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

Monday, July 31, 2006

No Child Left Behind and More Failure

Insight from the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Right on cue, NCLB produces more failure

The great majority of states, including Kentucky, have failed to meet another set of deadlines of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and so have evoked from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings yet more ominous threats, including the punishment of slashing their federal funding.

"I want the states to know that Congress and the President mean business on the law," she said.

For a time, Secretary Spellings seemed fairly sympathetic to states' struggles to comply with NCLB's many demands. Matter of fact, she said, "Last year it was, 'We're marching together toward the deadline,' but now it's time for, 'Your homework is due.' "

Of course, it's an election season, and the heat is on.

It's coming no doubt from within the Bush administration, eager to look competent at something, and from worried congressional conservatives, seeking to show their base that they are still bravely crusading against "godless," and, thus, failing public schools.

The good news is that Kentucky, which got serious about accountability long before Washington did, isn't meekly accepting the arbitrary declarations of failure. "We are challenging that designation of not being in compliance, and we have provided … more evidence that we either are in compliance or will be soon," Kentucky Education Department spokesperson Lisa Gross said. "Our concern throughout the implementation period of No Child Left Behind is the inconsistency of the decisions" by federal education officials.

For example, they rejected Kentucky's proposals for meeting certain NCLB requirements but then turned around and approved the same or very similar proposals from other states.

Indeed, Nebraska's education officials have gone so far as to accuse Secretary Spellings and her underlings of being "mean-spirited, arbitrary and heavy-handed."

States, districts and schools are now being declared failures because their ways of testing don't match Washington's, because their teachers' credentials aren't uniformly good enough and because the scores of certain subgroups of students, while improving, aren't improving fast enough.

As Ms. Gross put it, "With No Child Left Behind, it's all or nothing."

The recent escalation in the administration's tough talk coincides with two other events: first, the release of a federally commissioned study that embarrassed the administration by finding that private schools are no more successful than public ones, and, second, the introduction, nevertheless, of a national school voucher plan by congressional Republicans.

Taken together, it all adds up to more evidence that NCLB is less about improving public schools than about finding excuses to discredit and abandon them, in favor of their unaccountable private and religious counterparts.

Linda Chavez on Education? Never Mind

Linda Chavez has a history of getting surprised by the facts. After years of service to the AFT, she quit and became an anti-union activist when she finally figured out that unions were for workers’ rights. Not only did she leave AFT in a huff, but she switched parties and went to work for the conservatives.

By 2001, her new loyalty to conservative labor principles earned her a nod from Bush for Secretary of Labor, but her nomination was pulled when it was discovered that she had hired illegals to run her household. Something wrong with that?

Now I am afraid Chavez is in for another mild shock: NCLB is focused on testing students, not teacher testing. Not only that, Linda, but Spellings' latest round of nasty threats focuses on the failure of states to abide by ED’s requirements for student testing, not teacher testing. Her recent anti-teacher op-ed titled "Testing Teachers," the one that is being plastered around the country in various newspapers, would seem, then, to be in need of some revision—since it is obvious that Chavez thinks that Maggie is upset because of weak teacher testing.

Here is Linda's opening salvo, in which she manages to even get the date wrong for the teacher quality deadline (which was June 30, by the way). Her commentary offers strong clues that she did not even read the New York Times piece that she quotes:
If you were ever one of those students who wished you could grade your teacher instead of the other way around, the federal government may be about to grant your wish, vicariously anyway. This week, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has threatened to give failing grades to some states for not testing teachers adequately.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act (2002), which was passed with bipartisan support, all states were given until August [sic] to show teachers in their school systems were "highly qualified" in core teaching areas. But several states are so far behind in meeting these standards they could lose federal funding.

"I want states to know that Congress and the president mean business on the law," Mrs. Spellings told the New York Times in a recent interview. She was criticized by some education reformers last year for taking a go-slow approach in forcing school systems to meet the NCLB requirements, but the only complaints now are from states that don't measure up -- and the teachers unions. "Last year it was, 'We're marching together toward the deadline,' " Mrs. Spellings said, "but now it's time for, 'Your homework is due.' "
Could it be that Chavez might have just put herself in the running for a job as White House speechwriter? This next paragraph demonstrates that she is a worthy candidate:
Both Maine and Nebraska have received letters from the Education Department warning they may lose federal funds because their teacher testing flunked the federal standards. The feds allowed Nebraska to administer teacher-devised tests in its 250 school districts instead of statewide, but the state failed to demonstrate that teachers in all districts were held to a high standard, the Times reported. In all, the education department has notified 34 states that their teacher testing had major problems and would be subject to mandatory oversight.
Could there ever be a better example of conflated ignorance put forward as dependable propaganda?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Charter Schools, the Preferred Privatization Tool of Segregationists

Thanks to Marty Solomon for posting this link at EDDRA. Marty suggests that charters, with their inherent capacity to exclude minorities, may, indeed, vie with vouchers as the preferred privatization mode. From the Salt Lake City Tribune:
Charter schools in Utah increasingly are serving wealthy, white students and leaving poorer and minority children behind in traditional public schools, a Salt Lake Tribune analysis shows.

Although charter schools by law are open to every student because taxpayers fund them, in practice many educate only a narrow slice of the population. Some Utah school districts with high minority student populations are home to charter schools with significantly smaller percentages of ethnic minorities, and many of the newest charter schools will open this fall in affluent communities with little diversity . . . .

Predicting the Texas Cheating Miracle

The growth of accounability is accompanied by the diminution of trust. Losing trust has assured the demise of trustworthiness. The demise of trustworthiness brings the necessity for repression and police action. I think we know where repression and police action lead.

From the Star-Telegram:

The Texas Education Agency will investigate “testing irregularities” found at 609 schools in an audit of the spring 2005 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

The agency will hire investigators, institute new monitoring when the exam is administered in the future and report for disciplinary actions any teachers or schools involved in cheating, Education Commissioner Shirley J. Neeley announced Friday. . . .

Admission of Stupidity as the Moral Preference to Cowardice

The conservatives of the Reagan era had erred in thinking that histrionics, alone, (A Nation at Risk) would be enough to convince parents of the total failure of their public schools. By the time Bush came along, conservatives had devised a plan to create evidence that the public schools had failed. That plan, No Child Left Behind, would put in place impossible performance goals for schools (100% of students at grade level by 2014), and then hand out a graduated and increasing-harsh set of sanctions that would lead to the privatization of American public education.

Yes, that is Ted Kennedy in the center there, smiling down on the President signing his favorite piece of legislation. I wonder how long it took Kennedy to figure out that he had been had. Or was he had?

Apparently, the seat of chief liberal bloviator does not require any political acuity at all. Latest example: today in WaPo Kennedy pines about how he has just discovered that the Roberts and Alito appointments were intended to set back the social agenda in America by a hundred years. Damn, if he had only known! If I were that stupid, I would not be advertising it in the Washington Post:

The administration's tactics succeeded in turning the confirmation hearings for Roberts and Alito into a sham. Many Republican senators used their time to praise, rather than probe, the nominees. Coached by the administration, the nominees declined to answer critical questions. When pressed on issues such as civil rights and executive power, Roberts and Alito responded with earnest assurances that they would not bring an ideological agenda to the bench.

After confirmation, we saw an entirely different Roberts and Alito -- both partisans ready and willing to tilt the court away from the mainstream. They voted together in 91 percent of all cases and 88 percent of non-unanimous cases -- more than any other two justices.

