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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Will Jim Davis's Position on FCAT Flunk Crist?

If Jim Davis comes from behind make up the difference on Charlie Crist in Florida's governor's race, it will be because he found an issue that resonates with parents who are fed up with testing hysteria that has taken over their state. Davis is quoted as saying that "I want to end the use of the FCAT as we know it."

At present, the race is too close to call. Here is the video link from CNN to the story: The politics of education.

Jay Mathews and the Convincing Mask of Stupidity

Jay Mathews has made a reputation and a fortune leveraging his signature bland stupidity for the Washington Post, a paper that would never stand for such levels of lazy ignorance if Mathews were covering any subject that mattered to the Editorial Board. If he displayed such disregard for facts an objectivity on, let's say, foreign policy reporting, he would more likely be working at the Washington (Moonie) Times, where faux news and flaky commentary are the order of the day.

As it is, Mathews represents the prevailing mainstream media's blathering, uninformed critique now crafted over the years to sell bad news on a story for which everyone already has expert opinions and no facts to support them--education.

The latest from Mathews once again takes on one of his favorite bogeymen, teacher education programs, which he or an unnamed expert chooses to characterize "as [teacher] hiring halls with a few textbooks." Is he referring to the same unnamed "educators" when he offers this critique of schools of education:
. . . a growing number of educators say ed schools fail to give teachers enough background in their subject matter, fail to prepare them for the difficulties of urban schools and fail to recruit the best students.
As to your first point, Jay, education schools do not teach courses in subject matter--that is done by the other schools of the university, and the amount of subject matter that is required for licensure is determined by each state, not by schools of education. To your second point, there is no preparation adequate to teachers who choose to serve in the poverty-riddled shells that we offer children in the inner cities who must dodge bullets on their way to and from school. As to your third point, recruitment opportunities are severely limited when teachers' starting salaries are grossly behind the majority of other professional career paths that require the same educational investment.

All in all, given the shallow levels of support combined with the unrealistic expectations and the insipid negative opinionating by dunces like Mathews, I am surprised that schools of education are doing as well as they are. Despite the prevailing idiocy in the media, we carry on. Of course, that is exactly what corporatizers like Mathews is resentful about to begin with.

Corrupt, Inefficient, and Oppressive Testing

From Mark Teeter, writing in the Moscow Times:
Using the Freedom of Information Act, test resisters this fall secured a copy of the chilling final page of a recent ETS exam:

Sect. IV. Reading Comprehension and Indoctrination.

Allotted time: 5 minutes.

It has been pointed out by certain biased observers that the confederation of states and principalities in early modern Europe commonly referred to as the Holy Roman Empire was in fact neither holy, Roman nor an empire -- and that a present-day U.S. educational testing institution, whose integrity, efficiency and patriotism are beyond question, allegedly offers a "historical parallel" or "analogy" to this phenomenon, since it does no educating at all, conducts no meaningful testing and performs no service.

1. People who make such unfounded and libelous assertions are probably:

a) terrorists;

b) never going to see their children score more than 350 on the verbal portion of this test;

c) likely to encounter unexpected problems with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service during Jeb Bush's first term as president;

d) all of the above.

Just kidding, of course. But the problems with standardized testing are all too real. Even granting that such testing was instituted with the best of intentions and equal-opportunity hopes, the fact is that the importance society invests in the results can make the tests an end in themselves. This is not good.

A test-beating industry grows up around the agency. States begin to pass truth-in-testing laws to make the agency's cryptic methodologies and imperfect scoring more transparent. And the agency itself becomes increasingly defensive about its ubiquity and influence on national life.

Nobody's very happy about the whole setup, but despite irregular spurts of remedial tinkering, no one can offer a significantly better way to do the large-scale sheep-from-goating that the education industry requires. Stalemate.

Most discouraging of all, perhaps, is that instead of identifying a student's academic strengths, weaknesses and potential, standardized tests very often serve as a reliable indicator of exactly one thing -- how well students take standardized tests. And this skill becomes more useful, of course, in a society which increasingly measures achievement and success by means of ... more standardized tests.

So my evaluation of this issue for my Russian colleagues is a resounding maybe. Standardized testing may prove a good thing here in the short term, at least as a change of pace. But beware of the future.

And what's the rush to get rid of the present system, anyway, when no one's even tried to bribe me yet?

Mark H. Teeter teaches Russian-U.S. relations and English in Moscow.

Monday, October 30, 2006

NCLB, Military Recruiters, and Yearbook Photos

When Lexie Welch and Sarah Ybarra found out they could opt out of the NCLB-mandated database that recruiters depend upon to freshen the supply of IED fodder for the roadsides of Iraq, they did not know that opting out would also mean that their names would be removed from yearbooks, honor rolls, and newspapers.

