to this corrosive failure problem in high school? Eliminate the freshman, sophomore, etc. designations, eliminate the arts requirement, cut the number of electives, add a math requirement, and allow students to stay in high school as long as it takes to pass the exit exam:
Students who haven't met diploma requirements by their fourth year will be able to remain in 12th grade until proficiency requirements for a diploma are met.

That's the best thing about the proposals, [Polk County Superintendent] McKinzie said.

People are starting to understand that high school takes some students longer than four years, she said.
Oh yes, they have another improvement. Those students who excel in school will be awarded up to five stars on their diplomas:
Winn said the goal is not to stigmatize students who barely scrape by. Instead, it will make good grades a little more special for students.

"High school graduation will mean more," he said.
Will it mean more for those poverty students who beat the incredible odds to scrape by and to actually graduate--with no stars, of course? But who's counting?

Maggie--You're Still Doing a Heckuva Job

Does anyone know where all the promised federal money is for the Gulf Coast? Don't ask the folks at ED. Story here from ESchool News:
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has announced the immediate availability of $253 million in hurricane relief money to help reopen Gulf Coast schools. But ED officials could not answer questions about which schools would be eligible for the funds, and educators in the affected areas say they are growing frustrated with the lack of answers. . .

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Public Colleges and Public Schools: Please Stand Up--Tall

In their sustained efforts to spin positive findings into a dismal picture of college literacy rates (see post here), AIR comes one step closer to cementing their unacknowledged role as the fake independent “research” wing of US Department of ED. One of latest fat ED contracts that AIR has landed positions them as the lead propaganda center for the planned extension of the testing and privatization agenda into high schools. This is from AIR’s website:
The National High School Center is part of a national network of Content and Regional Comprehensive Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education to help build the capacity of states across the nation to effectively implement the provisions and goals of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).

Despite the aggressive negativity campaign launched last week by AIR to soften up the resistance to federal meddling in higher ed, there are these facts buried in the study, ones that do not fit the campaign against public universities that is scheduled to ensue as soon as the Spellings Commission completes its preordained "fact-finding" on the need for federal meddling: public college students scored slightly higher in all three areas of measured literacy than did their private college counterparts. And according to the study, public college students scored the same as their counterparts in selective private colleges.

Which leads me the real reason for this post, which is to acknowledge the New York Times for doing a story on a study that shows public school students, when corrected for income levels, did better than private school students. Here is the link and a clip from the story. Thank you, NYTimes.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 — A large-scale government-financed study has concluded that when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools. The study, by Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, compared fourth- and eighth-grade math scores of more than 340,000 students in 13,000 regular public, charter and private schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The 2003 test was given to 10 times more students than any previous test, giving researchers a trove of new data.

Though private school students have long scored higher on the national assessment, commonly referred to as "the nation's report card," the new study used advanced statistical techniques to adjust for the effects of income, school and home circumstances. The researchers said they compared math scores, not reading ones, because math was considered a clearer measure of a school's overall effectiveness.

The study found that while the raw scores of fourth graders in Roman Catholic schools, for example, were 14.3 points higher than those in public schools, when adjustments were made for student backgrounds, those in Catholic schools scored 3.4 points lower than those in public schools.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

New Corruption Primer

For those who have not been properly exposed to the sleaze, corruption, and cronyism in the U.S. Dept. of Ed, have a look at this recent primer that appeared in the Ft. Worth Weekly. Randy Best, Reid Lyon, Doug Carnine--they are all here in this local color piece.

Apolitical Totalitarianism

After watching the riveting documentary, Enron, last night, it is more than a little bit disturbing this morning to see this story in the Times on the growing emphasis in American universities toward an ahistorical, apolitical, and amoral approach to learning economics and learning to make economic decisions. Out are the big picture models of Smith, Marx, Friedman, and Keynes, and in is “freakanomics,” a quantitative, data-driven micro approach that foregoes the messy debates involving political, social, or cultural values for the bright line message of the only value left standing, the profit margin.

Does this mean that we are laying the groundwork for an economic future where statistical studies are cherry-picked and manipulated to make “scientific” economic decisions that, otherwise, might never survive the most cursory ethical interrogation? Is this another example of how we have bought in to that most insipid and dangerous reductionism, “the world is flat?” Is that the same bottom-line morality that drove former good guys, Google, into the arms of the Chinese government, with its 30,000 paid goons who will provide the freedom-loving Google Board Members with a growing list of internet sites to censor? Is this not all about the ultimate rationalization for unrestrained greed?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Privatization Heats Up in Chicago

As a result of the impossible demands of NCLB, the steady closure of public schools in Chicago will only escalate there and elsewhere unless the Law is scrapped or seriously altered next year when it up for re-authorization. So far the privatization scheme is entirely on schedule with not a peep from Democratic politicians, who should be taking the lead to inform their constituents as the first next step in preserving public education. The first one of the presidential wannabes to make this her issue will be the winner. Bet me.

Here is a clip from the Chicago Tribune article:

No more schools will close this year, but some 178 other schools face restructuring by next school year because they have not met academic standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind law, district officials said. That could result in new leadership or a curriculum overhaul, among other things.Plans for two of those schools were announced Thursday, with restructuring plans for the remainder to be unveiled by June.

The operation of Sherman Elementary in New City will be transferred to a private school operator, the Academy for Urban School Leadership. Students will stay, but the administration and teachers will be replaced. Carver Military Academy High School will get a new curriculum. Staff and current students will stay, but admissions standards will change.At Frazier Elementary, staff and parents were stunned and saddened by news of their school's closing. They said the school is a crucial anchor for the community, providing after-school activities and free health care for low-income residents.

Rosa Wess, whose three grandchildren attend the school, said she understands that test scores at Frazier are below standards. But she said her grandchildren are thriving."I have no complaints. I have an `A' student here," Wess said. "The teachers have been wonderful. I just think you can't force a child to learn if they don't want to. Some of the kids are bad, but they really work with them. They keep things in order. They don't give up on students here
at Frazier."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Norquist's Petri Dish in California

Like a bad science fiction movie, the assault against public schools from coast to coast goes unabated:
Ron Nehring, protege of conservative strategist Grover Norquist, Vice-Chairman of the California Republican Party and former colleague of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, has introduced a proposal to convert all east San Diego County schools in the Grossmont Union High School District into charter schools, RAW STORY has learned.

At a hearing Jan. 19, the Grossmont school board -- of which Nehring is a member -- voted 5-0 to begin preparing a district-wide charter petition. If approved, Nehring's proposal would make Grossmont the largest charter district in California.Some educators believe Grossmont is being used as a petri dish to test privatization of public education as part of a national GOP strategy.

"Ron Nehring ... is an important piece on Norquist's chessboard," states a report titled
Target San Diego: The Right Wing Assault on Urban Democracy and Smart Government. Prepared for the Center on Policy Initiatives, a progressive think tank, the report reveals how the National GOP has targeted San Diego as a "battleground" and model for an alleged agenda of radically cutting government funding, permanently weakening organized labor, and aggressively moving to privatize public services.

No Dollar Left Behind

Next week the Super Bowl will be held in Detroit, ground zero for the American jobs implosion and the birthplace of large scale corporate job exporting. In fact, the big game will be played in Ford Stadium, whose CEO, Bill Ford, just announced cutting 30,000 jobs, a third of its American work force. I wonder how many fans will be wearing that big foam finger (yes, that one) we saw on Jon Stewart the other night. And one of the teams is called the Steelers, a term that harkens back to when some say that steel was manufactured here?

Well, it is not just football stadiums whose names are for sale anymore. The days of Washington, Franklin, or King High seem to have gone the way of real steelers, not the 300 pound ones that run like deer. The big question in Philadelphia these days is what corporate name will grace its new state-or-the-art high school. Cost? $5 mil. No biggie--it's a write-off.

Here is a clip from the Times story:
PHILADELPHIA — Next fall, a stunning $55 million high school will open on the edge of Fairmount Park here. For now, it is called the School of the Future, a state-of-the-art building with features like a Web design laboratory and a green roof that incorporates a storm-water management system. But it may turn out to be the school of the future in another sense, too: It is a public school being used to raise a lot of private money.

