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

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Lie That Ate the Department of Education

Friday afternoon is when the Bush White House chooses most often to make announcements they want no one to notice. Thus, Friday has become the most important news day of the week for getting a smidgin of the political truth that is held in abeyance during the time most people are paying attention. As folks streamed to the beach this past Friday, some real political truth was whispered out in the form of a stringently-peer-reviewed research report that reads like a stats text but whose meaning and implications provide a kick in the gut of the education privatizers, particularly of those who see church school indoctrination as the present-day solution for what former generations of American philanthropes called the “Negro problem.”

Some have noted a lack of fanfare in ED’s response to the New York Times story. Fanfare? How about panfare! Jerry Bracey has suggested that, compared to other reports such as recent NAEP reports, there seems to have been performed an intentional technicizing of this report in order to make it less comprehensible to those outside the psychometric bubble. From Bracey:
"The results of the variance decomposition enhance the understanding of the likely sources of heterogeneity in student achievement and, consequently, of the context in which the HLM analyses take place. A comparison of the variance between schools for models b and c indicates that schools (in general) differ widely in measured characteristics of studentsthat are associated with reading achievement. Specifically, when an adjustment is made for those characteristics, the heterogeneity among school means is reduced by almost two thirds." p. 13.

Translation: Schools with lots of poor, minority and English language learning students don't do well and when you adjust for that the private school advantage goes poof.

Of course, it's important to keep in mind that the public schools DO have those kids and you can't make them go poof. You have to figure ways to get through to them.
Why is Sec. Spellings and her minions so silent on these important findings that they can only wish media outlets like the NY Times had ignored the same way that did Ben Feller and the other trained seals did at the AP and WaPo and any number of other media outlets, print and non-print? Simple. If the American people learn that ED’s privatization scheme is based on providing educational alternatives that are no better or worse than the public schools they wish to shut down, then their plan, with all its wasteful, punishing, and denigrating detail, will crumble like a house of cards. The cons' mantra of “more school choice” will be exposed for what it is, an ideologically-driven and undemocratic ruse to cut up and sell the only remaining American institution that offers even the possibility of keeping alive Dewey’s dream of an educated, inclusive democratic republic.

Real school choice, yes. Bring it on. I think public school choice is a grand idea. As Larry Cuban has said, our experience with Coalition Schools and Core Knowledge Schools in the same public school system shows that both can produce solid academic gains as measured by tests— and that there is no “one best system” that fits all needs. More importantly, the continuum of progressive-to-traditional choices gives students and parents real curricular choices rather than choices as to which non-public entity gets paid the public dollars provided by taxpayers.

This Administration’s disparaging attitude toward public schools is no secret, and their well-funded policy decisions reflect hundreds of millions of dollars to support privatization ventures. One need look no further than ED’s website, itself, to find ample evidence of where their loyalties lie—and have lain since this crew of hacks and crooks came to Washington. In 2002, Paige celebrated the 5-4 SCOTUS decision in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that allowed for publicly-funded church school vouchers in Cleveland. ED issued a press release when the decision came down that, in fact, states that Zelman was “perhaps the most important education decision since Brown v. Board of Education.”

In 2000, 96% of the Cleveland vouchers went to religiously-affiliated schools, and 60% of the participants were at or below the poverty line. With church schools seen as the current day solution to bad urban schools by many privatization advocates, one may wonder if this new report showing that the church schools occupy the bottom rung of the test score Hell would at all affect Paige’s sensitivity to “civil rights” issues and his enthusiasm for sending poor black children into worse schools than they are now attending.

ED issued another press release that same day on June 27, 2002 entitled “Federal Government History of Support To Private and Religious Groups: Expanded Educational Opportunities For Americans.” This “history” offers references to the cases that ED lawyers can cite in support of weakening the boundary between Church and State. We can see, too, in this press release that the implicit argument is floated that Pell Grants that are used to fund attendance to private colleges can be seen as an equivalent justification for school vouchers in K-12. Isn’t a school voucher just another kind of grant?
School choice for college students is one reason that this country's higher education system is the envy of the world. Pell Grants are an example of the federal government enabling school choice for millions of Americans. Students can use their Pell Grants or student loans to attend public, private, or religious schools. The college student gets to choose. And the G.I. Bill has long been a source of strength, rewarding veterans with federally supported higher education—at the schools of their choice.

Federal education laws already recognize that public funds can be used for private or religious institutions that serve the public interest in K through 12 education.
First, we must assume that the current demise of American higher education has advanced at a furious clip in the past 4 years, since the recent floating (and subsequent sinking) of the Miller Commission Draft finds nothing but bad ju ju emanating from the University. What happened to “being the envy of the world?”

The more important point to be made here is that a Pell Grant and a school voucher are very different. When a Pell Grant is given to a college applicant to attend a St. Johns University, the amount of that grant is not subtracted from the budget of Queen’s College, or any other nearby public university. When a parent, however, is handed a school voucher to move from a public school to a private one, that 4 or 5 thousand dollars is subtracted from the school’s or the school system’s budget. Remember ADA?

Also, the Pell Grant is contingent upon St. Johns meeting necessary accreditation standards and providing some warranty as to the quality of the educational experience provided to students upon graduation. Neither is required before K-12 public money is handed over to parents to enroll their children in what may be a battered storefront remains of a Mr. Gatti’s where children are taught by semi-literate proselytizers teaching from Jerry Falwell’s “History as I Wish it Had Been Series.”

So take heart at these most recent evidence-based findings that indicate the jig is up for the privatizers inside and outside of ED. But be sure to read the newspapers carefully on Friday afternoon for brief glimpses of the truth that remains mostly unavailable during the weekly news cycles. Here is a list, by the way, from The Carpetbagger Report of some interesting announcements, all occurring on Friday:
* In 2004, Bush released documents relating to his National Guard service (or lack thereof) five times. In each instance, he waited until late on a Friday afternoon.

* When the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into the Valerie Plame scandal, the announcement came late on a Friday night.

* When Bush circumvented the Senate to appoint Bill Pryor and Charles Pickering to the federal bench, he waited for late-Friday afternoons.

* Bush agreed to testify before the 9/11 Commission, so long as Dick Cheney would be there by his side. He announced his intentions on a late-Friday afternoon.

* When Bush's Commerce Department announced that household incomes had declined for three years in a row and 1.7 million people had fallen into poverty, they released the data on a late-Friday afternoon. (It was the first time any administration had released the annual data on a Friday.)

* Many suspected that the Bush administration would eliminate requirements on the nation's dirtiest coal-fired power plants and refineries to make anti-pollution improvements as they upgrade facilities, but when the announcement finally came, it was released on a late-Friday afternoon.

* When the administration said it wanted to remove Clean Water Act protections from up to one-fifth of the nation's streams, ponds, lakes, mudflats, and wetlands, it said so late on a Friday afternoon.

* Bush fired Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey, and Army Secretary (and former Enron executive) Thomas White on late-Friday afternoons.

* When John Ashcroft's Justice Department had to tell administration officials to preserve papers related to Enron, they waited to issue the directive until late on a Friday afternoon.

* The White House announced its opposition to an investigation into Karl Rove's work with companies in which he held stock on a late-Friday afternoon.

* The Pentagon waited until shortly after the network news broadcasts had ended on a Friday afternoon to announce the results of its investigation into the mishandling of the Quran at Guantanamo Bay.

* Rumsfeld announced his intention to hide unseen Abu Ghraib photos on a Friday afternoon.

The Late-Friday-Media Trick has been around since before Bush took office, but no one has ever abused this practice like these guys.

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