Now these brave young women are producing their own documentary on the subject, while they develop a strategy to get the policy changed in their hometown of Lawrence, Kansas. Here is clip from the story that carries the above photo:

Buried in the 670 pages of the federal No Child Left Behind law was a requirement that high schools provide lists of students’ names, telephone numbers and addresses to military recruiters.

Students can get off the list if they or their parents notify the school district in writing that they want to opt out.

But there’s a catch. Those who opt off the list find themselves also excluded from the lists provided to college and job recruiters. And opting out also means a student’s name cannot be published in yearbooks, honor rolls or newspapers.

Now, two Lawrence High School students are out to change that policy. They want students to be able to opt off the military’s list without being excluded from the other benefits of student life.

“It’s ‘all or nothing,’ and we don’t think that’s right,” said senior Lexie Welch, who, with junior Sarah Ybarra, is working to change the policy.

Diane Farrell Gets It!

(Click message to enlarge.)

A politician who will admit that NCLB is an effort to privatize education?

Indeed, a rare commodity and one that needs wholehearted support!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Classroom-Based Assessment: Let the Rebuilding Begin

Part of re-democratization of America that will begin after Tuesday of next week will occur in America's classrooms. Some neglected ideas will be called upon to put public schools back into the hands of the public and to begin to rebuild those bombed-out, yet essential, bridges between teachers, administrators, parents, and children. America's most courageous and committed educators will be called upon. One of them will be Doug Christensen, Commission of Education from Nebraska.

After rejection from ED last summer for its classroom-based, and teacher/administrator directed, assessment system, Christensen led thousands of educators in making their case to ED officials to re-consider. They won.

The Commissioner has a different take on what is required to return assessment to the classroom as a tool to help teachers become more effective teachers, rather than as a tool to mete out punishment and sanctions and privatization schemes. Christensen believes that we do not need to think outside the box; to do so preserves the box as something that must be worked around. He believes, rather, that we need a different box with different boundaries and different configurations, one that can be used in many contexts without ignoring that those contexts exist.

So as a beginning point to the re-building of America's schools around an idea whose time is about to come, here is part of Christensen's recent keynote speech (Word file) at the Second Annual Conference
Leadership for Classroom Assessment: Classroom Assessment: A "Brave New World":

. . . I have found that in schools where classroom-based assessment is led by teachers in collaboration with their administrators, that cultures develop where personal and professional renewal lives and thrives. I have found in schools with classroom-based assessment to be places where passion is back and it is welcomed. I have found that classroom-based assessment creates places where the passion is back and in these schools it is okay to be passionate about our work; our profession, our kids--all of our kids. And, I have found classroom-based assessment to create places where the professional spirits of educators can thrive and places where their hearts embrace each child and every child. Aren’t these the kinds of places where all of us would like to live and do our work?

I can tell you that even though I am considerably removed from the classroom directly, this work has impacted me as well. I have never been so enthusiastic about our work. I have never been so anxious to see it fully evolve into these new places and these new futures.

Let me give you a specific example. I have never been so proud of our Nebraska educators as I was this past April. We were hosting representatives from the U.S. Department of Education to get them to understand what we do here in Nebraska with our classroom assessment model. Assistant Secretary Henry Johnson and two other staff members were in Omaha meeting with key Nebraska leaders who have helped us develop our assessment system and to meet with educator-leaders from the Elkhorn, Papillion-LaVista and Plattsmouth schools.

For an evening and most of a full day, the USDE representatives listened and asked questions during presentations led by teachers. What the U.S. Department of Education learned while they were here was not only what we were doing in our schools to measure student learning and provide for accountability but what we are doing to build assessment literacy and leadership. Even more important, they also learned about passion, commitment, and professionalism. One of the representatives related to our staff that this was a “wow experience!”

I listened to our educators talk. They were nervous for the first minute or so, but soon they got into it. It was incredible how the conversations flowed as our educators explained what our work is about. I was proud of the expertise and confidence they clearly showed. What made me most proud was their passion. When educators combine expert knowledge with confidence and passion, the sky is truly the limit. The educators knew their stuff, they were confident in what they were doing and they were proud. So was I.

As I listened to our educators present their processes and share their expertise, I confirmed in my mind a long held belief that this would never happen in a system of centralized assessment and high stakes. It is my belief that in a centralized assessment system, there is little space for classroom assessment and if the system is also high stakes there is absolutely no space for classroom assessment because it will have little if any meaning as long as the rules of the game are defined by centralization, standardization and high stakes consequences.

As I sat there and watched our educators and listened to their words, I swear I could hear their hearts and it was all I could do to keep tears from rolling. What a profound and proud moment that was. This is one of these new places and there are others.