A glossy brochure offers dozens of opportunities for donors to get their name or corporate logo emblazoned on the walls : $1 million for the performing arts pavilion, $750,00 for the gyms or the main administrative suite (including the principal's office), $500,000 for the food court/ cybercafe, $50,000 for the science laboratories, $25,000 for each of the classrooms, and so on. Microsoft, a partner in designing the school, has already committed $100,000 for the Microsoft Visitors Center.

For a cool $5 million, a donor gets the grand prize — naming the school.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Quashing the public will

Jeb Bush has turned Florida into a petri dish for every crackpot concoction of experiments that the corporate socialists have come up with to undercut the public and the public schools. Now the fat little brother is urging once again the passage of 65% solution (click here and here for background) as a way to undercut the voters' decision in Florida to limit class size:
Bush touts plan that would quash rule on class size
TALLAHASSEE - Saying the costs of building new classrooms were a "true hardship," Gov. Jeb Bush urged a conservative crowd Tuesday to help end a voter mandate to limit class sizes by forcing districts to spend a certain amount on classroom instruction.

Republican lawmakers are prepared to ask Floridians to vote in November to essentially end class-size reduction in exchange for a new mandate that would require school districts to spend 65 percent of their money in classrooms.

Bush called the class-size mandate a threat to districts since it inflicts "artificial numbers" on the limits of students in classrooms while failing to provide flexibility for districts.

The "65 percent solution" is a national effort led by First Class Education to force states to require school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their operating budget for classroom needs such as teacher salaries, computers and other supplies.

Supporters say it's a common sense way to force districts to spend money where it can do the most for students. Opponents say it's a gimmick geared to woo voters that sounds good, but has no correlation to the quality of education.

To More Seconds

January Second

Between leaks of sun
snow comes in
horizontal blurs
turning the grey line
of hardwoods to static,
flattening a field
of winter rye.

February Second

With snow sealing the house
like a soft sarcophagus
and the feeder crawling
with titmice and chickadees,
we listen for traffic
on the highway over the hill;
but there is just a fluttering
of red by the window
as the cardinal from his cedar
settles in, rolling each seed
until it opens.

ABC Ignored Facts

Jerry Bracey reports on his EDDRA listserv that ABC had this access to this research study, Charter, Private, Public Schools and Academic Achievement: New Evidence from NAEP Mathematics Data. 2006 (Click here to view PDF) on private and public school performance, but Stossel didn't use it. Wonder why?
Common wisdom holds that private schools achieve better academic results than public schools. Assumptions of the superiority of private-style organizational models are reflected in voucher and charter programs, and in the choice provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. However, most studies that compare achievement between private and public school students either fail to account for differences in student background characteristics or are based on assessments of students who have since graduated from high school. This analysis compares student achievement in traditional public, private, and charter schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) mathematics exam. Hierarchical linear modeling is used to control for demographic characteristics and school location. Findings reveal that demographic differences between students in public and private schools account for the relatively high raw scores of private schools on the NAEP. Indeed, after controlling for these differences, public school students generally score better than their private school peers. Three other findings warrant mention. First, Lutheran schools are the highest performing private schools. Second, Conservative Christian schools, the fastest growing private school sector, are the lowest performing private schools. Third, fourth graders in charter schools scored below public school students, but eighth graders in charter schools scored above public school students. This suggests that assessments of charter schools must pay careful attention to the sample population that is being examined.

Let's Have a Gathering Storm

In 1988 noted historian of education, Lawrence Cremin, responded to the diversionary tactic taken by the Reaganites to blame the schools in A Nation at Risk for the rise of foreign economic competition. In a Carnegie report (as cited by Tyack & Cuban, 1995) on saving urban schools, Cremin pointed out the manipulative strategy to shift the focus of schools from equity to economics by falsely blaming the schools for economic uncertainties:
“to contend that problems of economic competitiveness can be solved by educational reform . . . is not merely utopian and millennialist, it is at best foolish and at worst a crass effort to direct attention away from those truly responsible for doing something about competitiveness and to lay the burden instead on the schools” (p. 35).
If anything has changed since then, it is simply in the intensification of the dishonest demonizing of schools. If another generation can be duped in viewing the schools as the source of economic uncertainty, no one will notice, perhaps, the steady rise of corporate profits or zooming CEO salaries at a time of record layoffs, or the dwindling percentage of federal and state tax revenues paid by corporations while the tax burden shifts downward, or the reduced corporate investment in R&D while corporate lobbyists lead in the pillaging of the federal treasury. Perhaps we won’t even notice that the current fear mongering is intended to create an oversupply of science, math, and engineering folks in order to have a domestic supply that will settle for third world wages and benefits. And maybe, just maybe, the corporate socialists can get taxpayers to take up the slack for their own miserly contributions to the R&D that will guarantee their survival.

One thing that distinguishes the current battle in the war against the public schools is the prominent front opened up against the schools that prepare teachers. If one were to believe the rhetoric oozing from sludgy think tanks and the paid institutes for “research,” those damn Deweyans in the colleges of education don’t care about our economic competitiveness, nor do they take seriously the apocalyptic metaphors in this generation’s equivalent to A Nation . . ., this once called Rising Above the Gathering Storm. . .

And if you were to believe the unwavering stupidity of the NY Times Editorial Board, colleges of education have given up on science education and math education, just as the colleges are somehow to blame for the fact that many American children are taught by teachers who are not qualified to teach math or science.

Is this true? Jane Leibbrand, NCATE VP for Communications, was able to clear that up for Diane Ravitch the other day during Ed Week’s online chat, after Ravitch spouted the Party line by blaming state and college certification programs for the weakness in areas of math and science teaching:
a majority of states now require a degree or the equivalent in subject matter. Candidates must know the subject they plan to teach to be recommended for licensure in accredited schools of education. Knowledge of subject matter is front and center, Standard 1, in NCATE's accreditation system. The problem comes when individuals who never planned to teach enter the system, usually teaching at-risk children in low-income areas. These individuals are not from "ed schools."
Unlike the situation in 1980s, this time America's schools are, indeed, in trouble, but not because they have failed to churn out enough high school graduates intent upon becoming scientists, engineers, or mathematicians. So when you hear the President next week as he reads off the litany of manufactured education shortcomings and seeks to seed fear of the “gathering storm,” remember this: The real threat to America is not from an absence of education reform but, rather, from too much of a particular kind that now threatens to replace the intellectual, cultural, and civic mission of the public schools with a sterile, amoral, and metastasizing competition for test scores that has, as its endgame, the privatization of public schools by vouchers and for-profit charters. In the meantime, the 25-30% of America’s children living in poverty will be left behind again without qualified math and science teachers, just as they were by the last generation’s “reforms.”

It is time for another kind of gathering storm, a real one generated by the loud and clear voices of citizens and teachers, academics, and students, all intent upon taking back our schools, the same ones that once aimed at the preservation of a democratic republic and the full participation in democratic living as primary educational missions.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Keeping the Poor and the Disabled Out of College

In a fit of conscience that is hard to distinguish from the fear of getting sued, the state of Utah has decided to forego the meaningless certificates that it planned to hand out to those poor and immigrant and disabled students who failed the state high school exit exam. Now their State law requires that the test scores go on high school transcripts for prospective employers and colleges to see.

The actual high school diploma, then, will replace the meaningless certificate that, heretofore, had been used to label those who failed the test. Now the transcript will serve as the meaningful gate-keeping document to preserve high standards for the privileged and to sever opportunities for the poor, brown, and impaired.

Here is the twisted reasoning of the Utah education officials, intent upon placating critics, avoiding lawsuits, yet keeping the barriers in place:
. . . critics say the high-stakes tests place additional burdens on already-disadvantaged students by barring them from post-high school education and well-paying jobs. That is in part why the Utah Board of Education earlier this month lowered the stakes for passing the UBSCT. The board decided to give real diplomas - not just certificates of completion - to students who fail.

All students who try the tests at least three times and pass required course work will receive diplomas this spring, but the diplomas must state whether students passed the UBSCT. Students who don't bother to take the tests could still be in line for certificates of completion.

Starting with the class of 2007, those who pass course work but fail the UBSCT will get diplomas only if they took advantage of remediation opportunities. The Utah Office of Education is asking the Legislature for money to support the remedial classes, which have no funding.