What we know, of course, is that Kennedy is not stupid at all. But, rather, this is another classic Democratic example of a pretended stupidity being deliberately chosen as the moral preference over an admission to true cowardice.

Will the Democrats stand up for public schools in the coming NCLB reauthorization debate? Or will their cowardice make them all totally stupid again?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Religious Persecution in Public Schools

President Bush is always ready to challenge the "islamo-fascists" who threaten his version of force-fed democracy in the Middle East. Would he ever be so bold as to challenge the "christo-fascists" in his own back yard, the ones who mock the Constitutional guarantee against State-sponsored religion in the public schools? I doubt it, since without their support, his approval rate would be closer to 10 percent, rather than 40.

Here is a clip from a story today in the Times on the religious persection ot the Dobrich family in Delaware. It puts some light on the bigoted bullying among God's soldiers in the Indian River School District, where all non-Christians are dis-invited from attending the public schools if they don't like the harassment or proselytizing or open mockery that is upheld in the name of Christian tradition:

“We have a way of doing things here, and it’s not going to change to accommodate a very small minority,’’ said Kenneth R. Stevens, 41, a businessman sitting in the Georgetown Diner. “If they feel singled out, they should find another school or excuse themselves from those functions. It’s our way of life.”

The Dobrich and Doe legal complaint portrays a district in which children were given special privileges for being in Bible club, Bibles were distributed in 2003 at an elementary school, Christian prayer was routine at school functions and teachers evangelized.

“Because Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, I will speak out for him,” said the Rev. Jerry Fike of Mount Olivet Brethren Church, who gave the prayer at Samantha’s graduation. “The Bible encourages that.” Mr. Fike continued: “Ultimately, he is the one I have to please. If doing that places me at odds with the law of the land, I still have to follow him.”

Mrs. Dobrich, who is Orthodox, said that when she was a girl, Christians here had treated her faith with respectful interest. Now, she said, her son was ridiculed in school for wearing his yarmulke. She described a classmate of his drawing a picture of a pathway to heaven for everyone except “Alex the Jew.”

Don't expect any opinion from the ED lawyers on this open threat to the protection of religious beliefs and expression in public schools. They are all too busy figuring out how to re-direct the flow of tax dollars into the fundamentalist training camps that prefer indoctrination to an education about real democracy.

Friday, July 28, 2006

No Child Left Behind: Questions for Congressional Candidates

It is time to find out what your Congressional candidates are thinking about NCLB. Don't be surprised if they haven't given it any thought at all. The importance, then, of beginning the questioning process is crucial, since the candidates who win this Fall will be voting on the future of public education some time in the next year. Questions for Congressional candidates running this Fall:

For incumbents who voted for the Bill (House vote here and Senate vote here):
You supported No Child Left Behind when it passed Congress with flying colors in 2001. At that time, supporters of the Bill promised that NCLB would close the achievement gap, create world-class public schools, and make sure that every child had a highly-qualified teacher.

Now we know that the achievement gap has not been closed and that student achievement has not changed substantially, that millions of children have been left behind as labeled failures, that public schools are threatened by flimsy evidence gathered from bad tests offered as a result of impossible NCLB mandates, and that many of the best veteran teachers are leaving the profession, which is now jeopardized by canned curriculums and behavioral control measures that are being pushed by the Education Department.

Regardless of strong criticism of the Department's impossible performance goals that most schools will find impossible to attain by 2014, the Education Department has remained unwavering in its position and has sent strong signals that they, in fact, would heavily favor education privatization through the use of privately-managed charter schools and voucher programs.

Given these effects and these facts, will you vote against reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act? Yes or no?

Feel free to cut and paste this message into an email to incumbents, or call your local campaign offices and ask to speak to an aide to your candidate.

Charter School Founder Fired

It is too bad that Michael Delman, charter school enthusiast and Dean of Students at Christa McAuliffe Regional Charter Public School, did not do a little homework on charter rules of due process during the time he helped to found the school. After volunteering for 4 years to get the school up and running, and after being promoted to Dean of Students, Michael Delman was fired this week without warning or explanation.

And because this charter school management, like the vast majority of others across the country, maintains the right to hire and fire teachers at will, Michael Delman, founder, must be looking back longingly at those public school teaching days in Southborough when his job was not subject to the capricious and arbitrary whims of a school manager with a sharp axe to grind.

Spellings Bends, Feller Spins

AP's Ben Feller continues in his role as Spellings' media lapdog, massaging yet another press release from ED to add a prostituted journalistic touch to the Queen of Pain's most recent decree to bend NCLB rules when it is in the best interest of the unregulated tutoring industry.

With mandatory school transfers causing chaos in school systems where more schools than not are on the federal fail list, thus limiting transfer options, ED has chosen to acknowledge reality and to reverse the order of transfer and mandatory tutoring sanctions in 23 school districts. This allows Spellings to stick with her PR campaign based on the projection of a misleading image of flexibility, but, more importantly, it addresses the ed industry's growing impatience at the rate that tax dollars are transferred to corporate coffers for "education" services for which there has been no accountability.

If you didn't know that Feller's piece was intended be a news story, it would be easy to confuse it with a fawning and cuddly op-ed intended to reinforce ED's PR:
The policy changes announced yesterday are part of a pattern of enforcement by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. She wants to show she can adapt — waiving rules to get more kids in tutoring — and yet be tough on states that do not comply, by threatening to pull their money.

Testing Company Botches Another Batch of Tests

From the Pine Bluff Commercial Online:

LITTLE ROCK - A mistake made by a school testing company means Arkansas school officials spent hours analyzing inaccurate data and will have to redo their work.

Jodi Goldman, a spokeswoman for Riverside Publishing Co., the group that markets and distributes the standardized tests, said scorers failed to include results of a math computation section when figuring each school's overall math scores.

She said Riverside will issue corrected reports by early next week at its own expense. She attributed the mistake to a miscommunication.

"It was human error, a misunderstanding from Riverside regarding the customer's preferred format for test score reporting," she said. "We're sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused."

Countess Hodges, who oversees elementary education in the Bentonville School District, said administrators spent days analyzing the original data, which can fill more than 20 boxes in larger school districts.

"It's very frustrating that we have to go back and redo it," Hodges said. "A lot of time was wasted." . . . .
What a great chapter heading for the future history of education reform during the first decade of the 21st Century:
A Lot of Time Was Wasted

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Blowback, Blowhards, and John Stossel

The recent release of research by ED comparing private and public schools has met an entirely-predictable blowback from school privatization blowhards like John Stossel and Walmart Scholar-in-Residence, Jay P. Greene, whose preferred research outlets range from the New York Sun to the National Review. The thing that distinguishes Stossel from Greene, however, is that Stossel's dissembling cannot be salved by any pretense to authority or any visible evidence of understanding. Just impure, mealy-mouthed bullshit. From Media Matter:

Summary: John Stossel attacked the methodology of a Department of Education study demonstrating nearly identical levels of academic achievement among public and private elementary school students, claiming that "[t]he researchers tortured the data" by using regression analysis -- a universally used statistical tool that even Stossel admitted is "valid."

In his July 26 nationally syndicated column, ABC 20/20 co-anchor John Stossel attacked the methodology of a recently released Department of Education study demonstrating nearly identical levels of academic achievement among public and private elementary school students. Stossel, an advocate of school voucher programs, claimed that "[t]he researchers tortured the data" by conducting regression analyses. Regression analysis is a universally used statistical tool to isolate the factor being studied -- in this case, achievement by public versus private school students -- by statistically controlling for the effect of other factors. Stossel then acknowledged that "[m]aybe it's unfair to call that 'torturing the data,' " noting: "Such regression analysis is a valid statistical tool." But Stossel then resumed his attacks, claiming that regression analysis is "prone to researcher bias" and constitutes "[s]tatistical hocus-pocus."

