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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Supreme Court narrows free speech for public employees

Right now, all across the country, there are teachers, principals, and public school administrators who are wrestling with their consciences. Do they stick their necks out, risk being fired or demoted or placed in some dingy backwater, and talk about what is going on in public schools under No Child Left Behind? Or do they bite their tongues and hope that things will get better?

The Supreme Court yesterday added its chilly voice to the mix: the First Amendment does not apply to speech for public employees when they speak as employees about job-related matters of public concern. In its defense, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, “Justice Souter suggests today’s decision may have important ramifications for academic freedom, at least as a constitutional value. There is some argument that expression related to academic scholarship or classroom instruction implicates additional constitutional interests that are not fully accounted for by this court’s customary employee-speech jurisprudence. We need not, and for that reason do not, decide whether the analysis we conduct today would apply in the same manner to a case involving speech related to scholarship or teaching.”

Some relief. “Once you have drawn this kind of distinction, which ostensibly runs across the whole gamut of a public employee’s speech, and having merely hinted that academic speakers and therefore academic freedom may somehow be different, creates only a slim reed on which to hang a public university professor’s desire to speak out,” said Robert M. O’Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center and a professor of law at the University of Virginia.

O’Neil suggested that by seeming to grant First Amendment protection to speech that is not directly related to an employee’s work but not to speech that is job-related, the court has created a situation in which “the degree in protection varies inversely with the speaker’s expertise and with the potential value to society and the government of having the benefit of such speech.” According to Inside Higher Education, "Under this scenario, a chemist or philosopher who testified at a state legislative hearing by criticizing a plan to restructure the state’s community college system would be protected by the First Amendment, but a political scientist who is an expert on community college governance might not."

Under this ruling, a public school teacher -- an expert on teaching and learning -- might not have his/her comments about No Child Left Behind protected under the First Amendment, either.

“Up to this point, it has (been) assumed that academic speech, particularly within a professor’s field of expertise, would be First Amendment protected,” O’Neil said. “But I’m going to have to say now that you’d better not count on it.”

Story at http://insidehighered.com/news/2006/05/31/supreme

Texas Testing Gets Bigger and Badder

With 1 of every 12 Texas schools suspected of cheating on the pressure cooker TAKS each year, Rick Perry is about to kick the heat up a notch or two on the big testing range. He plans to sign a measure this week that strengthens the racist testing policy that Texas has been so instrumental in shaping: Reward the privileged schools and teachers that are doing well and need the least help, and punish the disenfranchised schools where the shortage of family income and school resources could just as easily predict their failure. And when that doesn't doesn't work, shut them down or turn them over to the cognitive rape room artists with their sadistic scripted curriculum.

Will Texans support this kind of open racial profiling, just as they have the more covert varieties of the past? From the Austin Statesman:

High-stakes tests are already too important in the eyes of some parents, teachers and politicians — are poised to grow even more significant under legislation that Gov. Rick Perry plans to sign into law this week.

House Bill 1, which lowers school property tax rates by one-third over two years, will also create a new merit-pay plan for teachers based largely on student performance on tests such as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. And it will toughen penalties for schools with low ratings, which also rely heavily on test scores.

"House Bill 1 ratchets up the stakes on testing, even though there are some folks who believed that wasn't possible," said Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association. . . .

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

More Evidence of Tutoring Fraud

In a report in the Fresno Bee from 5/28/06, reporter Christina Vance writes that the tutoring service provided for under NCLB "has become a monitoring nightmare for school districts trying to weed out tutoring companies with questionable business and academic standards."

For example, Vance writes, "Fresno Unified caught a company last year that submitted more than $200,000 in invalid fees to the district hidden among boxes and boxes of invoices, said Barbara Bengel, the district's director of state and federal programs. She hired extra clerical staff to scrutinize the bills.

"We had quite a few instances of overbilling or double-billing," Bengel said.

Here's the key: the company didn't suffer any consequences for the billing issues. It remains on a state-approved list of tutors, meaning any eligible family can request its services.

"It's technically the duty of state officials to monitor the quality of tutoring companies, but that's not happening," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C.

"This has been a source of frustration to local school districts," he said.

"The states are just evolving their roles in this area. They don't have the staff to oversee these providers."

---Here's the rest of the article:---

There's no system of oversight for tutoring companies in California once they earn a spot on the state-approved list, said Jerry Cummings, the California Department of Education program consultant for No Child Left Behind.

State officials are creating a system to gauge whether tutoring programs improve student test scores.

Cummings said the state must collect two years of data before the monitoring system can go into place.

But state education officials have no plans to monitor business practices of the companies. Cummings said that's not their role.

So, whose job is it?

Fresno Unified doesn't get extra money to conduct fiscal oversight of the tutoring companies' invoices, but Bengel said ignoring the duty wasn't an option. The district keeps track of 18 tutoring companies providing services to Fresno Unified students. It spot-checks tutoring sites and calls samplings of parents for feedback.

The law requires districts to pay for tutoring out of federal Title 1 money. If parents don't request the tutoring, the money goes back to individual school sites.

During the 2004-2005 school year, Fresno Unified paid $769,086 in tutoring fees for 809 students.

There were 1,900 students signed up for tutoring this year, Bengel said.

Because schools gain financially when students and their parents decline outside tutoring, Jennings said, the Bush administration and tutoring companies have accused school districts of failing to publicize the availability of the services.

"The companies say districts are not vigorous enough," he said.

Rick Carder of the Grant Joint Union High School District in Sacramento said schools want what's best for students, even if it takes some money out of their budgets.

However, he criticized tutoring companies that offer "excessive incentives" such as free computers to entice students to sign up.

Parents have called his office, saying they wanted whatever tutoring program offered the free technology.

"You do have some providers who go door to door soliciting parents," he said.

There's nothing illegal about such solicitation. Carder said he's heard some online tutoring companies subcontract their services to tutors in other countries, and that's also legal.

He questioned whether that's in the best interest of students.

Similar questions about a tutoring company, Read and Succeed LLC, surfaced during a May 10 Fresno Unified board meeting.

The trustees voted to pay up to $737,760 to the company to tutor 540 students.

But several board members expressed concern over the company's door-to-door soliciting of parent signatures, its offers of free Palm Pilots and its offsite tutoring program that operates through the Palm Pilots or through telephones.

Read and Succeed program director Edrian Walker said in an e-mail that offering tutoring through telephone calls and Palm Pilots keeps students interested and is "research-based and innovative."

It doesn't matter what tutoring businesses and schools consider to be a good program, it's parental opinion that matters right now, Cummings said.

"The providers are able to market themselves," he said. "The bottom line is, it's a parent choice."

Gifted, Poor, and Invisible

If you can think of a more efficient way to further privilege the privileged than the use of "scientifically-based" evidence that favors the privileged, then I would like to hear about it. The use of standardized tests certainly makes poor gifted children invisible to those who would rather not see them, but the worst part of it all is the crushing of esteem that poor children and parents suffer when they consider their own pitiful test performances to those of economically-privileged children. Add to the economic barrier the language barrier and the pigment barrier, and you have a hurdle that most do not overcome.

That is why this kind of work in San Antonio is so critically important in these late days of the testing hysteria:
This year, Northside kicked off a program aimed at finding gifted students among the roughly 1,500 students who speak 100 languages and dialects besides Spanish. The district allows teachers, parents and community members to nominate children for the gifted and talented program.

Twice this school year, the district hired interpreters to come in on a Saturday to test students in Farsi, Korean, Mandarin, Russian and Thai.

Likewise, there have been a number of changes to Edgewood's GT program since Teniente joined the department 21/2 years ago.

One of her first steps: making sure information sheets for parents were correctly translated into Spanish. And now all meetings for parents of gifted or potentially gifted students are conducted in both English and Spanish.

"It will take more time, but it's well worth it," Teniente said. "I want them to understand not just the gist but the whole presentation. Parent involvement is crucial to a child's success."

Last year, Teniente formed a GT bilingual committee of parents, administrators and teachers, and now she's on a quest to find screening tests and materials that are translated not just into Spanish, but the regional Spanish that's spoken in San Antonio.