Legal advice to the State School Board suggested offering only certificates of completion to students who fail the UBSCT would preclude college entrance and eligibility for college loans and grants from the federal government. Allowing diplomas - even if they state the tests were not passed - is meant to mitigate that problem, said Patti Harrington, Utah state schools superintendent.

Although employers rarely ask to see diplomas, Harrington encourages them to start asking for high school transcripts, which must state UBSCT scores and high school grades, to get a complete picture of a job applicant's high school performance.
What a sweetheart you are, Dr. Harrington--have you been tutored by Sec. Spellings in the new pragmatic and generous modes of discrimination?

New Blog

Peter Campbell has started a brand new blog called Transform Education. Part of what Peter does is to focus on what comes next after this educational genocide has run its course. Check him out.

McCarthyites Back Off in California

When crackpot David Horowitz tries to distance himself, you know the college speech cops' Andrew Jones has been ostracized by the corporate socialists. This from the Times:
The Bruin Alumni Association is essentially a one-man operation run out of Mr. Jones's apartment in Culver City. The organization's advisory board includes some prominent conservative names, but it has received only about $22,000 in donations since its inception last May.

Mr. Jones worked briefly during and after college for the conservative activist David Horowitz, who has been lobbying state legislatures to pass an "Academic Bill of Rights" to protect students with minority viewpoints from partisan professors.

$12.7 Billion in "Efficiencies"

Bush bringing his light to the subject of $12.7 billion in cuts to student assistance. From the Washington Post:
A sophomore asked why officials were cutting student aid by $12.7 billion. "How's that supposed to help our futures?" she asked. Bush seemed perplexed and asked if she meant federal money. "What we did is reform the student loan program," he said. "We're not cutting money out of it. . . . We're not taking people off student loans, we're saving money in the student loan program, because it's inefficient."

Monday, January 23, 2006

No Prose Literacy Problem Here

David Syatt is a first-year literary journalism major at the University of California, Irvine.

Measure Success Another Way
by: David Syatt

As achievement in the classroom slips and parents begin to lose faith in the California public school system, the California Department of Education set out to remedy the problem, to improve our schools, to make the fountain of knowledge flow and to make students realize their true potential … by forcing them to take yet another standardized test. Yes, despite all the problems our public schools suffer, public school administrators’ only solution was to create a test that all students must pass in order to graduate from high school.

Along with the STAR, SAT and SAT II exams, students now have to worry about the California High School Exit Exam if they hope to attain any kind of future. In theory, an idea like this seems logical. After all, what’s wrong with requiring students to wield a basic knowledge of English and math? But is standardized testing the answer? Let’s fill in the blanks.

In 2002, the CAHSEE was administered to all high school sophomores in California for the first time. I took this test (as a true pioneer). Classes were delayed while we shuffled ourselves into the gymnasium for a three-day marathon of number-two pencil sharpening and testing. I took the test … and failed. Now I’m a white, upper-middle class Jew (statistics love me) who wears glasses, yet I failed the math section of the exam. This leads to my first grievance of having a mandatory standardized test. The authors do not know the schedule for every student in California. I was in a lower math course, which put me a semester behind people in more advanced classes. This course allowed me to graduate from high school and it satisfied the requirements for most universities. Yet, it did not prepare me for the CAHSEE, and about half the people in the class also failed the test. Blessedly, the Department of Education decided to rescind that year’s scores and postpone the test until the 2006 high school class. Suffice to say, the ground was kissed.

Of course, the argument can be made (deftly) that I’m simply a moron, but let’s put that aside and examine some more significant issues that arise with the CAHSEE. Thanks to affirmative action programs, our society is moving closer toward the equality that our nation has interrupted throughout its turbulent and narrow-minded past. However, with the advent of the exit exam, unfair policies once again leak themselves into the system.

For the complete article: http://horus.vcsa.uci.edu/article.php?id=4363

The Sunny Side of Jeb

This ain't why they call it the Sunshine State:
Reporters Ejected from Gov. Jeb Bush Speech in Florida

Published: January 22, 2006 11:30 PM ET
NEW YORK Florida Republican Party officials on Saturday called security to eject reporters listening to Gov. Jeb Bush speak to several hundred party activists in Tallahassee. Reporters had been trying to listen through an open door.

Five hotel security staffers and a sheriff's deputy led reporters away from where they could hear the governor in the middle of a speech, according to a report by the St. Petersburg Times' political editor, Adam Smith.

"I apologize for that if I'm indirectly responsible, which I'm not," Bush said after addressing Republican activists. "I would have loved to have you in there. . . . I wouldn't have said anything different if you were there."

The party's executive director explained that party leaders merely wanted to keep their party functions private.

On Kozol

Peter Majoy recently heard Jonathan Kozol, and these are his reflections:
On Thursday, November 17th, 2005, I attended a talk in Keene, New Hampshire (I live 16 miles south of Keene) given by Jonathan Kozol. This was a happy coincidence since I had already started reading The Shame of the Nation. I had never heard him speak; I was priveleged to be there to witness his charisma, humor, compassion, and biting commentary on the return of inner city schools to segregation brought on by economic and social policy. He includes NCLB as part of that economic and social policy and told us that he wrote this book to confront the Bush administration. Interestingly enough, he included mention of rural schools in our state and the fact that the school funding formula here is one of the worst in the nation. I reference Mr. Kozol to help me comment further on NCLB, small schools, and a bit about what it means to possess the vocation of a teacher.

Kozol spoke of the patronizing politicians who should teach in a classroom for the whole day so that they understood one of the most important goals necessary for American education to move forward, "elemental racial justice." He said that segregation is back with a vengeance and that we are in the midst of "postmodern millennial apartheid." Schools are under a "state of seige" with the "sword of accountability over their heads." Later, Kozol connected these remarks directly to high stakes testing which he said created a state of terror in our schools where principals operate in a state of anxiety where sanctions include loss of money turning them into "curricular cops" who monitor teachers who have been handed scripts and texts with which to teach to the test where no time may be spent on anything but material that is test related.

Kozol continued to play this critical chord by asserting that under NCLB, teachers were becoming "mechanistic proficiency deliverers" instead of "lovers of culture" who would be able to look for the "hidden treasures" in kids. Instead, schools would not be able to "interrogate reality" because everything is prescribed. Inner city schools under this apartheid regime reinforced by NCLB were delivering a kind of lockstep militarized curriculum that was deadening of the human spirit. In this regard, Kozol said that "mediocrity is being imposed on the poorest of the poor in the guise of accountability." He went on to speak of the Orwellian lingo used to push NCLB like the "polysllabic pretentiousness standards people use in language of educational bamboozlement." He said that schools are being placed in a situation requiring "recovery from educational gibberish."

Kozol wove all of this together with stories of specific schools and individual students. One school's basement cafeteria was dark, filthy, and supportive of an animal atmosphere, but when one visited schools only several miles from these poor, black and now hispanic schools, the atmosphere of the cafeteria included salad bars, and both a seating and an aesthetic atmosphere conducive to a positive, interactive communication. Addressing this reality, he said that "we sweeten the lives of some and soil the lives of others". This was followed by comments on how beauty and aesthetic quality inform the soul and spirit in a way that, in itself, teaches children about life and the value of the world around them. He told stories of politicians who invite him to speak before committees and from this an incident where one well known political figure praised his talk but brought out a piece of the common script used to question everything he spoke about. "Can you really change things by throwing money at it?" asked the pol almost rhetorically. Kozol told us that this point was disingenuous when you realized what the per pupil expenditure was at the school his children attended! He gave an example of one inner city school in New York spending 11G's per student but only 4 miles North in a fairly well to do suburb, the per pupil spending was 18 G.s, and then on Long Island, one very rich system spent 22G's. He went on to speak of the 4 major prep schools in the Northeast where 30-40 G's per year fund each student's experience. Put into this frame of reference, one sees the hypocrisy of that comment on throwing money at poor schools.

Lastly, he commented on what great authors would do if they returned from the grave to find out that their literature existed only to help students reach a "certain proficiency". He said that their beautiful literary creations can't be enjoyed for themselves and that all is becoming banal. He said that the reality, language, and hypocrisy of resegregation and NCLB must be confronted. The redistribution of wealth is mandatory for social and economic justice, and he spoke of teachers, for whom he has the utmost respect, as "warriors for justice."