Stossel never explained how he came by his belief that regression is "prone to researcher bias" -- in fact, there is nothing "biased" about controlling for factors like race, income, or parents' education when examining student performance. Indeed, if one's goal is to compare student achievement in private schools to that in public schools, one has no choice but to control for other factors that also influence student performance in order to isolate the effect of the different types of schools. Controlling for the influence of other variables is not "hocus-pocus"; it is among the most basic techniques of statistical analysis, used by researchers of every ideological stripe the world over.

According to the study's description on the Department on Education's National Center for Education Statistics website:

This study compares mean 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics scores of public and private schools in 4th and 8th grades, statistically controlling for individual student characteristics (such as gender, race/ethnicity, disability status, identification as an English language learner) and school characteristics (such as school size, location, and the composition of the student body).

Stossel also suggested that The New York Times and the "mainstream media" were "so eager to defend" the study and public schools because of "the editors' " dislike of conservative Christian schools, the Bush administration, capitalism, and free markets.

Pledging Allegiance to the Constitution

During the McCarthy witchhunts of the early Cold War Era, the phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 to distinguish the U. S. from the godless Soviets. Now it would seem that recent Congressional action hopes to build an ironclad legislative bunker to assure that the Pledge becomes an unalterable and sacrosanct routine that puts it beyond any legal challenge by any American in any American court of law. A clip from today's Online Journal:

The Christian Right was in a state of rapture when the House of Representatives passed the “Pledge Protection Act,” which would remove cases involving the Pledge of Allegiance from the jurisdiction of federal courts. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council that’s sponsoring the Values Voters Summit in late September, was jubilant: “I am pleased to see Congress exercising its constitutional authority to check the power of the courts which have tried to strip ‘God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance.”

The irony most likely lost on the craven fools who put this bill forward is that it was, indeed, the Courts that upheld, under challenge from the State, the religious rights of an oppressed group of West Virginia Jehovah's Witness school children to abide by their faith--and it occurred at the same time this country was under attack from Japan and Germany in the greatest conflagration in the history of war.

The hair on the back of my neck still stands at attention when I read these clips to my students from Justice Jackson's prevailing opinion in 1943 (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette) to allow these children to withhold any pledge of allegiance that may run counter to the freedom of conscience and religion that our Constitution guarantees:

Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good, as well as by evil, men. Nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, but, at other times and places, the ends have been racial or territorial security, support of a dynasty or regime, and particular plans for saving souls. As first and moderate methods to attain unity have failed, those bent on its accomplishment must resort to an ever-increasing severity. [p641] As governmental pressure toward unity becomes greater, so strife becomes more bitter as to whose unity it shall be. Probably no deeper division of our people could proceed from any provocation than from finding it necessary to choose what doctrine and whose program public educational officials shall compel youth to unite in embracing. Ultimate futility of such attempts to compel coherence is the lesson of every such effort from the Roman drive to stamp out Christianity as a disturber of its pagan unity, the Inquisition, as a means to religious and dynastic unity, the Siberian exiles as a means to Russian unity, down to the fast failing efforts of our present totalitarian enemies. Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

It seems trite but necessary to say that the First Amendment to our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings. There is no mysticism in the American concept of the State or of the nature or origin of its authority. We set up government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent. Authority here is to be controlled by public opinion, not public opinion by authority.

We can have intellectual individualism [p642] and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

LA Schools - So this is what unions are for?

Interesting story in EdWeek this week about Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s latest vision for overhauling LA public schools. Villaraigosa says that teachers would be given an “authentic and central role” in selecting curriculum and instructional materials for the nation’s second-largest district. This sounds great.

But look a bit more closely at what is being said.

“Right now, teachers are held accountable for the success or failure of students, yet we have no meaningful say over curriculum,” said A.J. Duffy, the president of the 48,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles, which is affiliated with both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. “We want to give teachers an equal say to administrators when it comes to deciding what happens in the classroom, but we are not talking about giving every school the right to have its own curriculum.”

God forbid that teachers should have their own curricula!

According to the EdWeek piece:

The school board and the superintendent would retain their authority to “make decisions about instruction as a whole,” said Mr. Saenz, “but would have to leave some flexibility for involvement at the school site.”

"Some flexibility for involvement at the school site"? What the hell does this mean?

So which is it? Giving teachers an “authentic and central role” in selecting curriculum and instructional materials? Or paying lip-service to the professional judgement of teachers and the individual needs of children by going with "Open Court Lite"?

It's precisely these kinds of compromises worked out with the unions that disturb me the most. Instead of standing up and fighting for teacher autonomy, the union forces teachers to surrender their professional status in order to reach a settlement. Instead of standing up and fighting for the individual needs of children, the union bargains and decides that one-size-fits-all education is not so bad after all. Instead of demanding that Open Court be thrown out, the union wants to adjust the pace for teaching with it.

These kinds of "victories" only serve to prolong the slow death of public education by trashing the role of teachers as professionals and by sacrificing children at the alter of "efficient modes of educational delivery systems."

There is one glimmer of hope. According to the article, the compromise between the mayor and the union "has drawn sharp criticism from many teachers who are angry that union leaders made a deal without consulting UTLA’s representative body."

Then again, there's a name for this kind of activity: it's called "union busting." Get the teachers to turn against the union as the union is forced into Faustian bargains with the administration and watch what happens . . .

Spellings and Miller: Portraits in Diversionary Ineptitude

Interesting story from The Seattle Times that reminds us of the diversionary ineptitude behind the American Competiveness Initiative now driving efforts to redirect the focus of the American school and college curriculums toward technology and engineering (tip from Think Progess):

Wage stagnation, long the bane of blue-collar workers, is now hitting people with bachelor's degrees for the first time in 30 years. Earnings for workers with four-year degrees fell 5.2 percent between 2000 and 2004 when adjusted for inflation, according to White House economists. . . .

When wages for people with bachelor's degrees declined in the 1970s, the cause was a flood of baby boomers entering the job market. This time, economists say, much of the blame goes to trends familiar to workers with less education.

Off-shoring, which has shifted manufacturing and call-center jobs to Mexico and India, is increasingly affecting the white-collar sectors of engineering and software design. Companies have continued their long effort to replace salaried positions with low-paid, nonsalaried jobs, including part-time and freelance positions without benefits.

Those positions make up nearly half of the 6.5 million jobs created since 2001, said Paul Harrington, a labor economist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Harrington looked at the growth of salaried jobs during the past five economic recoveries and found they increased an average of 11.5 percent, compared with 2.5 percent during the current recovery.

"There's clear deterioration in the college labor market," he said. "The American economy just does not generate jobs the way it has historically."

The education solution offered by Spellings and Miller: Blame the schools and universities for a non-existent shortage of homegrown talent, and then pressure them to churn out even more technicians and engineers that will drive wages even lower.

Perhaps Mr. Gates, one of the leaders in job exportation, could devote a bit of his billions in philanthropic dough to do something that at least does not make the situation worse.

Child Labor, Child Abuse, and the New Schooling for the Poor

During the 1930s, child labor laws were finally taken seriously only after the jobs that children were doing in factories became essential to keep adult men from starving during the Depression. Mandatory school attendance laws were beefed up, and liberals could pat themselves on the backs that they had ended an era of child exploitation.