"Everything is done in baby steps," she said.

She points to Rafael Lara-Alecio at Texas A&M University and Beverly Irby at Sam Houston State University, who have developed a screening instrument geared specifically for Hispanic students.

Slocumb said he advocates a process rather than a test, to level the playing field between poor and more affluent children. The process works like the handicap system in golf: The more impoverished a student is, the more points he or she gets.

"Nowhere in education do we put unequals together and make them compete," he said. "5As don't compete with 3As. It's the same game, why is it not fair?"

Joyce Miller, an education professor at Texas A&M-Commerce, says it's time to trade standardized tests for the power of human observation when it comes to determining who is gifted and talented.

During the lectures she delivers at conferences for gifted and talented educators, her PowerPoint presentation always includes this quote by author Elbert Hubbard: "There is something that is much more scarce, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability."

Sooner or later, we will come to realize (again) the unsustainable racism that the testing folly embodies, but it will not come without an unrelenting fight against those who are willing to sacrifice the opportunity for all to preserve rule by the few.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Con, A Quack, and the Whitney International University System

Here is a quote from Randy Best’s website that has many of the appearances that would otherwise indicate a legitimate business enterprise:
Best Associates has a strong commitment to the education industry and a track record of exceptional results. The market is huge, with the U.S. spending more than $700 billion annually. Internationally, more than 30 million qualified students cannot find space in universities. Half the world’s population is under age 20, and there are two billion teenagers driving demand for expanded education services.

The for-profit education sector will continue to grow rapidly over the next decade. Best Associates is investing in both the K-12 and postsecondary markets here and abroad. The firm acquires companies with proven leadership and a global vision, and founds companies in the sector.

Global vision, indeed. Randy has come a long way from selling cheerleading equipment to Texas high schools or pushing his “patented reading programs” to former Governor Bush and the penitentiary-bound former State Supt. Linda Schrenko of Georgia. Best, a Pioneer giver in 2000, learned while Bush was governor of Texas how to leverage his dollars where they are likely to produce more. Was it just a coincidence that 45K in campaign funds to Bush ended up producing a multimillion-dollar contract for Best’s company, Voyager, the reading/test prep outfit that Best eventually sold to ProQuest for $350 million.

Now Best is on to bigger and more dangerous things, as Peter Campbell’s posts have explored recently. And Randy has recruited several stars to help him realize a vision of creating for academia what Blackwater is to the military mercenary business. Randy's for-profit university/consulting firm is known as Whitney International University System (WIUS), and here are some of Randy’s key players:
  • Reid Lyon, phonics code-breaking quack and former Bush reading czar,
  • Rod Paige, former ED Secretary whose incompetent and crooked cronyism needs no further elaboration,
  • former University of Maryland President and online-ed delivery enthusiast, Gerald Heeger, who will surely buy Best and his sales staff the credibility that they cannot achieve otherwise. A Best buy, indeed.

Best has a double-barreled aim with his new scheme, one part domestic and the other, international. Last week he sent former Voyager exec, Vernon Johnson, to Paris deliver the Best/Lyon vision at an OECD conference on globalization:
Training existing or new teachers to implement scientific research-based instructional methods and strategies which are directly linked to improving student performance. Improving a country’s overall student performance will increase its capacity to meet its economic goals and compete in the world economy. Having a literate population is essential to economic and social growth of the country.

Providing mass access to the highest-quality, lowest-cost post secondary education in harmony with the economic needs of each country. Ensuring that more people are prepared for work that is aligned with the economic needs of the country will accelerate the growth of the individual and national economy.
Through the Whitney-owned American College of Education, run by TruthMaster Reid Lyon, Best hopes to offer an alternative to the colleges of education that Lyon would rather blow up than compete with. Oh, well, even TruthMasters have their limitations. But the Best plan does not end there. Through Bush's and Boehner's influence, for-profit and online diploma mills are positioned to make a killing in the short term, using federal tuition assistance to line the pockets of the Bests of the world--at least until regulators find out that the American taxpayer has again been had by corporate crooks.

But Best has a plan that even challenges Whittle's audacious grandiosity. His intention is to replace the university with information factories intended to serve the demands of international capital. This is from Johnson's presentation (pdf here) in Paris, and as you read it (only 3 pages), ask yourself if Spellings' Commission on Higher Ed has received copies of this nitemare vision:
. . . . Universities as historic institutions are more than a thousand years old. Throughout history, universities have been designed for a few, privileged individuals. Adapting the university for the demands of a global economy and for the needs of the many people who must have a quality education to succeed in life is not a mysterious process of happenstance. It is the result of thoughtful planning, of relevant and effective teaching, of applying proven technologies, and of challenging outdated ideas. That is the goal of Whitney International University System.

Got Principal Shortage? Call Best, Paige, and Lyon

The NY Times Editorial page reported on 5/27 that over the last five years, more than half have of the city's principals have left their jobs. According to the Times, "A city system that once viewed educators with even 10 years' experience as too green to lead a school has grown increasingly dependent on young people — some still in their 20's — who have spent relatively little time in the school system." I imagine similar situations exist in most urban school districts. In desperate times, people do desperate things.

According to a story from today's Dallas Morning News, entrepreneur Randy "I Don't Know Anything About Education, But I Try to Hire People Who Are Respected" Best and former Secretary of Education Rod "The NEA Is a Terrorist Organization and Let Me Tell You About My Latest Educational Miracle" Paige and Reid "I've Never Met a College of Education I Didn't Want to Blow Up" Lyon have joined forces to form ACE, The American College of Education. Looks like our prayers for more qualified principals have been answered. ACE is starting off in Chicago. But you can bet your boots they're licking their chops to penetrate the nation's largest educational market in NYC. In desperate times, people do desperate things.

A big bear hug to Best, Paige, and Lyon for working a deal in Chicago that allows them to use public school classrooms for their for-profit venture. I love the smell of tax-payer financed public space going to private corporations. It smells like . . . profit margins. ACE expects to be generating $4.6 million in revenues annually by 2009. And it expects a profit margin of around 21 percent.

A big shout out to Lyon for upbraiding professors in colleges of education who teach things that do not synch with his . . . I mean the NRP's insistence that phonics-heavy instruction is the way to go. You can bet that none of the ACE employees will be so brazen as to question Lyon's roar.

Dr. Barbara Radner, director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University, which is a part-owner of ACE, said ACE's standardization is an interesting alternative to traditional academic freedom.

"Standardization is an interesting alternative to freedom." Orwell could not have said it better himself.

Yes, Reid. There is a knowable truth out there. And, gosh darn it, we're gonna teach it . . . whether they like it or not.

SSDP v. Spellings

Spellings' continuing denial of tuition assistance for 200,000 former drug offenders is definitely coming to a head:

ABERDEEN, SD - The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a motion in federal court seeking an order that would immediately bar the Department of Education from enforcing a provision of the Higher Education Act that denies financial aid to students convicted of a drug offense. The aid elimination penalty has blocked aid to approximately 200,000 would-be students since its enactment in 2000.

"All students deserve an education," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. "The Court should suspend enforcement of the aid elimination penalty until the constitutional issues have been resolved."

The full press release here with supporting documents.

Bloggers Beware

For anyone who cares about the future of democracy this is a must read:

Published on Sunday, May 28, 2006 by the New York Times
Why the Democratic Ethic of the World Wide Web May Be About to End
by Adam Cohen

The World Wide Web is the most democratic mass medium there has ever been. Freedom of the press, as the saying goes, belongs only to those who own one. Radio and television are controlled by those rich enough to buy a broadcast license. But anyone with an Internet-connected computer can reach out to a potential audience of billions.

This democratic Web did not just happen. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who invented the Web in 1989, envisioned a platform on which everyone in the world could communicate on an equal basis. But his vision is being threatened by telecommunications and cable companies, and other Internet service providers, that want to impose a new system of fees that could create a hierarchy of Web sites. Major corporate sites would be able to pay the new fees, while little-guy sites could be shut out.