How can I have really done justice to this incredible experience, so I apologize for the fact that this brief review has left behind a great deal of what he said as well as the mesmerizing atmosphere he created through the way he said it. Let me go on to the book for a second to summarize what he says regarding small schools in The Shameof the Nation.

As soon as I bought the book, I looked up "small schools" in the index which directs readers to four places:

(1) pp 27-28....Martin Luther King High in New York was divided into 4 smaller schools and "some of the tension in the corridors and other common areas diminished as a consequence." It was still segregated, and Kozol points out that the social conditions like "virtual apartheid" seed the violence "in so many schools like this."

(2) pp. 275-279....There are good small schools which are good because each of them "is defined not only by its size but also by its sense of mission, with a teaching staff that truly wants to be there in the first place." Kozol praises Debbie Meier's Mission Hill school in Boston and states that "If I were a student, I would love to go there." Kozol lists the following types of small schools as examples of those he opposes: (a) small schools rushed into being by school boards who don't do the important and necessary groundwork; (b) small "elitist 'niche academies'"; (c) small military schools intended to recruit minorities into the army; (d) some small schools-within-schools that seem to get preferential treatment and trigger resentment in the rest of the school (this is not a universal judgment against this kind of small school); (e) small schools that are given academy names that have nothing to do with what is really happening there. In response to the statement made by the Advocates for Children that small schools offer "the best hope" for high school students in New York, but must be well planned to avoid cloning the problems they are attempting to eradicate Kozol agrees and states this: "These impressions are close to my own, although I would argue that 'the best hope' lies in small schools that are also making conscientious efforts to appeal to diversity of students rather than permit themselves to intensify the pre-existing isolation of their student populations." He ends this section pointing out the political pressures resulting in a successful law suit that enabled the small Center School in Seatlle to enroll a predominantly white student body( disproportionate to the white population) while the African American Academy was filled with mostly black students whose spirit had been dulled by direct instruction. To defend the results of their law suit, white parents pointed to the brand new African-American Academy but were blind to the fact that the result of the whole process created separate, unequal, apartheid schools.

(3) p. 302-303......Regarding the breakup of Martin Luther King High into four smaller academies, Kozol points out that the Arts and Technology Academy is almost totally black inspite of the fact it exists adjacent to Lincoln Center. Kozol pointed to the incredible commitment of its teachers and their outspoken criticism of the fact that their school was predominantly black in an overwhelmingly white neighborhood.

(4) pp. 379-381....This is the "Notes" section explaining more about what's above. In effect, Kozol sees small schools as a beacon of hope if correctly planned for and intentionally focused on developing a diverse student body. He has praise for small schools that stay true to their mission like Meier's Mission Hill. He criticizes small schools that are small in name only but continue age old segregation policies, i.e., sos in smaller packages.

I found The Shame of the Nation to be moving, personal, fundamentally on-target, and depressing as well as inspring. His critique of market-driven privatization pressures that dominate so much of educational reform efforts as well as his overt and subtle reminders of the continuing racist policies within American educational renewal, like the irony of NCLB's focus on standards based reform rather than on smaller class size and desegregation, is a solid reminder of how far we have not come. Lastly, if you want to really feel proud of the fact that you heard the call to be a teacher, Mr. Kozol is someone who will lift your heart and your spirit because you have done so.

Peter Majoy

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Spellings as Ultimate Arbiter of HS Curricula

On their way to slashing $11-14 billion in college tuition assistance from the latest federal budget bill, the neo-cons tucked away an unseen item in the 744-page document that was intended to bypass their rejected efforts from last spring to expand the testing madness into the high schools by “eliminating a total of 48 programs from the Department of Education, including vocational education, GEAR-UP, TRIO and teacher quality enhancement grants . . .”

Reported today by Sam Dillon in the NY Times is the story on the neo-con efforts to offer tuition assistance grants to students graduating from high schools that Margaret Spellings has judged rigorous enough to merit the $750 being offered to college freshmen in exchange for a whole new level of federal meddling in the high schools:
It leaves it to the secretary of education to define rigorous, giving her a new foothold in matters of high school curriculums.
In the second year of college, the tuition assistance would be $1, 300. If recipients then decided to major in math, science, or engineering (remember to need to rise above the gathering storm and create an oversupply of engineers?), then assistance would then be bumped to $4,000.

Wonder how Maggie would determine if high schools have rigorous curricula? Could it be, maybe, I don’t know, you tell me.

By the way, would you want to guess which college majors are the most literate in all three areas (prose analysis, document analysis, and quantitative analysis)—according to the AIR study whose presentation has all the truthiness quality of the Colbert Report, minus the humor? Well, of course, the most literate are somehow lumped together as science, math, and engineering majors. Could there be some shortcomings in the way that literacy is being defined? Or do we follow the manipulated implication and conclude that the highest manifestations of literacy are to be found in engineers?

The AP story
that AIR researchers and White House hacks have managed to pump out through the AP's Bob Feller three days ago is a great example of what Frank Rich noted today:
It's the power of the story that always counts first, and the selling of it that comes second. Accuracy is optional.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Neither Sobering Nor Bleak

The AIR study (click here for pdf) examines literacy among college students in three areas: prose literacy, document literacy, and quantitative literacy.

In the last post, I noted that the study shows no change in the levels of quantitative literacy levels between current college students and adults who already hold college degrees. Put in the economic terms that instigated this study in the first place, if past American economic successess have hinged on quantitative literacy of college graduates, we may expect, then, to do no better nor worse than we have up to this point.

The really good news, however, is in the comparisons between current college students and former college graduates in the areas of prose literacy and document literacy:
Students in 2- and 4-year colleges had higher prose and document literacy than adults in the nation with similar levels of education (Figure 2.3). On the document scale, the scores for graduating seniors in 4-year institutions were 20 points higher than the scores of all adults in the United States who previously received a degree from a 4-year college or university (p. 24).
Looking closer, we can see, too, that there are lower numbers of students at the basic and below basic levels of literacy among both 2-year and 4-year students as compared to adults already holding 2 and 4 year degrees. This holds true for both prose literacy and document literacy. The trend, then, indicates significant improvement for those ranked lowest on the literacy scales.

Most interesting to K-12 educators is the finding that in all three areas of literacy, college students who graduated from American high schools scored higher than college students who graduated from foreign high schools. The following quote does not mention the American advantage in quantitative literacy because the differences there were not statistically signficant, even though those differences were also in favor of US high schools (USA high school grads--331 foreign high school grads--320):
Students enter U.S. institutions of higher learning with different educational backgrounds, some obtaining their high school diploma from U.S. schools and others graduating from foreign schools. Among students in 4-year institutions, the prose and document literacy of U.S. high school graduates was higher than the literacy of their peers who graduated from foreign high schools. Similarly, average literacy across the three scales was higher for students in 2-year institutions who graduated from U.S. high schools compared with the literacy of students who graduated from foreign schools (Figure 4.5) (p. 38).

That's enough for now, except to paste up this sad piece of plagiarism that has boiled down the initial misleadiing Feller article to this compact lie:

Literacy Study Is Bleak

January 21, 2006 8:01 a.m. EST
Andrea Moore - All Headline News Staff Reporter

Washington, DC (AHN) - A new literacy study found more than one half of students at four year colleges and at least 75 percent at two year colleges, lack the literacy to handle complex, real-life tasks such as understanding credit card offers.

The study, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, is the first to focus on skills of graduating students which look at three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.

The study shows that students cannot interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.

However, the average literacy of college students is still significantly higher than that of adults across the nation. Researchers said that was encouraging but not surprising, given that the spectrum of adults includes those with much less education.

Unbelievable to anyone who doesn't know the history of media coverage on education issues.

More interesting findings in the next post regarding the advantages of educational experiences based in analytic and critical thinking.

From Sobering to Bleak

It is now a little over 24 hours since AIR released findings on literacy among college students, and the media’s emotional response ranges from “sobering” to “disturbing” to “bleak.” The original AP Feller piece has worked its magic so that now the impression is cemented that colleges are going to hell in a hand basket that will, no doubt, require some remedial action or accountability plan to correct what is obviously a breakdown in civilization, itself.