Well, there is a new war on childhood to combat for any remaining liberals who care to notice, and this one begins in poor neighborhood kindergartens (see Times story) that were intended, ironically, to remove children from the onerous world of adult work. Yes, test preparation has bled through to the children’s garden like an unstoppable dark stain that threatens to blot out our understanding of the healthy development of human children. Those deluded “educators” who still believe that the current era of education reform-by-testing is intended to close the achievement gap, are finding that they must begin earlier and earlier to impose a rigid instructional orthodoxy in hopes of displacing the implacable effects of poverty, the chief reason there is an achievement gap to begin with.

So work begins for poor children at an earlier age, replacing the essential play required for healthy psychological and social development, which is now reserved for zip codes where economic privilege allows for very different kindergarten curriculums. In the meantime, Poverty, the unseen elephant, continues to trumpet and the tear around the classroom where preoccupied teachers work to keep up the schedule of phonics drills, arithmetic drills, and bubble coloring that they are required to choke down their children with ever-increasing difficulty.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy—fit for the dull job that is planned for him in a dull world he will never be asked or enabled to understand.

Would you allow this for your child in her kindergarten? Or would you call it child abuse?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Amway, Walmart, and the War on Public Schools in New Jersey

A lawsuit has been filed in Superior Court of New Jersey to force the State to pay for private (religious or otherwise) education for students who have failed the state test mandated by No Child Left Behind. This represents the opening of, yet, another front in the school privatization war led by well-funded, right-wing conservative groups such as the Walton family, the Amway fortune, and the Bradley Foundation. From the Philadelphia Inquirer July 14:
The national school-voucher fight has arrived on New Jersey's doorstep.

In an action that could change the face of education in the Garden State, parents of 12 children attending failing public schools in 25 districts sued the districts and the state commissioner of education yesterday. . . .

If successful, Crawford v. Davy would let parents use the money that public schools normally spend on their children's education to send them to any school, public or private, regardless of geography or religious affiliation. . . . The proposed class action was filed in state Superior Court in Newark on behalf of more than 60,000 students attending schools in which 50 percent of pupils have failed two of the state's tests, or at least 75 percent of pupils have failed at least one.

The front group for this attack is E3, a group with some prominent black faces who have been called out by The Black Commentator in a piece cited in this post.

Another investigative piece on E3 and its right wing connections appeared yesterday in The Record. Here is a clip:
A lawsuit to apply New Jersey's public-education funding toward private-school tuition has key support from some of the country's most conservative charitable foundations, including those run by heirs to the Wal-Mart and Amway fortunes, public records show.

Excellent Education for Everyone, or E3, the state's leading proponent of school vouchers, has been granted at least $1.65 million from the Walton Family Foundation, a perennial underwriter of "family values" think tanks, Christian schools and Republican candidates for national public office, according to federal tax filings.

E3 also has reaped at least $230,000 from the Morristown-based William E. Simon Foundation, whose stated mission is "to strengthen the free-enterprise system and the spiritual values on which it rests: individual freedom, initiative, thrift, self-discipline and faith in God."

Spellings Slides toward the Basest of the Base

Sam Dillon in the Times has a story on the thumb screw tightening in the states that is being applied by ED. Doug Christensen notes in the piece that he saw the new meanness emerging beginning in April, when state superintendents met in Washington to be excoriated by Spellings’ underlings on what a crumby job they were doing in meeting NCLB mandates. By May 15, Maggie, herself, was firing off letters left and right, including one to California’s NCLB administrator, Diane Levin, who had recently survived a federal review of the State’s transfer policies. More documentation on transfers would be needed, or millions could be lost:
Ms. Levin said California felt whipsawed. “We’re doing everything the law asks us to do,” she said, “which in a state this size is a huge amount of work, and we’re treated like we’re doing nothing.”

Dozens of other states have also felt the tougher enforcement.
What appears to be going on here is a desperate case of election year politics, where the White House must energize their three-headed monster base to have a chance at avoiding in November a wholesale repudiation of a failed administration and the rubber stamp conservative Congress that enabled their over-reaching and arrogant policies. If you look at the polling since the early Spring, things have been going south for the White House, and Republican congressmen are being swept along with the current. The Dubai Debacle, in many respects, represents the Chernobyl moment for this band of crony-crooks, exposing a corrupt incompetence in a way that could no longer be ignored by the American people.

With The Twig at 33% approval, it was time for Rove & Co. to dig in, and there was no place to go except to appeal to the fires of the unholy trinity:
  1. the Norquistians, representing the corporate socialists who want to transfer the Federal Treasury to corporate coffers,
  2. the Falwellians, who want State sponsorship for their religious indoctrination programs, and
  3. the Wolfowitzian elites, who equate American economic hegemony with the spread of democracy.
Translated to the mundane terms of education policy, it means that the Spring ED offensive will continue into the Fall with
  1. the efforts to privatize K-12 intensified to light the fires inside the edu-corporations,
  2. the effort to create voucher programs intensified for the sake of the Bush’s Temple congregation, and
  3. efforts to reshape K-20 education intensified around the needs of American worldwide economic domination.
If I were in one of these pressure cooker positions getting the heat turned up from one of Spellings’ trained seals, I would find a way to release a little of the pressure between now and November. It could be that by the middle of November the fire under this smelly pot will be little more than a pilot light.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Year 4 and 5 Sanctions: Avoiding the AYP Hammer

After four years without making AYP, districts are required to choose at least one of the following:
  • Replace school staff relevant to the failure (i.e., scapegoat and fire "bad" teachers, identified as those with the lowest test scores).
  • Put in place a new "scientifically-based" curriculum (e.g., Open Court).
  • Decrease management authority at the school (i.e., fire or undermine the principal).
  • Appoint outside experts to advise the school (i.e., when in doubt, hire a consultant).
  • Extend the school year or the school day (KIPP anyone?)
  • Restructure the internal organization of the school (i.e., huh?)
After five years, districts are required to choose at least one of the following:
  • Reopen as a charter school.
  • Replace all or most of the staff.
  • Contract with an outside entity to operate the school.
  • Turn over operation of the school to the state.
  • Institute other significant governance and staffing changes likely to improve the school.
In all states, districts must continue to offer the transfer option and supplemental educational services.

Fordham Foundation's Michael Petrilli calls sanctions under Year 4 and Year 5 a loophole. Petrilli charges that districts are free to choose "any other major restructuring" and have opted for milder remedies that won't turn schools around. Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy agrees that most schools in California and Michigan are not doing radical things. According to Jennings, districts are "offering professional development, rethinking the curriculum, bringing coaches in, and trying to improve the school without wiping the slate clean," he said. Jennings also said that in Michigan, many schools improved their test scores by using a mix of strategies -- a good lesson for other states, he said.

Here's what's amazing to me: districts are allowed to make these choices. And, as Petrilli bemoans and as Jennings celebrates, the districts are not choosing to turn their schools over to the Huns.

I spoke to Jennings and confirmed this story. I asked him if this power given to local education associations was an oversight on the part of ED. According to some of his sources, the conversation regarding Year 4 and Year 5 sanctions was very intentional, i.e., it was consciously decided that local districts should have the final say over what happened to their schools if they hit Years 4 and 5 without AYP.

Upon reflection, this appears to me to be the second major compromise that was made while the law was being written. The other, of course, was over the use of vouchers after Year 2 without AYP: the Dems balked, and the Reps. gave in.

And upon even further reflection, this degree of local control would explain why so few suburban school administrators are up in arms over NCLB. If, at the end of the day, all they need to do is "restructure the internal organization of the school" in Year 4 and "institute other significant governance and staffing changes likely to improve the school" in Year 5, what do they have to worry about?