Join Save the Internet.com Coalition.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

More test-cheating proof found (but nobody cares)

Roddy Stinson
San Antonio Express-News

Cynicism is the predominant reaction to the news that Texas schools cheat on high stakes tests.

An analysis of student answer sheets from the spring 2005 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills found evidence of "irregularities" (commonly known as "cheating") in 702 of the state's public school classrooms.

Not that anybody cares.

The months-long analysis was conducted by Caveon, a first-class, Utah-based firm that specializes in test security.

Not that anyone is impressed.

The expert analysts found testing irregularities in 609 of the state's 7,112 public schools.

Not that this caused any concern in Austin.

The yawning response to the findings was pretty well summed up by the low-key headline on the Associated Press report of the Caveon analysis buried on Page 5B of last Wednesday's Express-News: "Unusual results on TAKS raise suspicions; State officials dispute that the findings are evidence of cheating."

In an official "Response to the Caveon Report" released by the Texas Education Agency last week, the state's highest education muck-a-mucks advised:

"Caution is warranted about how much action should be considered based on this single report."

Translation for readers who aren't familiar with the education establishment's eternal, see-no-evil response to reports of standardized-test cheating:

"We will read it, file it and hope everybody soon forgets it."

Get used to it, ladies and gents. Cheating will forever be tolerated in Texas public schools. And any official response will be accompanied by winks and nods that cheaters will easily understand as permission to continue their "irregular" ways.

(If you're curious about what falls under the heading of "irregular," the analysts made their judgments on the basis of (a) similar student test responses, (b) unusually high increases in scores, (c) multiple marks or erasures and (d) aberrant response patterns.)

The establishment's current wink-and-nod leader, Commissioner of Education Shirley J. Neeley, downplayed the latest cheating numbers and, quite incredibly, used the release of the Caveon report to pooh-pooh previous similar findings by a Dallas Morning News investigation.

Neeley: "Last year, one newspaper accused 400 schools of having suspicious scores and essentially placing (sic) a scarlet 'C' for cheating on the schools. Ultimately, wrongdoing was found at only a handful of those schools, but the damage to their reputation was done."

What Commissioner Neeley conveniently failed to mention: The schools with "suspicious scores" were not cleared of wrongdoing by any outside, independent and objective investigators, but by officials within the "suspicious" districts who faced negative consequences if they confirmed the cheating!

Now a year later, an outside, independent and objective study by a highly qualified test-security firm has found ... not 400 schools ... not 500 schools ... but 609 schools in which cheating likely occurred. And what is Neeley's response?

She throws an evil-newspaper red herring into the analytical mix, knowing that the more confusion she creates the quicker the Caveon report will be forgotten.

And if that isn't enough to ruin your Memorial Day weekend, lambkins, put this in your taxpayer pipe and smoke it ...

From Page 19 of the Caveon report:

"Because the tests of hypotheses in the analysis of schools and classrooms are very conservative, it is possible that testing irregularities in a few schools and classrooms have not been identified in this report."

Translation: 609 schools and 702 classrooms are MINIMUM numbers.

Caveon nailed only the classrooms where flagrant cheating occurred. Subtle cheating flew under the analytical radar.

Not that any of this matters.

I saved my favorite wink-and-nod dodge for last:

In their response to the Caveon report, Texas Education Agency officials said that if a school is identified as having statistical test "anomalies" and is also named in an "irregularity report" from some other source, the double black eye "might warrant further investigation."

Boy, that should scare the bejabbers out of the state's sneering, snickering cheats.

FCAT Reading Scores for 10th Grade Plummet

Yesterday I called attention to Hazel Haley's observation that today's high schoolers cannot appreciate the possibility of learning something in school for the sake of learning it--because it may be fun to know or to understand. Brought up as the first generation of high-stakes guinea pigs, these children are conditioned to have a "learning response" when threat levels are appropriately high to trigger a reaction. Is the understanding of Hamlet's ironic speeches required for the exam to get you out of high school or into college? No? Well, forget it.

Thus, the stupidification of America continues, as would seem to be indicated by Florida's 10th FCAT scores. While Jeb's staff try to focus reporters on a single year record increase for middle school, all the happy talk cannot hide the inconvenient truth that is bleeding through the keep-on-the-sunny-side press release:
. . . .the governor’s office was silent about the continuing deterioration of 10th-grade reading scores.

Since 2001, the number of 10th-graders reading at grade level or above on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test has dropped from an already dismal 37 percent to 32 percent. Meanwhile, the number of 10th-graders reading at Level 1 — the lowest level on a scale of 1 to 5 — has jumped from 31 to 38 percent.

That means fewer than one in three Florida students who were in third grade when Bush’s high-stakes accountability program began in 1999 are meeting state standards.

I have never seen so many scientifically-based reading experts with so few answers to explain how the Children of the Code could have become so de-coded in such a short span of time. They were all such good readers five years ago. Since no one of the many head-scratching experts seems at all interested in asking the students or their teachers about their reading or their test-taking (that would not be scientifically-based), Florida school boards pour more money in the bottomless money sumps of Kaplan, Inc. and listen to their armchair scientists cluck about the results. In the old days, we called this kind of scientist a philosopher. My favorite expert response comes from Paul Reville:

Paul Reville, a lecturer on educational policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said the downward trend in Florida’s 10th-grade scores may not reflect an academic shortcoming as much as an attitude problem.

“It’s always crucial to see how students perceive the stakes,” Reville said. “If they’re motivated to take the test, it will increase their performance.”
What is clear is that these high schoolers in Florida need some more motivation, i. e., to be threatened with more failure, if we are going to get these scores to where the Governor wants them. Just think what the future will be, without the threat of failure? Do you think anyone will show up for work?

How to Buy an SAT Score

Today's business section in the New York Times offers a glimpse into the hierarchical world of SAT test prep and what kind of scores your money can buy:

One parent who spent more than $2,000 on test prep for his son Daniel says the investment was well worth it because it gave his son the logical strategies, pacing and confidence needed to score higher.

"It's incredibly competitive," Mr. Kroese said. "How can kids who don't have special test prep get into top schools?"

For those who can't afford expensive summer test prep programs or private tutoring, there's always the genorisity of Kaplan and Princeton Review who offer some test-preparation tools at no charge. Their time practice tests, complete with monitors.

Some test-preparation tools are offered at no charge. Kaplan and the Princeton Review run free, timed practice tests, complete with monitors. A week after the test, students are invited to return to see how they fared, as a teacher reviews the answers. "Many kids sign up for a class after the free practice test, so it's a good marketing tool for us," Mr. Deutsch said, "but at the same time it gives kids who can't afford more the ability to take a free practice test and get some tips."

Both companies also offer some tuition assistance for low-income families, and both work with high schools in low-income neighborhoods so that school staff members can put together test-preparation programs.
That's what I call equality but who's going to pay for that top school?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Principals Leaving New York City in Droves

Who is being hired to replace these principals? "young people — some still in their 20's — who have spent relatively little time in the school system."

NY Times Editorial, 5/27/06

The NY Times's Elissa Gootman reported recently that New York's most experienced principals have been fleeing the system in alarming numbers. Over the last five years, more than half have left their jobs. Most retired, but union statistics — which don't include detailed reasons for leaving — show that more than 200 left for reasons "other than retirement." As a result, a city system that once viewed educators with even 10 years' experience as too green to lead a school has grown increasingly dependent on young people — some still in their 20's — who have spent relatively little time in the school system.

Joel Klein, the New York City schools chancellor, invokes corporate metaphors about fresh blood when asked about the turnover. He admits losing some principals whom he would rather have kept. But he attributes the exodus to the normal process of retirement and the fear among some principals of being held more closely accountable for how their schools are run. The principals' union, for its part, says that some people have left the job because they have not been given enough administrative help to meet their new responsibilities.

To Hazel Haley

During my week off, I started each boat day making strong coffee and listening to the tepid dishwater news of NPR's Morning Edition (Bob Edwards is not all they have lost). One morning (was it Wednesday?) I perked up when they did a story on Hazel Haley, who was finally retiring after 69 years teaching of English literature to Florida high schoolers. Ms. Haley's record run with Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet was sustained by that all-too-rare combination of humor, structure, connection, and caring that makes teaching that special reward for those who love it and do it well.