Let’s take a sober look at some of the findings and see if we can get as lathered up as the media by AIR’s own self-serving emphases and by the paid spinners who helped Feller write his piece that has now been picked up worldwide as fact. And let’s start with the worst news in the study, which has to do with quantitative literacy. This is how it is presented in the study, itself:
Students in 2- and 4-year colleges struggled the most with quantitative literacy. Approximately 30 percent of students in 2-year institutions and 20 percent of students in 4-year institutions have Basic or below quantitative literacy (p. 25).
Yes, that is not good. For someone with my own issues in terms of mathematical literacy, I realize that is not good. Looking closer, however, I notice that 29 percent of students in 4-year institutions are at basic and actually only, actually, only 1 percent below basic in quantitative literacy. Likewise, 19 percent of students in 2-year institutions are at basic, with only 1 percent below basic.

Still bad, though. But does this mean that things are getting worse in the area of quantitative literacy in colleges, as the breathless bleakness in the new stories indicate? The answer is emphatically no, and this, again, is based on the finding of the study, itself. When, in fact, current college quantitative literacy rates are compared to other American adults who hold college degrees, there is no significant statistical difference—except that the percentage of “below basic” students in 4-year institutions now is at 1 percent, compared to 4 percent for other adults with college degrees at the below basic level. If there is any trend, then, in quantitative literacy, this small improvement in the below basic category is the only statistically-significant difference.

There is, in fact, more good news than bad in the study, but somehow the media has chosen, with the help of paid spinners, to disregard it entirely. I wonder why?
Stay tuned.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Blind Whores of Mammon

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) just released a new study entitled The Literacy of America’s College Students (click here for pdf copy of Report). It uses the same instrument that was used in the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) to focus on literacy of the current crop of college students who are nearing graduation. The study represents nothing more or less than continuation of mercenary efforts to offer a research-based grounding for the coming intrusions by federally-led education privatizers. Try this clip from the Executive Summary:
With the recent attention on accountability measures for elementary and secondary schools, accountability in institutions of higher education has been all but overlooked. The National Survey of America's College Students (NSACS) is a study that examines the literacy of U.S. college students, providing information on how prepared these students are to continue to learn and use the skills that they will need in the years to come. Such an examination provides a valuable set of indicators of performance in higher education, informing such issues as the relationship among educational experience, literacy, and preparedness for the job market.
AIR, which has profited mightily from federal research and Reading First oversight grants under the present regime, continues to prostitute itself by spinning its own research to pretend that it says something that it does not say. The current effort, which goes nicely with the recent one that tries to justify the use of chain-gang pedagogy in K-12 (see previous post here), represents a sustained attempt to the prime the pump for the anticipated gush of support for federal meddling in higher education by corporationist interlopers—which, in the end, is aimed at privatizing universities so that they become wholly the campus laboratories for corporate research and development. After all, the Chinese do it—except that their dictatorship is on a government payroll rather than a corporate one. Whatever—the world is flat, remember?!

The good news is that, despite efforts to give maximum negative spin to a press release headline and lead paragraph that could have been written by that whining dunce, John Stossel, there is not nothing that I can find in the study to justify this phony gasping:


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twenty percent of U.S. college students completing 4-year degrees – and 30 percent of students earning 2-year degrees – have only basic quantitative literacy skills, meaning they are unable to estimate if their car has enough gasoline to get to the next gas station or calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies, according to a new national survey by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The study was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Can you imagine! Then, in the very next paragraph, just when the education reporters have stopped reading and raced off to write their stories on the collapse of the American university, comes this:
The AIR study found there is no difference between the quantitative literacy of today’s graduates compared with previous generations, and that current graduates generally are superior to previous graduates when it comes to other forms of literacy needed to comprehend documents and prose.
This positive news is echoed on page 25 of the study itself:
Students in 2- and 4-year colleges had higher prose and document literacy than adults in the nation with similar levels of education, although differences in quantitative literacy between current and former college graduates were not significant.
Here are the full list of summary findings on from page 25:
This chapter compared the literacy of U.S. college students with the literacy of U.S. adults by key demographic groups. The results revealed the following:
∑ The average prose, document, and quantitative literacy of students in 2- and 4-year institutions was significantly higher than the average literacy of adults in the nation.
∑ Students in 2- and 4-year colleges struggled the most with quantitative literacy. Approximately 30 percent of students in 2-year institutions and 20 percent of students in 4-year institutions have Basic or below quantitative literacy.
∑ Across colleges and universities, the average literacy of male and female college students was higher than the average literacy of men and women in the nation.
∑ The literacy gap between men and women in the nation largely disappears among college students.
∑ With the exception of Asian students in 2-year institutions, college students from each racial or ethnic group outperformed adults from the same racial or ethnic groups in the nation.
The literacy gap between Whites and minorities in the nation remains among students in colleges and universities.
∑ In 4-year colleges, students with a non-English language background had higher average literacy than adults in the nation with an English-only language background.
∑ Students in 2- and 4-year colleges had higher prose and document literacy than adults in the nation with similar levels of education, although differences in quantitative literacy between current and former college graduates were not significant.
Note that there is no mention in the press release or the news stories that the achievement gap, which the neocons are strenuously claiming to alleviate in the K-12, carry forward through college. But this study is not about the long-term effects of poverty and discrimination, is it?

So what gives with the sad face by the heads of AIR? Why such headlines about nothing new, except that college students are doing better in prose and document literacy? Well, there is this clue from Dr. Baldi, who directed the study:
“The surprisingly weak quantitative literacy ability of many college graduates is troubling,” says Dr. St├ęphane Baldi, who directed the AIR study. “A knowledgeable workforce is vital to cope with the increasing demands of the global marketplace.”
Oh, yes, that global marketplace thing, the same one that the head humanitarians at Microsoft and Yahoo want to fully exploit, even if they have to become accessories to torture and murder by the Chinese government. That’s right, see Cohen’s op-ed from yesterday’s Washington Post, "Business, and Repression, as Usual," about American corporate assistance to the Chinese government’s round-up of dissidents and and anyone else who speak their minds.

Standing by to provide more negative spin on the AIR research for the AP story by Ben Feller was Joni Finney, one of national advisory panel members who “guided the direction of the study.” Finney is a finance and governing consultant for higher ed, has written a book on public and private financing of higher ed, and will go down in history as responsible for the first state by state report card for higher education. Report cards are not just for K-12 anymore!

The AP story, which is now being circulated around the world begins thusly:
Study: College Students lacking literacy skills
By Ben Feller
Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Nearing a diploma, most college students cannot handle many complex but common tasks, from understanding credit card offers to comparing the cost per ounce of food.

Those are the sobering findings of a study of literacy on college campuses, the first to target the skills of students as they approach the start of their careers.

More than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.

That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.
Further down in the story comes this good news, which is immediately doused by Finney, who, remember, "guided the direction of the study":
There was brighter news.

Overall, the average literacy of college students is significantly higher than that of adults across the nation. Also, compared with all adults with similar levels of education, college students had superior skills in searching and using information from texts and documents.

"But do they do well enough for a highly educated population? For a knowledge-based economy? The answer is no," said Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent and nonpartisan group.
With efforts to sustain the "knowledge-based economy" having already eliminated the impetus for preserving civic, moral, and cultural values in the public schools, the focus is now moving toward the university, where nothing less is envisioned by the blind whores of Mammon.

The mis-information and negative spin coming from the researchers, authors, advisors, and coached reporters will most certainly find its way into the talking points of Spellings’ Commission on Higher Ed and the other privatizing efforts being staged at the corporate socialist think tanks. Don’t be surprised to hear about it, too, in the upcoming State of the Union Address, along with the lies derived from Rising Above the Gathering Storm, er, the "Augustine Report." That is, if you bother to watch the State of the Union.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Rebellion in Massachusetts

MCAS Critics Renew Campaign

By Jeremy Schwab
State House News Service
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A coalition of civil rights and education groups have called for sweeping changes to the state's education system, including eliminating the use of the MCAS test as a high school graduation requirement.

At a press conference in Boston last week, members of the Alliance for the Education of the Whole Child said they plan to intensify their lobbying of Education Committee members to support measures overhauling the Board of Education, revamping the state's system of determining "underperforming" schools, and strengthening schooling for English language learners.