Jennings also mentioned that Year 6 and Year 7 are starting to get more attention. He referred to the legislation proposed last week by Alexander, et al, to give $4,000 in vouchers to poor kids. He speculated that this kind of thinking seems to characterize what a lot of folks are talking about, i.e., what happens when AYP does not lead to improvement?

Boehner Had the Solution Before Miller Manufactured the Problem

Roanoke Times, July 18:

The credentials of House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, as a reformer were suspect from the beginning.

But since Republicans elected him early this year to succeed the scandal- and indictment-tainted Tom DeLay in the No. 2 spot in the House, Boehner has gone out of his way to dispel any notion that he's interested in changing the corrupt business-as-usual in Congress.

As The New York Times reported last week, Boehner is raising more money from lobbyists than DeLay did when he first took over as majority leader. . . .

The Times reports today that New York, more vigilant than many states, has found deeper corruption than was first indicated in the for-profit diploma mill, Interboro Institute, "one of the largest, fastest-growing profit-making colleges in New York State in recent years."

What does Interboro's corruption have to do with Congressman Boehner? Nothing, except that Boehner was responsible for pushing through Congress laws to favor for-profit and online colleges, i. e., to allow them to exploit, through saturation advertising in places like subways, low-income students who qualify for federal Pell Grants and subsidized loans through private lenders, money that is then signed over to outfits like Interboro when these ill-prepared students enroll.

So while Charles Miller and John Boehner beat their chests about the need for increased accountability and greater access for minorities in the university , keep in mind that the accountability they demand does not extend to the corrupt lenders and the for-profit diploma mills that are set up to drain federal education funds from those programs intended to help the same minorities that these corporate socialists purport to care about by lending them federal education dollars that their cronies and contributors then take back in exchange for a worthless piece of paper.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Bush Speech to NAACP Cuts 100 Years from Slavery Period

In April Bush was in Tuskeegee, Alabama pumping his American Competiveness Initiative by playing up technical education and downplaying the importance of history and the humanities. He said, in fact, that in the brave new black working world he envisions, "history might not cut it." I guess it is easier to get beyond your past if your forefathers did not suffer under 200 years of slavery statutes that go all the way back to the 1660s. Of course, these statutes codified a practice that had been been going on since the first white men came ashore here.

One of more intriguing Slave Codes was enacted in Virginia in 1667, and it was intended to settle a troubling moral question of whether or not a slave that had been baptized and Christianized could continue to be held as private property. From the Wikipedia:
Virginia, 1667 - “Act III. Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children that are slaves by birth [...] should by virtue of their baptism be made free, it is enacted that baptism does not alter the condition to the person as to his bondage or freedom; masters freed from this doubt may more carefully propagate Christianity by permitting slaves to be admitted to that sacrament.”

If the Courts had decided otherwise, one must wonder if Christianity would have survived at all in the New World's new economy based on slave labor. This history is, of course, the dangerous kind that Bush and Falwell and Lynne Cheney want to keep out of high school and university courses--the exact kind that "might not cut it."

Apparently, the President or his Brain has decided that downplaying history, in the best traditions of Booker T. Washington, is not enough, but, rather, the facts need to be changed regarding the period of legal slavery on our shores. A hundred years was, therefore, subtracted from that legalized period of slavery while Bush delivered his historic speech to the descendents of slaves at the NAACP Convention:
Slavery was legal for nearly a hundred years and discrimination legal in many places for nearly 100 years more. Taken together, the record placed a stain on America's founding, a stain that we have not yet wiped clean.
Or was it all just an innocent mistake by sloppy fact checking? Are the White House fact checkers, in fact, the same ones interning from Patrick Henry College, the tiny Christian college of 300 students that has filled roughly as many White House intern slots during the past six years as Georgetown U?

Oh, yes, the motto of Patrick Henry: "For Christ and Liberty."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Joe Blow Talks to Mr. Blister: Vouchers

Joe Blow: Didja hear this one? The government wants to give poor kids $4,000 to go to a private school. Heck, that sounds wunnerful!

Mr. Blister: Just try to find a good private school for $4,000 a year. Good luck.

Joe Blow: But my good buddies at Cato Institute tell me that "Education Department figures show that the average private elementary school tuition in America is less than $2,500. The average tuition for all private schools, elementary and secondary, is $3,116, or less than half of the cost per pupil in the average public school, $6,857." So there!

Mr. Blister: Your Cato buddies are hitting the sauce again. The Education Department also has figures that show that the "largest system of private schools in the United States is operated by the Roman Catholic Church and includes 8,351 schools in 1993-94, serving 2,516,000 students."

Joe Blow: You got a problem with Catholic schools?

Mr. Blister: Not at all. But I do got a problem with public funds being given to religious institutions. There's that Constitution thing. First amendment. You've heard of it? The Education Department revealed that "(m)ost parochial school principals reported that their schools most important education goal was religious development."

Joe Blow: But if these private religious schools do a better job than the public schools, maybe it's time we edited that there Constitution.

Mr. Blister: Well, that same pesky Education Department just released a study that showed that students attending public schools generally did as well as or better than comparable students in private schools.

Joe Blow: Is that so?

Mr. Blister: Yup.

Joe Blow: Well I'll be . . .

Mr. Blister: Kinda makes you wonder about why people would back something that is so wildly at odds with the facts. $4,000 would allow a poor family to send their kids to a religious school, where their children would be given a Christian education focused on religious development at tax-payer expense, including tax-payers who happen to be Jewish, Muslim, atheists, etc. There's no reason at all to suspect that the education these kids got at these religious schools would be any better than what they were getting before at a public school. Of course, we'd never know that because private schools are not accountable under NCLB. So the $4,000 invested in these kids would be more like a prayer and less like a public policy designed to close the achievement gap. But, given that these kids would be attending religious schools, I suppose praying for achievement is appropriate.

Voucher Card Turns Out to Be the Deuce of Clubs

Yesterday's editorial, "The Voucher Card Again," from the Nashville Tennessean pretty much nails it:
For all the attention at the federal level toward improving public schools through the No Child Left Behind law, Republicans insist on the odd twist of proposing vouchers to send children to private schools.

Congressional Republicans, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, have unveiled a $100 million proposal to give vouchers to poor children to leave struggling public schools. The plan would give parents $4,000 per year to put toward private school tuition or a public school outside their district, with the availability of up to $3,000 for extra tutoring.

So, after so much focus on creating accountability in public schools, lawmakers would readily be willing to punt on public schools and plunge public money into private education. The premise seems to be that if you give children from poor families funds to put into private schools that the students' performance would somehow suddenly be much better in the private realm. But it must have been embarrassing for Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who appeared with lawmakers to show support for the plan, that a new study from the Education Department shows that public school students frequently did just as well, or even better, than their counterparts in private schools who had similar backgrounds. Spellings attempted to downplay the results, even saying she knew little about the report. But it was issued from her own department. She said there should be improvement in the way such reports are released.

The bottom line is that the crowd that paints itself as deeply concerned about public schools still wants to have students leave public schools. It makes no sense.