When asked how kids have changed during her three score and ten years of teaching, she said that they are essentially the same as when Adam and Eve "hatched them." She did note, however, that her students today are different from all the others of the past in that there is today not a whit of interest today in mastering a body of knowledge, any knowledge.

Why? Students know that test scores are what matters, and test scores are all that matters. Why should they waste their time learning something for which adults of the world have lost all regard? If the speaker of "to be or not to be" is the question (on the test), where does that leave the meaning, the understanding, of Hamlet's intimations?

Fortunately, Ms. Haley, the understanding you have built and shared will long survive the stupidity that would aim to kill it. Here's to you, then, Ms. Haley, and thank you for teaching us what the goddamn test can never measure:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Friday, May 26, 2006

NRP, Bush, and Lyon

Is there a connection between George W. Bush and the NRP?

While it's true that the NRP submitted its final report in April 2000 (prior to Bush's election in November 2000), a 4/23/01 report from The Wall Street Journal documents the "long and fruitful, if little-noticed, relationship" between Bush and Lyon. According to the article, while Bush was governor of Texas, Lyon helped design and sell Bush's plan to revamp how public-school students were taught to read. "As president, Mr. Bush is turning to his phonics mentor to expand the program nationally." Mr. Lyon is "the reading guru," Mr. Bush told a meeting of business leaders in January 2001. According to the same aricle, then Governor Bush's aides discovered that an NIH-funded researcher (Lyon) was studying Houston school children and concluding that phonics instruction was effective. In 1995, the Texas governor invited Mr. Lyon to Austin to explain his findings. Bush aides picked his brain for ideas they could use in the governor's reading initiative, including early and regular testing, teacher retraining and stiff state standards.

And this little tid-bit from The NIH Record:

"Bush, a booming speaker with a light and convivial touch in such an informal setting, recounted his relationship with Lyon, whom he affectionately called "Reid-o." "I've known Reid for a long time," Bush began. He had been worried, back in 1996 as governor of Texas, about how public schools were failing in their mission to teach children how to read. He learned about Lyon's work in a field NIH has funded since the mid-1960's and told his staff, "Get him down here. We've had a great relationship ever since."

It's a no-brainer that Reid Lyon, a guy that worked for the NICHD (the agency that sponsored the NRP), a guy that served as Bush's "reading guru" while Bush was governor of Texas, and a guy that preaches "explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, guided repeated reading to improve reading fluency, and direct instruction in vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies" may have had something to do with the fact that the NRP's recommendations were largely copied and pasted into NCLB's Reading First program.

Here's the scoop.

On April 13, 2000, the NRP concluded its work and submitted its final report, "The Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read," at a hearing before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. (http://www.nationalreadingpanel.org/NRPAbout/about_nrp.htm)

While the NRP was busy cooking data from 1998 to 2000, a guy named George W. Bush was the governor of Texas. Meanwhile, a guy named Reid Lyon had been serving since 1994 as Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch within the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institute of Health (NIH). In this position, he was responsible for the direction, development, and management of research programs in reading development, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, behavioral pediatrics, language and attention disorders, and human learning and learning disorders.

In 1997, Congress asked the NICHD to convene a national panel to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read. This became the NRP, the National Reading Panel.

According to a 4/23/01 report from The Wall Street Journal, Bush and Lyon had a "long and fruitful, if little-noticed, relationship." According to the article, while Bush was governor of Texas, Lyon helped design and sell Bush's plan to revamp how public-school students were taught to read. "As president, Mr. Bush is turning to his phonics mentor to expand the program nationally." Mr. Lyon is "the reading guru," Mr. Bush told a meeting of business leaders in January 2001. According to the article, "At the White House's request, Mr. Lyon is recruiting allies for top positions at the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. He is working with Republican congressional aides to craft Mr. Bush's reading initiative, priced at $5 billion over five years, so there are ample funds for phonics instruction. He is also setting up a preschool-research program to figure out the best way to add phonics skills to Head Start instruction."

Lyon testified on March 8, 2001 to the Subcommittee on Education Reform, Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives:

"On the basis of a thorough evidence-based review of the reading research literature that met rigorous scientific standards, the National Reading Panel (NRP), convened by the NICHD and the Department of Education, found that intervention programs that provided systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, guided repeated reading to improve reading fluency, and direct instruction in vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies were significantly more effective than approaches that were less explicit and less focused on the reading skills to be taught (e.g., approaches that emphasize incidental learning of basic reading skills). The NRP found that children as young as four years of age benefited from instruction in phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle when the instruction was presented in an interesting and entertaining, albeit systematic manner."

As President, Bush asked Lyon to serve as one of his education advisers. Lyon was directly involved in the development of Bush's Reading First program and is considered to be one of its primary architects.

As Jerry Coles argues in Reading the Naked Truth: Literacy, Legislation, and Lies (2003, Heinemann), the NRP Report was basically copied and pasted into the reading section of the NCLB legislation in 2001.

The same year that Bush was elected governor (1994), a guy named Rod Paige became superintendent of the Houston school district. Bush was elected President and sworn in on January 20, 2001. The next day, Rod Paige was sworn in as the 7th U.S. Secretary of Education. (http://www.whitehouse.gov/government/paige-bio.html)

Rod Paige was largely credited with what has become known as "the Houston miracle." In 2001, he was named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. Paige made the Houston school district the first school district in the state to institute performance contracts modeled on those in the private sector, whereby senior staff members' continued employment with the district was based on their performance. Houston became the model for NCLB.

It was later revealed that the "miracle" in Houston was less on the order of water into wine and more on the order of good old fashioned book cooking.

While in charge of the Houston schools, Paige relied exclusively on McGraw-Hill's Open Court, a heavily scripted phonics program, to effect the Houston miracle. According to Paige, "Reading First says that teaching reading is a science, and we've been acting like it's an art." (interview with John Merrow)

From the interview with Merrow:

JOHN MERROW: Are you telling states what methods they must use?

ROD PAIGE: Absolutely not.

JOHN MERROW: Aren't there approved methods?

ROD PAIGE: There are approved principles. There are scientific principles.

JOHN MERROW: Are there approved programs?

ROD PAIGE: There are not approved programs. There are approved principles.

JOHN MERROW: But only a handful of programs fulfill the new federal requirements, and so states are making sure to mention those programs in their applications. To qualify for Reading First money in Michigan, schools must use one of these five programs. Houghton-Mifflin, Harcourt, Open Court SRA, Macmillan McGraw Hill, or Scott Foresman.

Who is the biggest phonics publisher? McGraw-Hill, the publisher of Open Court. It was McGraw-Hill representatives and authors who dominated Gov. George W. Bush's Texas reading advisory board. No surprise that Open Court was the program of choice in Texas. McGraw-Hill's connections to the National Reading Panel's report is no less transparent: Widemeyer Communications, the Washington PR firm that handled the promotion of Open Court in Texas, was also the firm hired to promote the NRP's report, including the writing of its Introduction, Summary, and video, the three parts that have taken the most flack from critics. (http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/whatsnu_bush-mcgraw.html)

Open Court's crown jewel? Its "success" in the Houston Independent School District.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Let the Dialogue Begin

Bridging Differences A Dialogue Between Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch
May 24, 2006
By Deborah Meier & Diane Ravitch

In the course of the last 30 years, the two of us have been at odds on any number of issues - on our judgments about progressive education, on the relative importance of curriculum content (what students are taught) vs. habits of mind (how students come to know what they are taught), and most recently in our views of the risks involved in nationalizing aspects of education policy.

Meeting recently to prepare for a debate on the federal No Child Left Behind Act, however, we found ourselves agreeing about the mess that has been generated by local and state testing. Both of us agreed that the public needs far better information about both inputs and outcomes, without which the public is woefully uninformed and too easily manipulated. As we discussed what the next policy steps should be, Diane preferred a national response, and Deborah preferred a local one.