With the release of a 47-page report calling for a change in the direction of education reform, alliance members say they also plan to mobilize their members across the state to lobby their local legislators to support the bills. The alliance includes the state's two largest teachers unions, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, and the Mass Association for Bilingual Education, among others.

Coalition members say the test is unfair to children in lower-income districts, special education students, English language learners and blacks and Latinos, groups whose members generally pass at lower rates. And they say current education policies are not closing achievement gaps between students in wealthier communities and those attending public schools in low-income neighborhoods.

For the entire story: http://www2.townonline.com/brookline/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=411989

Education for Democracy

Our environment is sick and our system of education is sick. Why? They are sick for the same reason -- corporate greed. It's as simple as that.

My uncle was a high school science teacher in Freehold, New Jersey and Bruce Springsteen just happened to be one of his students. Springsteen would bring his guitar to class and my uncle would tell him he was never going to amount to anything.

Today, one of my students brought a cake to school to share with his friends and teachers. He baked the cake himself and proudly walked into class excited that so many people enjoyed the cake. He told everyone how much he loves to bake.

Education is about freedom and passion. It's about loving something so much that you want to immerse yourself in the subject, whatever that subject might be. Basing an educational system on standardized testing of meaningless facts and forcing children to take test after test is nothing less than child abuse. Children must be provided with opportunities to experience life and explore where their passions lie. The current system is robbing them of their hearts and souls. Politicians and business leaders who are profiting from a regime built upon turning public education into a one-size-fits all mindless activity for their own economic gain are playing a dangerous game. Paul Wellstone understood this and so do the good teachers and parents. It is time to hold those who hide behind the empty rhetoric of accountability accountable for wreaking havoc with our children and our nation's future.

Perhaps someone like Bruce Springsteen who understands the importance of pursuing one's passions will step up to the plate and take a stand on NCLB. His son is in my daughter's class and the next time I see him, I think I will ask him.

Vatican: Darwin Scientific, Intelligent Design--Not So Much

The NY Times reports that the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore, has endorsed the science of evolutionary theory over the non-science nonsense of intelligent design. They must be foaming in Lynchburg, VA and the White House. Those godless Catholics!!

ROME, Jan. 18 - The official Vatican newspaper published an article this week labeling as "correct" the recent decision by a judge in Pennsylvania that intelligent design should not be taught as a scientific alternative to evolution.

"If the model proposed by Darwin is not considered sufficient, one should search for another," Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, wrote in the Jan. 16-17 edition of the paper, L'Osservatore Romano.

"But it is not correct from a methodological point of view to stray from the field of science while pretending to do science," he wrote, calling intelligent design unscientific. "It only creates confusion between the scientific plane and those that are philosophical or religious." . . . .

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

On George Bush and James Lovelock

WASHINGTON (AP) - Six former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency - five Republicans and one Democrat - accused the Bush administration Wednesday of neglecting global warming and other environmental problems. . . . Russell Train, who succeeded Ruckelshaus in the Nixon and Ford administrations, said slowing the growth of "greenhouse" gases isn't enough."We need leadership, and I don't think we're getting it," he said at an EPA-sponsored symposium centered around the agency's 35th anniversary. "To sit back and just push it away and say we'll deal with it sometime down the road is dishonest to the people and self-destructive."

Full story here.

From an article January 16 in The Independent by James Lovelock:

Imagine a young policewoman delighted in the fulfilment of her vocation; then imagine her having to tell a family whose child had strayed that he had been found dead, murdered in a nearby wood. Or think of a young physician newly appointed who has to tell you that the biopsy revealed invasion by an aggressive metastasising tumour. Doctors and the police know that many accept the simple awful truth with dignity but others try in vain to deny it.

Whatever the response, the bringers of such bad news rarely become hardened to their task and some dread it. We have relieved judges of the awesome responsibility of passing the death sentence, but at least they had some comfort from its frequent moral justification. Physicians and the police have no escape from their duty.

This article is the most difficult I have written and for the same reasons. My Gaia theory sees the Earth behaving as if it were alive, and clearly anything alive can enjoy good health, or suffer disease. Gaia has made me a planetary physician and I take my profession seriously, and now I, too, have to bring bad news.

The climate centres around the world, which are the equivalent of the pathology lab of a hospital, have reported the Earth's physical condition, and the climate specialists see it as seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years. I have to tell you, as members of the Earth's family and an intimate part of it, that you and especially civilisation are in grave danger.

Our planet has kept itself healthy and fit for life, just like an animal does, for most of the more than three billion years of its existence. It was ill luck that we started polluting at a time when the sun is too hot for comfort. We have given Gaia a fever and soon her condition will worsen to a state like a coma. She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years. We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics.

Much of the tropical land mass will become scrub and desert, and will no longer serve for regulation; this adds to the 40 per cent of the Earth's surface we have depleted to feed ourselves. . . .

Nationalize or Privatize? Does Ravitch Have a Preference?

I just finished looking over the Q&A from the Ed Week event, and here a couple of things that stood out:

1) Ravitch knows nothing or claims to know nothing about NCATE and what teacher preparation programs are doing in terms of subject matter focus:

Question from Jane Leibbrand, VP Communications, NCATE:
Diane, I must object to your answer to Stephen Grant in saying that having a national standard "might even persuade ed schools to care about teacher quality as it relates to subject matter." Diane, a majority of states now require a degree or the equivalent in subject matter. Candidates must know the subject they plan to teach to be recommended for licensure in accredited schools of education. Knowledge of subject matter is front and center, Standard 1, in NCATE's accreditation system. The problem comes when individuals who never planned to teach enter the system, usually teaching at-risk children in low-income areas. These individuals are not from 'ed schools.' Many teachers are also assigned to teach out-of-field. Ed schools are not responsible for this distribution problem. The entire education system must work to come up with reasonable solutions to this intractable problem. We can work at reallocating resources in the at-risk schools so that more adults are in the classroom with these students--student teachers, interns, career teachers, board certified teachers (as part-time supervisors), so that one unqualified teacher is not left on her or his own in a class of at-risk students.

Diane Ravitch:
Gosh, I have loads of scars from years of contending with ed schools on the issue of subject matter. If NCATE is now putting teachers' subject matter knowledge front and center, I am very happy to hear it.
And, 2) Ravitch would just as soon privatize as nationalize:

Question from Maria Estela Carrion:
The constitution limits the powers and duties of the federal government. Setting Education policy has always been a "right" of the state. What changes are needed to provide for this transfer of power to feds? What other arguments against national standards are state governors and officials putting forward?

Diane Ravitch:
As I mentioned before, I am not sure that this authority should be vested in the federal government or in a private entity. If it were in the federal government, it would not require a constitutional amendment, as the Constitution does not mention education. Yet we do have a federal Department of Education and many programs. We would need federal authorization by Congress to create such an activity. Which is why we might be better served by getting the whole activity into the private sector, minimizing political interference and dumbing down by politicians.

I guess if you are a corporate socialist, it really doesn't make much difference whether we have a national standard or a corporate standard.

A New Kind of Right Wing Work Study

I picked this up at Huffington Post. How long will it take to franchise this effort to other campuses? Wonder how Horowitz is involved? Apparently, Linda Chavez is onboard--wonder if there is any Abramoff money involved.

"Radical" UCLA professors targeted by alumni group
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

(01-18) 05:19 PST Los Angeles (AP) --

An alumni group is offering students up to $100 per class to supply tapes and notes exposing University of California, Los Angeles professors who allegedly express extreme left-wing political views.

The year-old Bruin Alumni Association on its Web site says it is concerned about professors who use lecture time to press positions against President Bush, the military and multinational corporations, among other things.

The site includes a list of what the group calls the college's 30 most radical professors.

"We're just trying to get people back on a professional level of things," said the group's president and founder, Andrew Jones, a 2003 UCLA graduate and former chairman of the student Bruin Republicans.

"Having been a student myself up until 2003, and then watching what other students like myself have gone through, I'm very concerned about the level of professional teaching at UCLA."

Some of the group's targets accuse it of conducting a witch-hunt.