Every dollar of those vouchers that would go into private schools is a dollar that could go toward public education, which the federal government says it wants to improve. Shifting funds does not improve public education. A firm commitment to public schools is what will help public schools.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Flat Worlds, Pointed Heads, and the Conservative Dreams of the Higher Ed Commission

If you thought it scary to contemplate a massive database of personal, financial, and academic records in the hands of corporate socialists like Charles Miller, contemplate the other primary mission of the Spellings Commission to Meddle in Higher Ed. The assimilated drones at National Review are enthused that the Commission Report may finally signal the beginning of national knowledge standards in all university programs, which, of course, will be justified by the need for universal accountability and universal accreditation that would be controlled by the same group of economic elites and educational Neanderthals that inspired this mess to begin with. Try this from NRO:
Toward a Debate on Disciplinary Standards [Candace de Russy 07/21 12:00 PM] The proposition that standards could be defined in all the academic disciplines (in the humanities and social sciences as well as in mathematics and science) is fraught with such potential conflict (notably between defenders of traditional knowledge and multiculturalists) that few have cared to raise the issue. Thus, advocates of higher-education testing in the interest of accountability tend to focus mainly on assessing only students’ writing, mathematical, and critical skills acumen or “soft skills,” such as how well students work in groups (and even these proposals raise the ire of educrats).

Yet this is a debate whose time has perhaps come, especially in view of the ongoing higher education review by the Secretary of Education’s commission and a report from the Educational Testing Service that proposes assessing students’ general skills and proficiencies within their disciplines. (See "Amid Debate Over Spellings Commission Report, Testing Group Proposes National Accountability System," The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 20.) Is it impossible to set standards in all the disciplines? A passage from another Chronicle article ("A Look at Clinical Doctorates" by William L. Siler and Diane Smith Randolph, July 21) suggests that with the will there could be a way . . .
Sound like America rushing toward the Chinese Education Model? We are quickly reaching toward to point of worldwide educational, and thus, political convergence, where "capitalistic" education looks no different from "communistic" education. The common denominator is the desire for economic hegemony and the control of world resources, with the obsession for control of information trumping the goal for generation of new knowledge. The conflation of these two distinct ends is clearly the recipe for a Dark Age like the world has not seen.

A flat world is a world where entropy has prevailed.

Jimmy Kilpatrick, Reading "Expert," Goes Katyusha

(Photo from Jimmy Kilpatrick's consulting Page, Ideal Lives). Day before yesterday a colleague sent me a note that this post from March had somehow made Jimmy Kilpatrick’s Newsletter:
Just Saying No
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Did you know that schools can't require your students to drink the Kool-Aid? In fact, if parents, teachers, and students across the country did what hundreds of thousands of brave Latino students did this week in temporarily escaping their chain gang schools for a breath of free air, NCLB's bubble would pop, too.
I clicked over and, sure enough, there it was—but without my name or the blog name. I thought I would ask EducationNews.org to add the blog name, so I clicked on the Contact Info, got Jimmy’s number, and rang him up. He answered, I told him why I was calling, and he began to ask me questions about buying ads for SM. I told him that we were planning soon to move over to our own domain under the org. banner, where we would have more space and better organization to fight the ongoing battle against the Huns, the Borg, etc. Ha, ha.

Little did I know that Kilpatrick was one of “them,” but it soon became apparent as our fast-moving repartee shifted from issue to issue, showing that we had much more out of common than in. The more we talked, the more it became apparent that Kilpatrick was unaccustomed to discussing issues with people who do not agree with him. By the time we moved past some odd talk about firing squads and former Texas education commissioners, and got to the subject of reading and literacy, it was obvious that Jimmy wasn’t appreciating my humor. When I said that phonemic awareness has more to do with a lack of authenticity (as in “phony”) than it does “awareness,” he gurgled, "It is because of motherf**kers like you that education is in such a mess."

Then he slammed down the phone, and within a period of minutes, he had scrubbed his Commentary Section of any link to Schools Matter. Oh, well.

How did I know that Kilpatrick was an authority on reading, having been identified by none other than Uncle Rod Paige as “one the most knowledgeable people on reading within the State of Texas?” How did I know he had advised former Texas governor, G. W. Bush on the subject of reading? And what makes it all the more impressive and amazing is that Mr. Kilpatrick accomplished all this without the high-sounding advanced degrees and credentials that one sometimes associates with such expertise. After talking with Jimmy, in fact, I would not be surprised if high-sounding degrees and such might even make Jimmy want to f**king puke? Or something like that that his kind do down there beneath that big rock--in Texas.

Holes in the Tent at Sister Spellings' Voucher Revival

As we get a few days distant from Spellings' announced voucher revival plan, it is even more amazing that voucher neutralizing report, Comparing Private Schools and Public Schools . . ., ever got out the door at ED, even if it did slip out on a Friday afternoon. Could it be that there are some at ED, who, by slipping the report past the attention of Her Clueless, Spellings, did actually demonstrate that some in the Department believe the public schools should be preserved and strengthened, rather than being crushed?

After all, it's worth remembering that there were many inside the CIA screaming about the fraudulent Niger uranium story, even though the lie did get shoved into the State of the Union by Cheney's thugs. Could the voucher annoucement be just another case of the truth be damned, full ideological steam ahead?

Yesterday's Roanoke Times had this story, "School Voucher Fans Forgot Their Homework," which includes an apt reminder of the Katrina-esque type of "rescue" that Mom Spellings has in mind for the poor school children:

Not that $4,000 would go very far anyway. Private school tuition has skyrocketed in recent years. North Cross School in Roanoke, for example, charges $8,450 to $10,625 per academic year depending on grade. Scholarships are available from the school, but many moderate- to- low income families would remain hard pressed to afford it even with a scholarship and a voucher.

If Washington has $100 million to boost education, there are better uses than directing it toward private schools with minimal accountability and no discernible advantage over public ones. Improve the socio-economic conditions that are the real contributors to academic success or put it into the public schools that serve all students.

Such occasional honest newspaper pieces cannot compare, however, to the conservative sludge tanks, who are geared up to pump tons of smelly propaganda proclaiming "opportunity scholarships" for the poor, the poor who are only seen by the writers of this propagauda either leaf-blowing their lawns or being loaded into police vans on the local news. By the way, these faux news stories never mention a Comparing Private Schools and Public Schools . . . , the inconvenient scientifically-based research that seriously undermines their attacks on public schools.

Today's entries in the propaganda war come from Focus on the Family and The Heritage Foundation, respectively: Congress Considers National School-Choice Program and At-Risk Students Now Have a Lifeline.

Call your Congressman's office today to remind her that you believe in stronger public schools for all children, rather than substandard private ones for the poor at public expense.

Or counter the propaganda directly--write a letter to your local newspaper in support of stronger public schools and stronger communities with less poverty.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Consumption of Citizens and the Clearance Sale of Democracy

Last week California reported that for the first time ever, over half of the children in the State's public schools qualify for federally subsidized school meals. Over half.

Since 2000, the number of Americans living in poverty (below $20k for a family of 4) has increased from 31.6 million to 37 million.

Numbers from the National Center for Children in Poverty for 2004 show 18% of America's children living in poverty and 40% living in low-income families (below 40K for a family of 4).

Since being trotted out last September under the Musco Lights in an otherwise darkened New Orleans, the subject of poverty has once again been erased from the White House script, replaced by fear, anger, war, self-righteousness, and the smugness for boosting an ownership society that fewer and fewer can any longer afford.

Instead of helping the poor, this Norquist-inspired White House has carried out a concerted campaign to loot the Federal treasury by dumping it into the laps of corporate campaign givers and insider cronies, while squeezing off the tap to programs to help the poor survive the economic boom that they might read about.

All of this is happening in the presence of an incontrovertible educational reality: as goes gaps in family incomes, so goes the achievement gap. As the economic gaps grow wider, so, too, do the academic achievement divides. So with AYP guaranteed to go down as poverty increases, the demand for increased AYP goes up as we all march heedlessly toward the 2014 educational gas chamber. And yet any day of the week, you can read this kind of lead to a "shocking news" story like this one that appeared today in the Ironwood Daily Globe:

John Lupino pointed out a startling piece of information to the Hurley School Board Monday evening.