As we talked further, we were surprised to discover that we shared a similar reaction to many of the things that are happening in education today, especially in our nation's urban school districts. Recent trends and events seem to be confirming our mutual fears and jeopardizing our common hopes about what schooling might accomplish for the nation's children. We might, we agreed, be getting the worst of both our perspectives.

Unlike Deborah, Diane has long supported an explicit, prescribed curriculum, one that would consume about half the school day, on which national examinations would be based. Diane believes in the value of a common, knowledge-based curriculum, such as the Core Knowledge curriculum, that ensures that all children study history, literature, mathematics, science, art, music, and foreign language; such a curriculum, she thinks, would support rather than undermine teachers' work. Deborah, while strongly agreeing on the need for a broad liberal arts curriculum, doubts that anyone can ensure what children will really understand and usefully make sense of, even through the best imposed curriculum, especially if it is designed by people who are far from the actual school communities and classrooms.

Yet both of us are appalled by the relentless "test prep" activities that have displaced good instruction in far too many urban classrooms, and that narrow the curriculum to nothing but math and reading. We are furthermore distressed by unwarranted claims from many cities and states about "historic gains" that are based on dumbed-down tests, even occasionally on downright dishonest scoring by purposeful exclusion of low-scoring students.What unites us above all is our conviction that low-income children who live in urban centers are getting the worst of both of our approaches.

Deborah is a pioneer of the small-schools movement. Diane, while not an opponent of that movement, has questioned whether such schools have the capacity to offer a reasonable curriculum, including advanced classes. Yet here, too, we both fear that a good idea has too often been subverted by the mass production of large numbers of small schools, without adequate planning or qualified leadership and with insufficient thought given to how they might promote class and racial integration, rather than contribute to further segregation.We found that we were both dismayed by efforts in New York City to micromanage what teachers in most K-8 schools do at every moment in the day.

While Deborah allies herself with many of the so-called constructivist ideas about teaching that are now in vogue in New York, she believes that the very idea of constructivism is mocked by the city's too often lock-step and authoritarian approach to implementing such ideas. In our shared view, the city's department of education has no curriculum at all, just a mandated and highly prescribed pedagogy in grades K-8, after which time the state Regents examinations - tests that have been dramatically simplified in recent years - serve as an implicit curriculum.We concur that teachers must be free to use their best professional judgment about how to teach, and we agree on the importance of a strong professional culture in which teachers are encouraged to question and re-examine pedagogical assumptions and practices.

Deborah would want teachers to continually re-examine curricular assumptions. Diane urges the adoption of a prescribed curriculum that includes at least the central academic disciplines and the arts. She believes that a policy of letting a thousand flowers bloom without tending is likely to produce hundreds of weeds and only a few rare flowers. Deborah agrees; good gardens need tending. She would leave most of the details to the local school community.

What unites us above all is our conviction that low-income children who live in urban centers are getting the worst of both of our approaches. New York City is a prominent example. No central, abiding definition of what constitutes a well-educated person unites or rationalizes the mandates that flow from central headquarters. The substance of education - history, science, social science, literature, art, music - never sufficiently honored in most of our schools, is being sacrificed to narrowly focused demands to produce higher test scores in reading and math.Principals and teachers, regardless of their experience, are ordered to comply with mandates about how to teach - down to the minute in many elementary schools - undermining not only their professionalism, but often their common sense.

A particular style of teaching has been elevated to a cult, for fear that teachers might err if given more leeway to make decisions and do what they think best. Fear is widespread among teachers, principals, and kids alike, none of whom have any strong countervailing institutions to count on for support.

The ends of education - its purposes, and the trade-offs that real life requires - must be openly debated and continuously re-examined. Young people need to see themselves as novice members of a serious, intellectually purposeful community.Almost all the usual intervening mediators - parent organizations, unions, and local community organizations - have either been co-opted, purchased, or weakened, or find themselves under siege if they question the dominant model of corporate-style "reform."

All the city's major universities, foundations, and business elites are joined together as cheerleaders, if not actual participants, offering no support or encouragement to watchdogs and dissidents. This allows these elites the opportunity to carry out their experiments on a grand, and they hope uninterrupted, "apolitical" scale, where everything can, at last, be aligned, in each and every school, from prekindergarten to grade 12, under the watchful eye of a single leader. If they can remain in power long enough, it is assumed (although what actually is assumed is not easy to find out) that they can create a new paradigm that no future change in leadership can undo.

The so-called reforms of the day are too often a perverse distortion - one might say an "evil twin"of the different ideas that each of us has advocated.Deborah considers NAEP to be flawed in ways not dissimilar to most standardized tests, and she regards its cut scores and norms as equally politically determined and, at present, absurdly high. She notes that the view of the federal government as the guarantor of equity was the product of a particular time and place in our history, and sees no reason to assume that the federal government is likely to be better intentioned about education policy now, or in the future, than local communities are. She believes that certain conservatives favor national standards and testing because they are in power.

Diane points out, however, that most conservatives are adamantly opposed to any national standards, while President Clinton actively supported a national system of standards and testing. In any event, she reasons, the development of national standards and tests is a project for the next decade, and should be outside partisan interests or control. As for NAEP's norms and cut scores, Diane contends that the assessment's standards are entirely nonpolitical and benchmarked to international standards. Deborah thinks that Diane's hopes for unbiased, apolitical benchmarking are well-intentioned but inaccurate as a description of all the current tests, including NAEP. Having abandoned the normal curve, she believes, we're stuck with the fallibility of human judgment.

NSTA Cites Poor Working Conditions & NCLB as Reasons for Drop in Science Scores

As you know, you have to read the newspaper with the headlines you have, not the headlines you want. That's why I blog - to get the headlines I want.

Buried way down deep in today's New York Time's story on NAEP science scores is the real story:
Michael J. Padilla, a professor at the University of Georgia who is president of the National Science Teachers Association, said that the problem was not that universities were failing to train sufficient numbers of science majors or that too few were opting for classroom careers, but that about a third of those who accepted teaching jobs abandoned the profession within five years.

"What happens is that the system tends to beat them down," Mr. Padilla said. "Working conditions are poor, it's a difficult job, and the pay isn't that great."

Some teachers cited the decreasing amount of time devoted to science in schools, which they attributed in part to the annual tests in reading and math required by the No Child Left Behind law. That has led many elementary schools to cancel some science classes. On average, the time devoted to science instruction among elementary teachers across the nation declined from a weekly average of 2.6 hours in 2000 to 2.3 hours in 2004, Department of Education statistics show
The media blitz over NAEP science scores has everyone scrambling just in time for the big push to to start science testing in 2007-2008. If NCLB is not scrapped there won't be a need for talented, dedicated science teachers who love the subject because the teachers can just follow the script. That should help America's global competitiveness.

As you know, you have to teach science with the curriculum and working conditions you have, not the curriculum and working conditions you want.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Privatizing Schools and Wars

More evidence of the virtues of privatizing key public functions. As with private SES (supplemental educational service) providers, there is absolutely no accountability.

Here's the link to the AP story. See below for excerpt.


U.S.-paid contractors accused of abuses in Iraq

LONDON -- The U.S. is riding roughshod over human rights by outsourcing key anti-terror work in Iraq to private contractors, who operate beyond Iraqi law and outside the military chain of command, Amnesty International said yesterday.

It called for tighter rules on the use of contractors in a statement released with its 2006 annual report detailing human rights violations in 150 countries around the world. The rights watchdog said contracting for military detention, security and intelligence operations fuelled violations.

"We're concerned about the use of private contractors in Iraq because it creates a legal black hole of responsibility and accountability," Amnesty's secretary-general, Irene Khan, told AP Television News.

"These contractors are protected from being prosecuted under Iraqi law, but they're not part of the U.S. military command. So when they commit crimes, or when they abuse human rights, they're accountable to no one." Few aspects of the multibillion-dollar U.S. contracting effort in Iraq have been disclosed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

New Anti-DIBELS Site

Susan Ohanian announces launching of a new DIBELS site sponsored by the Vermont Society for the Study of Education (VSSE) that provides scholarly information and opinions about DIBELS.

For more information go to: http://www.vsse.net/dibels/

Monday, May 22, 2006

Dear Mr. President - Thanks!