"Any sober, concerned citizen would look at this and see right through it as a reactionary form of McCarthyism," said education professor Peter McLaren, whom the associated named as No. 1 on its "The Dirty Thirty: Ranking the Worst of the Worst."

"Any decent American is going to see through this kind of right-wing propaganda. I just find it has no credibility."

The association's decision to name targets and pay students for information led to the resignation of at least one of its 20-plus advisory board members.

"That just seems to me way too intrusive," said Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom, an affirmative action opponent and former UCLA professor. "It seems to me a kind of vigilantism that I very much object to."

Other advisory board members, according to the association Web site, include Linda Chavez, a former federal civil rights commissioner in the Reagan administration and head of a Virginia-based anti-affirmative action group; former Republican Rep. Jim Rogan; KABC-AM (790) radio host Al Rantel; and activist Joe Hicks.

UCLA officials said they will warn the association that selling copies of professors' lectures would violate campus rules and raise copyright issues.

The nonprofit association has raised $22,000 from 100 donors, said Jones, 24.

Here is a sample from their racist flogging of Prof. Doug Kellner:

Kellner tells tales of alleged Republican conspiracy and crime with such obvious relish. And why not? Conspiracy theories are like the theory of institutional racism: they aren’t based on empirical evidence, so they can’t actually be disproved. And, like institutional racism, conspiracy theories serve to confirm fervently-held but essentially unprovable suspicions. It’s no surprise, then, that conspiracy theories work with everyone: from an angry ghetto youth convinced that someone else is responsible for his bad grades and inability to attend a good school, to the sophisticated white college professor nursing an unnamed grudge against Texas conservatives. And never mind if there’s no evidence. This is an article of faith. As such, even a lack of evidence is proof of a cover-up.

Connecticut Makes Its Case

Blumenthal set for 'No Child' fight

HARTFORD — Attorney General Richard Blumenthal may not have any other states at his side when he appears in federal court next week to do battle over the No Child Left Behind law — but two-thirds of school districts in Connecticut have his back.

In all, 109 of the state's 166 school boards have voted to endorse the lawsuit, Blumenthal said Tuesday. . . .

Ravitch, the Radical Revisionist?

I have been catching up on my reading since the holiday break, and I find that the Party's historian of education has been spewing the Fordham Foundation line on national testing in an op-ed at Ed Week. Perhaps it is to give revisionism a bad name to suggest that that is what Ravitch has done with the facts in her piece, since revisionists usually are just selective about the facts they use, rather than changing the ones they don' t like.

When the most recent NAEP test results were released, the Washington Post and other papers reported the flat scores as evidence of no evidence on the benefit of the testing madness. This from October 20, 2005:
Reading scores among fourth- and eighth-graders showed little improvement over the past two years, and math gains were slower than in previous years, according to a study released yesterday. The disappointing results came despite a new educational testing law championed by the Bush administration as a way to improve the nation's schools.
Now compare those facts, which no one disputed, to this distortion from Ravitch's op-ed on January 5, 2006:
It is unreasonable to expect to see dramatic changes in a short period of time, yet already there is some evidence of solid improvement in 4th grade scores in reading and math, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ long-term-trend data.
Then, in the next sentence, comes this head spinner:
On the other hand, not much has changed for students in the 8th and 12th grades, perhaps because they escaped the incentives of the new regime.
Even if reality offers nothing to justify such speculation, you have to love the language, "incentives of the new regime." Maybe a title for a rosy Ravitch gloss on the history of the most corrupt federal education policy since forever?

Ravitch's case for a national test is based upon the claim that states cannot be trusted to set and measure their own standards. Why? Here is Ravitch's reasoning:
With each state setting its own standards and measuring performance with its own tests, there are perverse incentives for the states to claim progress where it has not happened and to actually lower existing standards so as to demonstrate “proficiency.”
Now where do these perverse incentives come from? Are they not the result of impossible performance goals imposed by a federal mandate (NCLB) designed to demonstrate the universal failure of public schools by 2014? Are the states to blame for trying to keep their schools open in spite of federal efforts to manufacture their failure and turn them over to Whittle and his bottom feeding buddies?

What has Ravitch and the other hangers on of the Bush/Whittle solution really upset is that the states are delaying the designed failure as long as they can, and the growing realization of the NCLB privatization plan will, perhaps, undercut their efforts, which are dependent upon a steady increase in failure rates, a steady erosion of public support, and a steady stream of Stossel-esque media stories all the way to 2014. The race is on now between the public denunciation of NCLB and the public denunciation of public schools.

The strategy of blaming the states is a Rovian diversion of the first order to take attention away from the criminal source of our current travails. Nationalizing testing simply guarantees the manufactured failure and dismantling of the public schools that the neocons set out to accomplish in the first place. It will simply and effectively remove all options of the states and towns to delay the inevitable destruction as planned.

Dr. Ravitch is simply a switch in that great machine.

Gerald Bracey sent me this clarification on the NAEP data cited by Ravitch:
there are two sets of NAEP data here.  Diane is referring
to the trend analyses which the Bushies did, in fact, try to
use as evidence that NCLB was working. Of course, since the
last time the trend data was collected was in 1999, it's a
little hard to specify when growth occurred.

The later data which you have the Post quoting is the regular
NAEP assessment which results in those "Report Card" results.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Holding Colleges Hostage

This Higher Ed article, Tough Love for Colleges, provides some good background for the following story.

Colleges May Face Testing to Keep Federal Aid Funding
By: Mason Kerns - The Daily Iowan
Issue date: 1/17/06 Section: Metro

College students could experience their own version of No Child Left Behind if recommendations by a newly created federal panel that would make federal money conditional on test scores come to fruition. In its first round of suggestions to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education is expected to ask that such tests as the Collegiate Learning Assessment be used to determine if a public college or university should receive federal money.

A specific plan for allocation of aid based on student-test performance has yet to be developed, but the Bush administration has said the change would make colleges more accountable. The proposal, though, drew criticism from a number of UI administrators Monday, who said testing could diminish educational diversity and create regimented curriculums. Others speculated that students would be discouraged from taking a diverse schedule if the measures were adopted. "We want our students to learn to think critically, to engage in research, to analyze data, and to solve problems," said UI Vice Provost Patricia Cain. "I can't imagine a valid standardized test being given to all college students that could measure accurately what they have learned." The UI is already held accountable by the state Board of Regents, she said.

A release from the RAND Corp. that designed the college-assessment tests said the goal was to measure an "institution's contribution to student learning" by evaluating general education skills - a prospect that both UI students and professors were equally hesitant to support." Things would be too controlled," said UI freshman Charles Ryherd said. " College should be about higher education in what you actually want to do." Lyombe Eko, a UI assistant professor of journalism, said that while he supports admittance tests, he strongly disagrees with exit examinations and tests used to statistically measure schools success." Education, in general, is what remains after a student has forgotten everything he's learned in class," he said. "You are trained to master certain tasks, but what you take away is cultural."

Mark Warner, the director of the UI Student Financial Aid Office, said he felt the education commission was taking an adversarial approach to funding public colleges and needed to have its political agendas "examined." Holding an institution 'hostage' by controlling eligibility for federal student aid may only do harm to students who are most in need of financial support," he said.

The commission, whose 19 panelists are meeting in Nashville, has until Aug. 1 to present recommendations to Spellings, who could push the issue with lawmakers.

E-mail DI reporter Mason Kerns at:mason-kerns@uiowa.edu

Jeb, Jeb, Jeb

From today's Palm Beach Post editorial:

Finally, Jeb reverses Jeb

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Why the wait, governor?

With 600 fewer African-American freshmen enrolled in Florida colleges and universities this year because of his One Florida Initiative that banned affirmative action, Gov. Bush last week announced special programs aimed at increasing those numbers. After six years of denial, the governor says he'll push the Legislature for an additional $52 million in need-based financial aid money. His new interest comes better late than never, given the 1.6 percent drop in black student enrollment from last year.

The governor continued to play the symbols by appearing with students from historically black Florida A&M University to announce his executive order to fix his executive order. It speaks well for FAMU that its students demonstrated such grace, since Gov. Bush helped ensure that others could not be present. FAMU students were prominent in the massive 2000 protests in Tallahassee telling him that One Florida would do what it's done to black enrollment. The black freshmen who were enrolling at 17.6 percent statewide at the time of his anti-affirmative action dictate have dropped to 14.1 percent.