There are more new places that are now possible for us but would never have been possible had we opted for the world of state-level testing that is defined by centralization, standardization and high stakes. Standardized high-stakes testing creates cultures that literally suck the oxygen out of the work. There is no oxygen in high stakes testing, There is no place to live and grow let alone be alive and thrive. There is no place for the hearts and souls of educators let alone the hearts and souls of the students.

The culture of high stakes testing is toxic. It not only takes the oxygen out of the work, it also makes all the wrong things important, as if they are the right things. For example, high stakes testing treats students, teachers and data as “commodities” to be manipulated as variables in some kind of strange economy or in some perverse experiment. In addition, I believe high stakes testing freezes the current system in place treating current practice as if it is good practice and practice that should be continued even though the whole point of accountability is to improve the system where a lot of current practice does not work. High stakes testing standardizes the current schooling model assuming it can work for all students, in all settings and under all conditions and we know that it does not and we know that it cannot. High stakes testing prevents the very innovation we should be encouraging.

If what I have just described is not enough perversion, consider this. High stakes testing also creates conditions where the students who will get our attention are the ones most likely to improve, not the ones with the greatest needs or the ones with the greatest gaps between them and their peers. It is simply more economical and more efficient to pay attention to the kids who are closest to being proficient. These are the kids who will make average proficiency scores go up and help schools met AYP targets. The kids who are farthest from proficiency are likely not to get the help they need because it is going to take too much time, too much effort and there will be little gain. So much for leaving no child behind.

Whether intended or not and whether informed or not, the creation of policy that has made testing an accountability tool has wittingly or unwittingly made assessment a policy tool. Assessment is an instructional tool and to rob it from the toolbox and repertoire of teachers is to tie the hands of teachers behind their backs and attempt to control the classroom remotely. In addition, when assessment becomes a policy tool, it becomes a hammer and its primary purpose is to force compliance and to establish control by controlling what, how and when the system measures what it does.

Jonathon Kozal is blunter than I am when he states: “Tests used judiciously are instruments of guidance to good teachers. But tests . . . (that) are not instruments of decent change . . . are simply clubs with which to bludgeon . . .”

In the world in which I want to spend my professional life and in the world in which I would like my grandchildren to go to school is not one where “bludgeoning” would be part of culture. And, is it any wonder that high stakes testing simply steals the joy from this profession? Is this not a perverse and toxic place?

Classroom-based assessment is a different world than the high stakes, standardized assessment world and it is a world that I welcome. I hope you welcome it as well. A world in which classroom-based assessment operates is a world with a culture in which I want to work. It is a world with a culture that I want our children to go to school.

Why is a culture created by classroom-based assessment so different? There are many reasons. First, classroom-based assessment recognizes that teaching and learning is the “core” of what “school” is all about. Second, classroom-based assessment places the classroom at the center of the school and places it at the center of the work of school. Third, classroom-based assessment recognizes that the work of school and the work in the classroom are about kids and their learning. Fourth, classroom-based assessment recognizes that the work is about all kids and there are no victories in inequality. And fifth, classroom-based assessment embraces the spirit and disposition of educators recognizing that the challenging work of being an educator where the agenda is equity must include a culture that will evoke not only their best efforts but will evoke their spirit, their will and their dispositions. . .
Christensen for next Secretary of Education? Someone who actually knows something about education? You be the decider of that. Please.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Corporate Art of Darkness

While the Business Roundtable and the education privatizers hold children accountable for the poverty they have no control over, they are busy as bees working to use their White House before 2008 to permanently protect themselves against public scrutiny and accountability. From the Times:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 — Frustrated with laws and regulations that have made companies and accounting firms more open to lawsuits from investors and the government, corporate America — with the encouragement of the Bush administration — is preparing to fight back.

Now that corruption cases like Enron and WorldCom are falling out of the news, two influential industry groups with close ties to administration officials are hoping to swing the regulatory pendulum in the opposite direction. The groups are drafting proposals to provide broad new protections to corporations and accounting firms from criminal cases brought by federal and state prosecutors as well as a stronger shield against civil lawsuits from investors.

Although the details are still being worked out, the groups’ proposals aim to limit the liability of accounting firms for the work they do on behalf of clients, to force prosecutors to target individual wrongdoers rather than entire companies, and to scale back shareholder lawsuits. . .

Support Our Schools--Bring Them Home

Most of the talk among clueless Democratic politicians regarding NCLB's war on public schools is about "full funding and fine-tuning." Either or both are mistakes. Full funding would be like adding addtitional troops to kill more citizens in a country that rejects them, and fine-tuning would be equivalent to designing new Iraqi benchmarks that simply make invisible the miserable failure of the entire war policy. In short, staying the course or adapting and changing are as likely to make NCLB successful as they are in saving from disaster the foolish and reckless war crime going on in Iraq.

A group of educators and activists inspired by Marion Brady and Phil Kovacs are beginning a project called Educator Roundtable. Their focus will be on providing a platform for multiple groups and individuals to coordinate efforts to end NCLB. Bookmark http://www.educatorroundtable.org./ and check in often to see what is going on with this effort.