Dear Mr. President,

I wanted to write to thank you for what you've done for our country. While I quibble with many of your ideas -- your belief that threats and punishments are the way to improve schools, that invading, destroying, and occupying a sovereign nation is the way to help it achieve peace and democracy, that increasing air pollutants constitutes clear skies, and that logging 300-year-old trees is the way to achieve healthy forests -- there is one thing that you and I are completely aligned on: the need for less critical thinking in our nation's classrooms.

The National Reading Panel --- your hand-selected group of literacy experts -- makes the need for less critical thinking abundantly clear. As you know, the National Reading Panel had the nerve to use "research" and "analysis" to come to the conclusion that "phonics instruction appears to contribute only weakly, if at all, in helping poor readers apply [decoding skills] to read text and to spell words." (quoted in Garan, Elaine. 2002. Resisting Reading Mandates: How to Triumph with the Truth. Heinemann. Portsmouth, NH., p. 47; taken from the NRP Report of the Subgroups, Chapter 2, p. 116) But, thanks to those wonderful public relations people from Widemeyer Communications, the Washington PR firm hired by McGraw-Hill to promote Open Court in Texas and to write the Summary Booklet and produce the promotional video that explains the NRP's "research," phonics has become (once again!) The Next Big Thing.

See? People don't have time to read a 500 page report. That would require us to think. And to read! That's why it's so much better to have our reading and thinking done for us. After all, if you can't believe what a Washington-based PR firm hired by the biggest educational company in the world to promote its products tells you, then who can you believe? Like you, Mr. President, I read the front page. Let all those other lazy folks with too much time on their hands read the rest of the paper. You and I have much more important things to do!

But I know you, you sly old fox, you. You're just waiting for us to raise our hands in the back of the classroom and say, like Arnold Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter, "Ooo! Ooo! Mr. President! Mr. President! There appears to be a discrepancy between what the NRP actually wrote and what right-wing pundits say the NRP wrote!" And you, the Firm Believer in Truth, would acknowledge us with a Cookie for Justice.

So, please forgive us for not raising our hands. Please understand that your teaching methods are so advanced that many of us have mistaken you for a dangerous ideological zealot.

I'd like to ask you for your advice, Mr. President. Where do you weigh in on the following?

1) Medical research that shows that up to one-third of clinical studies lead to conclusions that are later overturned, according to a recent paper in JAMA.

2) Fat is good for you.
No, it's bad for you.
No, it's good for you.
Some fats are better than others.

3) Echinacea helps colds.
No it doesn't.

4) Prostate cancer is best cured by surgery.
Prostate cancer is best cured by radiation.

5) Barry Bonds took steroids.
Barry Bonds did not take steroids.

6) Your administration broke the law under the NSA surveillance.
Your administration did not break the law under the NSA surveillance.

I know I might be out of line here, but something jumps out at me when I think about all these things. It appears that Truth is not so much about facts and evidence as it is about belief and hiring the right PR firm. What are your thoughts?

Goodness knows that to be able to address the issues listed above, you'd have to know about things like how medical research is conducted and how research is funded. You'd have to be able to examine arguments and evaluate the evidence. You'd have to have access to reputable sources.

But, thanks to you, 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts have reduced the amount of instruction in history, social studies, and other non-tested subjects. Mercifully, our already over-burdened children won't have to think about issues like Truth vs. truth vs. evidence vs. belief. They have too many other important things to think about, like who is going to win American Idol and whether or not Tom Cruise is gay.

I heard some commie liberal quip recently, "Facts, like history, belong to the conquerors." I'm not sure what he meant, but it sounded a lot like the usual liberal whining we are so tired of.

Thank you for your service to our country.

Best wishes,

Peter Campbell

Washington Post Plugs Private Tutoring

A new plug from the Washington Post/Kaplan Inc. on how school administrators are intentionally depriving students of access to private tutoring companies. This story, another great example of Orwellian journalism, comes from Eugene W. Hickok whose firm represents private tutoring companies. Got to admit, these guys give the word chutzpah a whole new meaning.

The writer is senior policy director at Dutko Worldwide, a public-policy and government-relations company in Washington whose clients include a coalition of supplemental educational service providers created by the Education Industry Association. He was deputy secretary of education during President Bush's first term and, before that, Pennsylvania secretary of education.

More Children Left Behind
By Eugene W. Hickok

Monday, May 22, 2006; Page A17

Imagine being the parent of a child enrolled in a school that isn't working. You can't send him to a private school because you can't afford it, nor to another public school because there's no room. Every day he comes home from school depressed and disengaged. You do what you can. You visit with his teachers. You help with his homework. But you aren't a teacher. And his teachers, good people, are too busy to focus on your child. Slowly, he is drifting away.

Now imagine being told that your child is eligible for free tutoring after school, on weekends, whenever and wherever it is most convenient. You are told that the tutoring will focus on reading and math, that it will be based on the needs of the child, and that those providing the service have been certified by the state as qualified to tutor. You learn that the services will be aimed at making sure your child can read and calculate at his grade level and ensuring that he is prepared to do well on the state's school assessment. Most important, the tutoring will help him be promoted to the next grade ready for success.
Yes, imagine that.

Here is what Spellings did not say: In far too many places, it's not the parents' fault or an oversight that's to blame. It is the people in charge of the schools, who, in far too many cases, think that the money set aside for free tutoring is money that ought to stay with their schools and districts instead -- that it's their money to manage as they see fit. And so they come up with ways to make access to the services difficult for parents. They don't disobey the law; they just don't abide by it.

How dare they.

Higher Education at Risk

Her majesty's Commission on the Future of Higher Education wrapped up its fifth meeting on Friday with little concensus (as reported in this New York Times story) on how to solve the "perceived crisis" in higher education. One thing is certain -- the panel's report expected to be released this Fall will be met with the same fanfare as A Nation at Risk was in 1983.

Inside Higher Education provides some good insight into the goings on that is a must read for anyone concerned about special interests on the panel like Chairman and CEO of Kaplan, Inc. who have a stake in seeing that colleges are turned into the same test-prep factories as K-12.

Who is the report for?

In a session Thursday in which he tried to wrap up the first day’s work, Richard Stephens, executive vice president of Boeing, listed the various “stakeholders” that the panel had to address in its work: politicians and policy makers, college presidents, employers, professors, students, the general public.

College leaders on the panel and some higher education officials who have been watching its work closely have, like Ward, urged the commission to emphasize the positive as well as the negative in its final report. A report with a harshly critical tone, they suggest, will have a hard time winning over the college administrators and faculty members who ultimately will have to do much of the heavy lifting if the report’s recommendations are to succeed.

But Miller has bristled at times at the suggestion that the panel should pull its punches or soften its “tone” in any way to avoid insulting college officials. The most important constituent, he has said again and again, is the public, and the report needs to be written in direct and blunt language that will resonate with them. He has taken to referring frequently to “A Nation at Risk,” the 1983 report that decried a crisis in the country’s high schools and inspired significant efforts at fixing the problems.

While Miller has taken pains to note that higher education is not nearly in the mess now that secondary education was perceived to be back then, its resonance with him suggests that his idea of the right “tone” for his commission’s report might not jibe entirely with the one college leaders would prefer.
Has it dawned on anyone that the "inspired signficant efforts" aimed at fixing the nation's public schools are a colossal failure and have made lots of people very rich? The good news for Kaplan and those on the panel with financial interests in bringing new reforms to higher education, is that years of filling in the bubbles and bashing public education has paved the way for their upcoming media blitz and against academe that should resonate well in a gullible and fearful American public.
And, all this as the Administration and Congress slash the budget for higher education.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

2014 Cannot Happen

The distribution of children's test scores along a "normal" curve has everything in the world to do with fairness (or a lack thereof). How "normal" is the distribution of test scores when we all know that it is largely determined by and is a measure of affluence, not academic achievement?