The school district's guidance counselor noted by the 2013-14 school year, the federal No Child Left Behind Act will require the school district to be 100 percent proficient or advanced in all testing categories.

It took the guidance counselor to point this out to the Board? Helloooooo.

When the conservative agenda has reached its zenith, citizenship will have been reduced or elevated to purchasing power, and those without the resources to buy will no longer be represented, just as those with the resources will find nothing to block their purchase to power. This is the great shame that even conservatives secretly acknowledge and publicly deny, and it is the sad reason that the President does not talk about poverty any more than he talks about the fates of Ken Lay or Jack Abramoff. In the meantime, the great clearance sale of democratic institutions enters a new fiscal year.

Wonder what he will talk about today when he appears for the first time at the NAACP Convention? More on the ownership society, or his plan to put black children into inferior chain gang church schools at public expense?

Update: 2:05 PM:
From Think Progress on Bush's speech to the NAACP:

President Bush addressed the NAACP today for the first time in his presidency. Speaking on behalf of his friend, multi-millionaire conservative BET founder Bob Johnson, Bush used the opportunity to promote the repeal of the estate tax on the ultra-rich:

One of my friends is Bob Johnson, founder of BET. He’s an interesting man. He believes strongly in ownership. He has been a successful owner. He believes strongly, for example, that the death tax will prevent future African-American entrepreneurs from being able to pass their assets from one generation to the next. He and I also understand that the investor class shouldn’t be just confined to the old definition of the investor class.

President Bush’s “death tax” pitch demonstrates his stunning disconnect from the African-American community. According to an American Progress analysis, just 59 African-Americans will pay the estate tax this year, and that number will drop to 33 in 2009.

Meanwhile, as of 2004, 24.7 percent of African-Americans lived under the poverty line (up from 22.7 in 2001) — that’s more than 9 million people. The number of times Bush mentioned “poverty” in his speech: 0.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Political Blogs Join Discussion on Spellings' Voucher Crusade

Not much new here, but it is good to see education privatization finally making the big political blogs. Here is Peter Laarman's entertaining take on the Voucher Crusade--from Huffington Post:
GOP “Values Agenda”- Schools Division

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings marched up to the Hill yesterday to show her support for a new $100 million dollop of school vouchers that Republicans say will “deliver” low-income students from failing public schools and allow the victims to attend private and religious schools of their choice.

From the Egypt of the public schoolroom, run by those oppressive union bosses, to the Promised Land of the church-affiliated school, run by compassionate soul-savers. That’s the image they want to sell, these country club Republican friends of poor kids of color. School choice, as part of the GOP’s “Values Agenda,” is quite deliberately framed in biblical terms to appeal to both the white “values base” of the party and to anguished African-American parents whose children may be doing poorly in school whether or not the school itself is underperforming.

There are just three things wrong with the deliverance picture. First, the real goal of school privatization is the deliverance of middle-class and even upper middle-class families—families that can already afford private school education but that would appreciate an extra subsidy along the way. The plight of poor inner-city kids is simply placed in front of this agenda as window dressing, to give moral cover for an immoral private raid on public resources.

Second, the poor kids aren’t going to get delivered, because to get the kind of help they really need the vouchers would have to be worth a lot more than they are and would have to be scaled to family resources. As it is, the best they will be able to do—assuming their parents or guardians even choose this option (“choice” being a kind of middle-class thing)—is some kind of church-centered alternative school, probably semi-militarized and quite possibly run by people who are barely educated themselves.

Third, there’s no evidence that the public schools are actually “failing” as their conservative critics never tire of chanting. It turns out that public school “failure” is the biggest urban myth of all. In a report it tried to bury by releasing late last Friday, the Education Department compared the test scores of fourth and eighth graders at public and private schools; adjusting for racial, economic, and family backgrounds, this in-depth study found that public school students did as well or better than those in private schools.

Asked about this yesterday, school-marm-in-chief Spellings said she hadn’t read the report her own department had produced. (Had she forgotten that reading is fundamental??) She called the report “inconclusive” and said that it relied on a small sample, even though it actually involved hundreds of thousands of students. In other words, don’t confuse me with the facts—I’m here to talk about deliverance from those failing public schools!!

Oh, and there’s one more thing about the privatization agenda that we just maybe ought to worry about. Last year the government doled out more than $2.1 billion to religious service providers under Bush’s “faith-based initiatives” program. According to a GAO report released yesterday, the Education Department was one of four major federal agencies that declined to check on whether faith-based grant recipients discriminate against program participants based on religious affiliation. The four big agencies maintained that it would be unduly burdensome for faith-based organizations to be “singled out” for special scrutiny on this point.

In other words, who cares if religious schools proselytize on the public tab?? We’re delivering these kids from those oppressive public schools!! Uh-hunh. And now, let us pray.

Voucher Plan: "Day of Reckoning is Coming"

All that was missing yesterday from Spellings' executioner's regalia was the black hood (photo from USA Today). Although some see this national voucher move as a sop to the 3 Rs who make up Bush's core constituency (the Rich, the Redneck and the Far Right), this plan is a logical conclusion to where NCLB began, as an effort to use public money to fund private and religious K-12 education.

A little history is in order. Patience, please. In April of 2001, Congressional negotiations on the education omnibus bill that would become NCLB were ongoing. Testing requirements for grades 3-8 had been written into the bill, as had an unspecific promise of sanctions if schools did not achieve "adequate yearly progress." Senate staffer, Mark Powden, however, was troubled:

Powden, an 18-year Hill veteran, doubted the plan's ability to gauge schools' performance correctly--the linchpin of the Bush plan. So, as an experiment, he applied the Bush model retroactively to test scores in Connecticut, North Carolina, and Texas, three states that had improved their scores significantly in recent years. He discovered that the vast majority of the states' schools--schools with established track records in raising student achievement--would be labeled failures under the Bush system. When Powden presented his findings to White House officials and his fellow Senate staffers at a late-night meeting at the Dirksen Senate Office Building "there was stunned silence," recalls a participant. Powden, they realized, had just turned the cornerstone of their school reform package into dust.

White House education advisor Sandy Kress, the testing plan's author, scrambled to draft a new plan that the Senate passed in June. But independent testing experts who had read the plan's fine print pointed out that the new plan was no less flawed than the original. Kress himself would later call the new plan "Rube Goldbergesque." (Toch)
During or shortly after the "stunned silence" episode, the White House decided to drop their insistence on a voucher program for NCLB. By May the voucher requirement had been eliminated, Kennedy and Miller were celebrating, and the conservatives in Congress were apoplectic. What Powden had inadvertently done with his examination of the Bush Model was provide a way to more effectively demonstrate the need for universal vouchers through the authorized and guaranteed failure of the public schools. Bush could paint himself as the great compromiser, and ignorant Democrats could be herded into what would amount to a Congressional gas chamber that would seal the fate of public school supporters. Here is an account from the May 28, 2001 National Review:
The White House has made clear that the compromise bill is now the president's plan, so the bipartisan House bill and Kennedy's companion proposal in the Senate represent what the final legislation will include. Sandy Kress has been closely monitoring the reform compromises, and predicts, "We're going to get a bill which is very, very close to what the president wants."What the administration really wanted was bipartisanship, at whatever cost; as a frustrated Bob Schaffer explains, "The Republicans want a political win, and the Democrats want a policy win." And polls tell the GOP that its new bipartisan reform vehicle is a political winner: Three polls in April found Republicans outperforming Democrats on the education issue.

Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell predicts that the majority of Republicans will ultimately support whatever bill the president endorses because Bush "has taken us [from] a 20-point deficit on education . . . to a point in which we lead on education."

But one conservative strategist wonders why the White House is so eager for bipartisanship, when it now appears that Democrats are in need of remedial help with the public on the education issue.

"If the Democrats had a big advantage on defense issues, the last thing they would do is reach out for a compromise with Republicans," the strategist explains. (O'Beirne, 2001)

What Finn and Rove and Bennett and Kress knew, of course, is that they were in the boat, strapped in, and holding the rig, just waiting for the dumb Democrats to run with the bait, the hook, and the sinker they had just swallowed. Looking back at Paige's words as he pleaded with conservatives on the day before the May vote to strip vouchers from NCLB, we should have all known:
The day before the vote, Education Secretary Rod Paige urged conservative Republicans not to bottle up the bill in a dispute over vouchers.Paige said Bush and the administration are "clearly, unequivocally, forcefully for private school choice" but added that Democratic opposition was too strong for the GOP to prevail.Some House Republicans were furious over the White House's retreat ("Congress Votes to Reject," 2001, p. 15) .
Yes, yes--those strong, stand-up, and brilliant Democrats.


Congress Votes to Reject Religious School Voucher Proposals. (2001, July). Church & State, 54, 15. Retrieved July 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000097813

O'Beirne, K. (2001, May 28). Weak Non-Reformer: W. Caves on Education. National Review, 53,. Retrieved July 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5002396555

Toch, T. (2001, November). Bush's Big Test: The President's Education Bill Is a Disaster in the Making. Here's How He Can Fix It. Washington Monthly, 33, 12+. Retrieved July 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000917744

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Spellings Announces Nationwide Voucher Plan

Now we know what Spellings was doing this past weekend as the new research study emerged from the bowels of ED showing that, when poverty is taken into account, public school students do as well on tests as private school students. She was, in fact, planning a big event to announce the introduction of a piece of ED-crafted legislation that will introduced by Senate lapdogs, Alexander and Ensign, to initiate a nationwide voucher program. One can only be stunned by the audacity of these crusading privatizers, now no longer hiding behind the guise of seeking to improve public schools. Well, not quite guise-less. You see, the $100,000,000 offered by ED in 2007 is intended to offer vouchers only until the blacklisted public schools can be improved. Right. Of course, as NCLB guarantees a ever-increasing supply each year of more failing schools, we can assume this restructuring is going to take a long, long time.

Are there any remaining skeptics about this Administration's true intent? Now will Americans get motivated to save their schools? In case there are some remaining skeptics, here is the release from ED:

Secretary Spellings today made the following statement on the introduction of America's Opportunity Scholarships for Kids legislation:

Year after year, some schools fail to live up to the important standards that ensure our students get the education they deserve. President Bush and I believe that families in communities where schools fall short deserve choices when it comes to their children's education.

Today, we are one step closer to ensuring that parents can make choices that strengthen their children's future and give them a great start in life, regardless of their resources or the communities they live in. The President's America's Opportunity Scholarships program will help low-income students in under-performing schools transfer to the private school of their choice or sign up for intensive tutoring after school or during the summer.

We've already seen the power of choice in Washington, DC, when we launched the first federally funded opportunity scholarship program. With this new legislation, we will spread that success to communities across the country and give parents all over America the ability to make wise choices for their children's education.

I want to thank Senators Alexander and Ensign and Chairman McKeon and Congressman Johnson for introducing legislation today to enact a program that will benefit children and families all over America.

Here is the response from People for the American Way.

By the way, who do you think is lying here about the invisible study from this past weekend, Spellings or Grover?"

She [Spellings] said she had learned of the study — put out by a branch of the Education Department — only through the newspapers on Saturday and had not read it. She said that the Education Department had not tried to bury the report, as a teachers union leader had charged, by releasing it on a summer Friday. “My philosophy on reports out of the Department of Education is that we shouldn’t do it on a Friday,” she said.

Grover J. Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the Education Department, said that the secretary’s office had received the report for review two weeks before its release.

Kozol's Education Action

From Jonathan Kozol, via Monty Neill at ARN. See Rich Gibson's response here.

An Update, Bulletin, and Manifesto to the Education Activists who have asked me: Where do we go next?
June 16, 2006

This is to report that, at long last, the network of activists in education that I've been assembling from the thousands of teachers and advocates for children who turned out for massive rallies while I was on that grueling six-month book-tour for The Shame of the Nation as well as the many local groups of teachers organized to fight racism and inequality and the murderous impact of the NCLB legislation is now up and running.

We're using the name Education Action and will soon set up a website but, for now, I hope that you'll feel free to contact us at our e-mail,

By the start of August, we'll be operating out of a house we've purchased for this purpose (16 Lowell St, Cambridge, MA 02138) in which we hope to gather groups of teachers, activists, especially the leaders of these groups, for strategy sessions in which we can link our efforts with the goal of mobilizing educators to resist the testing mania and directly challenge Congress, possibly by a march on Washington, at the time when NCLB comes up for reauthorization in 2007.

We are already in contact with our close friends at Rethinking Schools, with dozens of local action groups like Teachers for Social Justice in San Francisco, with dynamic African-American religious groups that share our goals, with activist white denominations, and with some of the NEA and AFT affiliates in particular, the activist caucuses within both unions such as those in Oakland, Miami, and Los Angeles. But we want to extend these contacts rapidly in order to create what one of our friends who is the leader of a major union local calls a massive wave of noncompliance?

My close co-worker, Nayad Abrahamian, who is based in Cambridge, will be the contact person for this mobilizing effort, along with Rachel Becker, Erin Osborne, and a group of other activists and educators who are determined that we turn the growing, but too often muted and frustrated discontent with NCLB and the racist policies and privatizing forces that are threatening the very soul of public education into a series of national actions that are explicitly political in the same tradition as the civil rights upheavals of the early 1960s.

We want to pull in youth affiliates as well and are working with high school kids and countless college groups that are burning with a sense of shame and indignation at the stupid and destructive education policies of state and federal autocrats. We want the passionate voices of these young folks to be heard. College students tell us they are tired of so many feel-good conferences where everyone wrings their hands about injustice but offers them nothing more than risk-free service projects? that cannot affect the sources of injustice. They've asked us for a mobilizing focus that can unify their isolated efforts. We are writing to you now to ask for your suggestions as to how we ought to give a realistic answer to these students.

IMPORTANT: When I say we're 'up and running,' I mean that Education Action, as a framework and an organizing structure for our efforts, is in place. I do not mean that our goals and strategies are set in stone. We are still wide-open to proposals from you, and other organizational leaders we're in touch with, to rethink our plans according to your own experience and judgment. We'd also like to broaden our initial organizing structure by asking if you'll serve, to the degree that's possible for you, as part of our national board of organizers and advisors. We don't want to duplicate the efforts strong groups are already making. And the last thing on our minds is to compete with any group already in existence.? (Political struggles ever since the 1960s have been plagued with problems based on turf mentality. We want to be certain to avoid this.)

Tell us how you feel about our plans and how you think they ought to be expanded or improved. How closely can we link our efforts with your own? Do you believe that NCLB can be stopped, or at least dramatically contested, by the methods we propose?

Let us hear from you! We want to be in touch.

In the struggle,
Jonathan Kozol for Education Action