He at least could drop the pretense that he was doing it all for their benefit, but the governor typically refuses to blame One Florida, pointing to the increase in overall admissions and Hispanic student enrollment. That argument ignores the state's growth, its burgeoning Hispanic population and the fact that the black population also has continued to rise.

Gov. Bush can credit University of Florida President Bernie Machen for the parachute he grabbed in his attempt to break the One Florida free-fall. The affirmative-action proponent's Florida Opportunity Scholarship program at UF is designating $1 million for need-based scholarships and for students who are the first in their families to attend college. Gov. Bush is adopting both those ideas, perhaps because the name reminds him of his own Opportunity Scholarships school voucher program.

But the governor must deal with a Legislature that prefers to underfinance the university system while blessing recent tuition increases that fall hardest on minorities, who tend to be less affluent. Gov. Bush always has insisted that his anti-affirmative action experiment would need only minor correction. Now, he must correct for the lost opportunities of the students One Florida has left out. . . .

"Credible Threats"

Q: How do you end up in a Pentagon database under the heading of "credible threat" to America?

A: Exercise your American rights to protest Pentagon policies.

Edison Is the Symptom, NCLB Is the Disease

In October 2005, a board member took me on a tour of Confluence Academy. Located in the heart of inner-city St. Louis in one of the most economically-disadvantaged areas of the city, Confluence Academy is a charter school run by Edison Schools, Inc., a for-profit educational management organization (EMO) headquartered in New York City. This board member knew I was skeptical about Edison coming in. But, he assured me, he had taken many skeptics on a tour of the school, and they all emerged as firm supporters. I, however, did not emerge from this tour as a supporter. Rather, what I saw that day shook me.

It’s not that I object to Edison and Confluence Academy per se. I understand that theyare logical expressions of our contemporary system of education, especially the way that we educate poor minority children. Edison is profiting – literally and metaphorically – from the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law. But Confluence and Edison are symptoms of a much larger social disease, a disease that creates the conditions for these companies to exist and thrive and for these schools to be regarded as models for our future.

The most troubling thing about my visit to Confluence came when I observed what actually happened in the classrooms. I visited six classrooms at various grade levels. I did not observe a single white student. Every child I saw was African-American. The students were dominated and controlled in ways that were reminiscent of a trainer working with frightened, caged animals. The children seemed utterly unchildlike, utterly joyless. In one first grade class, I observed students who had all of their body movements tightly controlled. They responded in automaton-like fashion to instructions from the teacher.

Instead of smiles and engaged looks of curiosity, the faces of these six-year-old children expressed a kind of dull affect. The teachers taught at the students, and the students simply responded in parrot fashion to the teacher. The students' role was clear: obey orders, do not do anything that the teacher does not tell you to do, sit and be quiet. This was often taken to the extreme: in one case, a teacher had a group of first graders lined up for lunch. The boys' line could not go forward because one of the boys was wiggling as he stood in line. He had to become absolutely still before the teacher would let them go to lunch. The teacher, a white woman, stood and leered at the six-year-old black boys for more than 30 seconds. Her face was filled with judgment and contempt for these wiggly little boys. This degree of total control over the students affected the way that teachers taught; in only one of the six classrooms I visited did I see a teacher who seemed like she was having fun; the others were very short with the students, quick to pounce on any undesirable, uncontrollable behavior. The teachers constantly berated the children for the slightest infraction. For example, in the middle of a fourth grade math lesson, the teacher sensed some rumblings in the background and suddenly blurted out, "Hands folded! Everyone sit at attention." I was frightened by this sudden explosive outburst. All the students suddenly snapped into place at their seats, and the lesson continued in the context of “Be quiet and pay attention – or else.”

In defense of the heavy discipline, the board member said, "Sure, the structure of the Edison schools is a bit tough. Yes, we make the kids walk in lines wherever they go. But it works. You don't have to waste 6 minutes at the beginning of class, telling Johnny to sit down and be quiet. And you don't waste 15 minutes in the middle of every class, trying to get students to be quiet and stay on task. Even the very brightest kids can't learn in an environment like that. No one can." But being quiet and paying attention to the teacher should not be taken as unquestioned and unqualified virtues in themselves. There's something very troubling about white teachers telling students of color to sit down, shut up, and do as they are told. In a rigid structure such as that imposed by Edison, there is no room for student or teacher creativity or spontaneity. The only room for freedom of expression is either (a) do what the teacher tells you to do or (b) resist what the teacher tells you to do. Given the kind of power and authority structures that already exist in white-dominated society, it's little wonder that students of color are tempted to act out and lash out. If they don't act in this manner, then both the implicit and explicit power relationships and inequities are reproduced in the classroom: docile brown bodies controlled by powerful white bodies. This is even more troubling given the fact that no white, wealthy, suburban district would ever consent to a school that controlled its students and its teachers in this way. Indeed, these schools pride themselves in their individuality, their creativity, and the professional autonomy of their teachers, who are viewed as experts in assessing what is best for each student.

Teaching and learning at Edison schools are driven by computer-based benchmark assessment systems. Tungsten, a division of Edison, provides a web-based diagnostic test that features a series of multiple-choice questions designed to help children practice for the state standardized test. But the time spent preparing for the benchmark tests, reviewing the results of the benchmark tests, and remediating student performance
based on the results of the test cut into instructional time for subjects outside of reading and math, currently the only subjects tested under No Child Left Behind.

The fact that teaching and learning are inextricably linked to test performance is further complicated by the fact that pay for senior teachers in Edison schools is linked to test score performance: better scores yield better pay. While rewarding teachers for being good teachers might make sense, reducing “good teaching” to a test score not only makes no sense, but it also provides an incentive for teachers to teach at the most superficial level possible.

Many people have been taken on the same exact tour of Confluence Academy that I was taken on and emerged gushing about how great the school is. "Look how well-behaved they are!" or "They're all so quiet!" I’m told are typical reactions. As I was sitting in the classrooms, I was certainly aware of how quiet the students were. And, at times, it struck me that they might actually be learning. But then I turned my attention away from the teachers and looked at the children in the room. This was hard to do, as all the teachers completely, without stopping for a breath, dominated every moment of the classroom. I looked at the kids that weren't shouting out the correct answers to the teachers' almost-incessant calls for the correct answer. They sat there. Quietly. Very quietly. Not disturbing anyone, least of all the teachers. If you had given a benchmark diagnostic at that moment, all the kids who were following along and shouting out the correct answers would be the higher achievers in the classroom. Those that were shouting out on occasion or with some reservations would be “the bubble kids.” And those that were sitting there quietly, so well-behaved, would be the low achievers. If the teachers can get the bubble kids over the passing bar, that's all they need to do. And at Edison, if they can get just enough of their scores up, not only will they get to keep their jobs, but they'll also make more money.

Unlike the Hollywood depiction of classrooms, in which "good" classrooms are quiet and arranged in neat rows of desks, effective classrooms tend to be a bit “noisy.” As a teacher, I seldom led classes that were quiet. Because my classes almost always used group activities and hands-on, project-based work, they were usually pretty noisy. So I never thought of the issue of whether the class was quiet or not. Quite honestly, the issue was irrelevant. What concerned me was whether the students were engaged or not. Engagement, in my experience, comes by being able to allow students a great deal of say in the manner of what they learn and how they learn it. “Having a say” means that students use their voices. For voices to be heard, they cannot be quiet. The literal and metaphorical implications of silenced voices, particularly the silenced voices of historically silenced people, cannot be emphasized enough. Any system that demands that historically oppressed people be silent should be subject to scrutiny and skepticism. But in an educational system that is responsible for educating future citizens, this forced silence and compliance should do more than give us pause. It should make us angry. Unfortunately, the Board members of Confluence Academy have apparently bought into the notion that "noise = chaos," at least for non-white kids. Thus, for non-white kids, there must be rigid "discipline" as seen in the military and prison.

Ironically, or perhaps inevitably, students in these academic settings will be forced out of school and will have nowhere to go but the military or to prison. The one comfort may be that if this fate does befall them, they will have been well prepared.

Peter Campbell
Lead Instructional Designer
Montclair State University