The truly seismic shift with NCLB is that such "normal" distributions run directly counter to the stated goal of NCLB: all children will reach the proficient or advanced level in the tested subjects by 2014. What I have not fully appreciated until today -- a major "a-ha moment" -- is that this is really, really, really not possible. I'd always seen the goal of 2014 as a misty-eyed attempt for the nation to become Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average. In short, it was just plain stupid and criminally naive to say that all kids could reach the proficient or advanced level, including kids with IEP's for whom it had already been determined that grade level proficiency ain't gonna happen ever. That's why they have IEP's - to recognize and compensate for the fact that they are not at grade level. Hello!

But, with this newest insight, I see that 2014 is not only stupid and criminally naive, it just plain won't ever happen because the very thing that is used to determine whether or not kids are at grade level -- the standardized test -- has built within it at its very core a mechanism that will always produce advanced, proficient, and not proficient students. Not sometimes produce. Always produce.

How unclothed does the Emperor have to be before we call him naked?

A Question About Curves

I'm not a psychometrician, so I don't really get something about standardized tests. So here's a simple question: are standardized tests able to show that every kid is at the proficient or advanced level by 2014?

From what I understand about large-scale standardized assessments, the test developers strive to construct exam questions that will discriminate different levels of competence in the test-taking population. When a test question proves to be skewed (either too easy or too hard), there are statistical processes that can be applied to take that into account in making the ultimate judgment about the score a student receives, which is a way to counteract design problems. Statistical corrections are imposed when a test question does not perform in the way it was hoped when the question was designed. It is quite possible that strong students who answer a question incorrectly on a tested concept could end up with a high score after all is said and done, particularly if the question ends up being answered incorrectly by virtually everyone.

But NCLB says that all children must/can/will be at the proficient or advanced level by 2014.

So which is it? Tests that produce "a normal curve" with "well-designed" questions OR all children can reach grade level by 2014? It can't be both. It simply is not possible. We either get all kids up to grade level by 2014 or we stick with the time-honored tradition of predictable rank ordering through standardized tests.

What's interesting about "a normal curve" is the underlying notion that predictable rank-ordering is the norm. That lining students up and saying, "OK, lil' Johnny, you're Number One because you're the smartest kid in the school. So you stand at the front of the line. As for you, lil' Becky, you're Number 357 because you're the 357th smartest kid in the school. So you stand at the end of the line." Of course, there is nothing "normal" or "natural" about rank-ordering kids on the basis of a single measure, especially a standardized test that pre-supposes such a "normal" distribution of grades and, indeed, guarantees this kind of distribution through its organic, tree-grown, natural, hand-picked "statistical processes" that are created to "counteract design problems." In other words, what we have here is Ye Olde Selfe-Fulfilling Prophece.

This "normal" distribution is said to facilitate the fairest construction possible. As if lining kids up and calling the one with the highest score "smart" and the one with the lowest score "in need of improvement" is fair. What are the odds that the "smart" kid happens to be white and come from affluent, college-educated parents? What are the odds that the "in need of improvement" kid happens to be black or Hispanic and come from poor, uneducated parents or from a single, poor, uneducated parent?

I love the image of an unruly test question that gets out of hand and does not perform in the way it was hoped when it was designed. It reminds me of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, who ultimately did not perform in the way Frankenstein hoped when he designed it. Like the Frankenstein monster, the unruly test question has order imposed on it. But instead of an angry mob with flaming torches, the test question has "statistical corrections" imposed on it. Either way, the effect is the same: disorder and monstrousness are not tolerated. In the end, we can rest assured that the reality we created ahead of time will be the reality that is re-created on the test. "Strong students" won't be adversely affected by the monster test question. It will be chained down, burned, deleted.

As long as the monster wreaks havoc on everyone, all will be well.

Of course, there's a problem if the monster/unruly test question befriends someone along the way. In the Frankenstein story, "virtually everyone" found the monster to be terrifying and hideous. But the monster made friends with a blind man, an outcast. For the blind man, the monster was not monstrous. Children who take one of these tests and answer the unruly question correctly do not find the question unruly. So what then? What happens to the logic -- the "statistical corrections" -- that would otherwise save "strong students" from being penalized? What if several "weak students" answered the unruly question correctly? And what if these "weak students" happened to be black or Hispanic? Are there certain "statistical corrections" and algorithms that check the race and socioeconomic status of students? And, if so, do these statistical corrections throw out the correct answers of these students on the unruly question, reasoning that these students must have guessed because the strong students did not answer it correctly?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Private Tutoring Companies Are Not Accountable

Under NCLB, public school teachers must meet federal regulations that determine what a “highly qualified” teacher is. However, private supplemental education service (SES) providers do not have to meet any federal regulations regarding who they hire, how they are trained, and whether or not they are qualified to teach. Moreover, unlike the accountability provisions that public schools must adhere to, there is no federal requirement that tracks the success or failure of these private supplemental educational service providers. And yet millions of dollars have already poured into these private companies and, without significant changes in the law, will continue to do so.

According to a 4/5/06 report from the federal dept. of ed, states are trying to fill in the gap in the federal law. However, according to the report:

  • 15 states had not established any monitoring process of SES providers at all
  • 25 states had not yet established any standards for evaluating provider effectiveness
  • none had finalized their evaluation standards

17 states said they will evaluate student achievement on state assessments, although only one of these plans to use a matched control group. The most common approaches that states have implemented to monitor providers, according to the federal report, are surveying the districts about provider effectiveness (25 states) and using providers’ reports on student-level progress (18 states).

Other relevant facts:

  • The number of state-approved supplemental service providers has tripled over the past two years, rising from 997 in May 2003 to 2,734 in May 2005.
  • Private firms accounted for 76 percent of approved providers in May 2005.
  • A growing number and percentage of faith-based organizations have obtained state approval, rising from 18 providers (2 percent of providers) in May 2003 to 249 (9 percent) in May 2005.

Black & White

Just when you thought things can't get any more ridiculous, this story comes along from the Staten Island Advance:

School asks: Is she black or white?
If they don't decide soon, PS 13 won't give them reports on performance
Friday, May 19, 2006

The parents of Ada Carr of Rosebank have until Tuesday to decide whether their 5-year-old daughter is white or black.

If they don't choose, they've been told they would not get complete reports on the biracial girl's performance in kindergarten, and Ada would be assigned a racial category by Principal Mark Gray of PS 13, according to a letter recently sent home from the Rosebank school.
As for flexibility and adding another category for bi-racial or multi-racial students -- nope, not part of the vocabulary forf those who only see things in black and white.

NCLB Hearings a Total Farce

Lawmakers say they are willing to work on the No Child Left Behind law by providing "more flexibility" but if the kickoff of hearings on Capitol Hill this past week is any indication of things to come, the rhetoric doesn't jibe with reality.

At this point, the only signs of flexibility came from a gym teacher who has his student jumping through hoops:

Garrett Lydie, a physical education teacher from Laurel, Del., explained how he integrated math and reading into his classes, having elementary school students spell words and solve math problems while climbing a wall.

"During many of our physical activities, students apply the concepts they are learning in areas such as math, science, writing, reading and social studies to achieve a goal," said Lydie, the 2006 teacher of the year in Delaware.

Parading teacher of the year Mr. Lydie before the House Education & Workforce Committee, sent just the right message to all those whiny teachers complaining NCLB has narrowed the curriculum.

The circus led by ringmaster
Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-CA, who chairs the committee, admonished those pesty clowns on the other side of the aisle who complain there isn't enough funding:

But the issue of money kept creeping into the discussion.

"Without adequate and stable funding ... I can't get the needs met," Mickey Garrison, an elementary school principal from Roseburg, Ore., told the committee.

Democrats have long complained that the law has not been fully funded, while Republicans argue that federal spending on education has increased significantly since the law was passed.

"I think that when you talk to people, no matter what we give them, it's not enough," McKeon said. "We have backed this up with resources and we will push for more resources. But it's not all about resources."

Rep. George Miller of California, the education committee's top Democrat, said funding will be a critical issue as Congress works to renew the law.

"Where is education on the priority list of this government?" Miller asked.
The House narrowly passed a 2007 budget early Thursday that calls for cutting federal spending on education by more than $5 billion, about 7 percent.

McKeon said he has no specific plans for changing the law's requirements. "I don't have any ax to grind, other than to improve the law," he said.
With George Miller, the leading Democrat saying "its a waste of time for critics to argue the law should be scrapped" and Republicans insisting that "it's here to stay," teachers will just have to learn how to do the high wire so they can survive in this world of bread and circuses.

To voice your opinion and throw your hat in the ring - contact members of the Committee at http://edworkforce.house.gov/

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I'm the Decider

Here's a little ditty in honor of His Deciderness.

Spellings Remains Flabby and Inflexible

Attempting to play to both political realities, one owned by the ed industry demanding more of the billions from the ED tutoring trough, and the other from state departments of education ready to lead a mutiny against the idiotic mass transfer of students out of schools on the failing list, Spellings has reversed the order of sanctions for Year 2 and 3 of failure. Now Year 2 schools will be required to offer tutoring, and transfers will not begin until Year 3.

The big winners here, of course, are the Kaplans and Princeton Reviews and Catapults (formerly Sylvan) of the world who want to lap up this federal gravy before the Bushies are run out of town.

In other news, the Queen of Pain has announced that there were only two winners in the big contest to see which states will be allowed to experiment with "growth models" for measuring the failure of the public schools: Tennessee and North Carolina. For those who were naively hoping that there would be some significant shift in the guaranteed failure schedule, this is a clear indicator that there will be no serious reconsidertion at ED regarding the pre-ordained destination of the death march that NCLB guarantees by 2014.

The big winner here? I would say SAS and the Bill Sanders brand of value-added assessment, a proprietary algorithm that was originally developed to measure the growth of field crops and that no one can translate for the layman.

The only alternative to the federally-mandated crushing of the public schools will be to organize, lobby, vote, and get in the streets and in front of the schools. What happens in the next year will have a huge impact on the future of the Republic and whether or not we preserve its democratic aspirations or capitulate to a hardening dark core of fascism.

Any other domestic privatization scheme would not stand a chance with the weakened condition of the liars and crooks in charge of federal policy, but so few people pay attention to education issues that it is critical to make a lot of noise to get any attention to what is happening and what is planned. Once the public knows, this, too, will go the way of last privatization scam, Social Security. Get your school bell today--I expect they will be ringing in the streets of Washington in the not-so-distant future.

Jim Horn

BC Calls for Test Boycott

Let the wellness spread. Here is a clip from the Golden Star:
The B.C. Teachers' Federation says Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) provincial testing has a negative effect on teaching and learning and has advised parents to withdraw students from the exams.

The Ministry of Education has been administering the FSA since 2000 to students in grades 4 and 7 to evaluate reading, writing and math skills.

The BCTF says the testing has a harmful impact on teachers and students. Teachers experience pressure to "teach to the test, ignore important aspects of the curriculum, teach in less interesting ways, spend less time addressing the individual needs of students and spend instructional time on test practice," according to the BCTF.

Students, on the other hand, "suffer from text anxiety, value tests more than learning and lose their motivation to learn if they do badly on tests," the BCTF says.

The BCTF has called for an exam boycott on May 8 - May 19, urging parents to withdraw their child from the FSA tests by writing a letter to the school principal. . .

Giving Up on Democracy in LA Public Schools?

Taking a play from the Bloomberg playbook, LA's Mayor Villaraigosa has big plans for LA schools, plans that include turning the publicly-elected school board into a glorified committee to do surveys and handle discipline and transfers. The Mayor's share of the power to run the schools? Just 83%.

Here is clip from the LA Weekly that has an extended and excellent analysis of Villaraigosa's big roll of the dice as he makes his case in Sacramento for becoming Dictator of Los Angeles Unifed School District:

Appearing last week at the Kipp Academy of Opportunity, a charter school just north of Inglewood, Villaraigosa repeated his call for a state audit of the school district’s budget. With the city controller by his side, the mayor casually portrayed L.A. Unified as a system approaching meltdown. What he didn’t say is that many of the statistics he used to condemn the district come from President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, an education initiative that he used to criticize. No Child Left Behind designates schools as failing when they don’t achieve a specific level of improvement on standardized tests and other criteria, an event that serves as the first step toward stripping away their federal funding.

“When you have a failing school district, a bloated bureaucracy, 50 percent of the kids dropping out, 81 percent of the kids in [middle] schools that the state and the federal government have described as failing, there’s something wrong, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Two days later, Villaraigosa traveled to the opposite end of the city, stopping off at the West Valley Playhouse to honor Herman Katz, the retired high school teacher and counselor whom the mayor portrayed as a pivotal influence. The ceremony could have been a chamber-of-commerce mixer anywhere in the Midwest, with an MC delivering corny one-liners and a man at a piano playing an instrumental version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Yet on another level, it provided a much-needed service in Los Angeles — honoring quality teachers. The eight teachers who walked across the stage will soon see their names engraved in the Walk of Hearts, a stretch of sidewalk in the San Fernando Valley that recognizes excellence in education.

Facing a theater full of teachers, Villaraigosa imparted a message that was decidedly different from the one he delivered two days earlier. He didn’t say the school district is failing. He didn’t bring up takeover at all. Instead, he described how Katz repeatedly pushed him to enroll in college, offering to pay the cost of his SAT exam and even drive him personally to take the test. Villaraigosa also revealed that when he was reunited with Katz in 1994, during his first campaign for political office, his onetime teacher had no memory of him. “He was a much bigger influence than he understood in my life,” Villaraigosa said.

Once the ceremony was over, teachers milled about the theater, clutching oversize bouquets of flowers and drinking cranberry punch. Standing near the podium was Katz, now a part-time middle school counselor, who described Villaraigosa as someone who was like so many other kids — without a father and floundering academically, yet with great potential.

Looks like Villaraigosa has found one.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

NAACP Sues Nebraska Over Omaha Segregation Decision

The Times has the story. A clip:
In a constitutional challenge to a state law that would divide the Omaha public schools into three racially identifiable districts, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sued the governor of Nebraska and other state officials yesterday in federal court in Omaha, arguing that the law "intentionally furthers racial segregation."

NCLB Must Be Stopped in 2007

A growing number of people have come to realize that NCLB is the greatest threat to public education in America today. With its built-in schedule of guaranteed failure that culminates in 2014, an erosion of support for public schools will accompany that death march. Reauthorization next year will bring an end the dream of a publicly-funded non-sectarian school system for all children that celebrates all the differences that make America great, while inculcating a deep civic and political solidarity under a just Constitution that makes all those differences possible. This is the dream that is at risk and the hope that is being sacrificed in the name of a phony accountability system that uses the failure of poor children to wage a war against them and their schools.

Unless NCLB is dismantled next year, the erosion of public support will creep from the urban centers into the suburbs, where failure awaits those who are too blind to see it coming. Unless reauthorization is blocked next year, the public school system will gradually and inevitably burn out on the death march to 2014, ending this part of our civilized democratic ideal, to paraphrase Eliot, with a whimper instead of a bang.

From Decatur, Alabama:

If Congress renews No Child Left Behind next year, a majority of schools will face a "failing label," said Susan Salter, director of member services for the Alabama Association of School Boards.

She spoke Monday night to a meeting of District 8 school board members at Decatur's Holiday Inn.

Law's goal

The goal of the NCLB law is for every child to perform at grade level in reading and math by 2013.

"The critics will use this as proof that public education needs to be abandoned," Salter said at the meeting of county and city boards from Colbert, Cullman, Franklin, Morgan, Lawrence, Limestone, Lauderdale and Winston counties.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Forum for Education and Democracy

If you are in the Chicago area, check out this important meeting of FED:
Forum Public Meeting in Chicago
Saturday, May 20th, 1-4 pm
A reminder that this Saturday, May 20th, the Forum will be holding a public meeting to launch our "Every Child a Promising Future" campaign. Join Forum Conveners Deborah Meier, Wendy Puriefoy, and George Wood to discuss what we need to do to ensure for every child engaging and challenging schools, equitable education resources, and secure childhoods free from want and fear.

There is limited seating at this meeting and space is filling up rapidly. If you plan on attending we encourage you to RSVP today. For details including location and where to RSVP, click here. We look forward to seeing you in Chicago!