One of the first actions will be to collect 10,000 signatures in support of NCLB repeal. I would like to see a million, done 10,000 at a time.

This is a grassroots effort, and Marion Brady and Philip Kovacs invite your suggestions, volunteerism and, of course, your dollars. Email Marion here: mbrady22@cfl.rr.com; Philip, here: philipkovacs@yahoo.com

Friday, October 27, 2006

LEAP and Educational Genocide as Accepted Practice

Next March it will be seven years since two graduate students and I began a research study (LEAP-ing Toward Accountability. . .(pdf) to find out how high-stakes testing (Louisiana Education Assessment Program--LEAP) was playing out in a poor urban elementary school in Louisiana.

Now the 2006 test results are back, and the only thing that has changed is that the educational genocide that began in 2000 is an accepted way of life now, as tens of thousands more poor children have been added to the heap of the "thowed away." Between 4 and 5 of every ten poor Louisiana children are held back in 4th grade every year as a result of not passing the LEAP. That does not take into acount the number of 8th graders and 12th graders, who must also run the same high-stakes gauntlet each year. (Photo above of 8th grader getting his LEAP test results: By Ted Jackson, winner of 2003 ASNE Award for Community Photojournalism)

In the meantime, administrators like Faith Joseph and school board elites like Phyllis Landrieu cling to a virulent ignorance or a preferred blindness that allows their crimes against children to continue unabated. Here is a clip:
Faith Joseph is confused.

After serving three years as assistant principal for the predominately African-American populated Woodlawn West Elementary School on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish, she tosses up her hands and shakes her head.

Joseph has tried everything to reverse an alarming decline in standardized test scores - tutoring, parent-teacher conferences and even disciplinary action.

Yet nothing seems to work, she said.

“I don’t know the answer. I’m not sure what to do. But if we don’t change what is going on, we’re going to be the new New Orleans. We’re going to be the ones getting picked on. What are we not doing that we can’t reach these black kids?

Yes, Ms. Joseph, meet the new boss/same as the old boss. Get it? Hellllllooooooo! Try this--read a book for starters: Richard Rothstein's Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap.

A few weeks back Phyllis Landrieu was thanking Katrina for destroying the school system that she now plans to re-build as an uncharted charter system. She has since moved on from "I say, 'Thank you, Katrina' all the time," to now blaming parents for the effects of poverty:
She [Landrieu] said undiagnosed health problems, child abuse and neglect and “most important, lack of socialization training” are underlying reasons for poor performance.
And the "socialization training" derived from direct instruction is just what she has in mind as the key strategy for the chain-gang charters of the new New Orleans. The gamble here is that turning schools into detention centers will end the necesity for adult detention centers. Wish in one hand, Ms. Landrieu, and spit in the other--see which one fills up first.

I have to give credit to Ms. Joseph, however, for having at least a clue that is not being turned into a cudgel against the victims--which is more than I can ever say for Landrieu:

Joseph says there is a gap, or “school life bubble,” between home life and school that doesn’t always promote academic performance.

“A parent raising four kids and who worked a minimum-wage job once asked me, ‘What do you want me to do? Send my kids to school with clean clothes or help them with their homework? I can’t do both.’”

We did not need high-stakes tests to tell us how far behind poor children were and are, but now we can use those tests results to assuage our own guilt by blaming the victims, punishing the victims, and then by creating an orderly and invisible underclass. All the while we can pat ourselves on our backs for our color-blind and poverty-blind high standards and our bold determination to offer poor parents "choices."
(Photo by Ted Jackson)

Censorship on the Front Lines of the Freedom Fight

We know that the reasons for invading Iraq have proven to be the only aspects of that criminal debacle to have changed since the angry simpletons in the White House set it all in motion. As it is evident now that the first two reasons for invading have been jettisoned (stopping WMD and establishing Iraqi democracy), it seems that preserving American freedoms for American GIs has also been taken off the table in Iraq. From Wonkette:

We realize that when it comes to freedom of the press, the USA has fallen to Number 53 in the world — tied with our fascist homies in Croatia and the islanders of the Kingdom of Tonga! — but do we have to make is so damned obvious?

Another Marine stationed in Iraq has sent us a screenshot of what happens when you need some hot news on Macaca and Foley:
forbidden, this page (http://www.wonkette.com) is categorized as (Personal Pages) ALL SITES YOU VISIT ARE LOGGED AND FILED.
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Nice little threat at the end, too. Asswipes.

Notice the other browser tabs. Two actual “personal pages” that rah-rah for Bush (What’s her name, the wannabe Coulter, and Hugh Hewitt) show up just fine, as our Marine Operative confirms. But “Talking Points Memo,” which is apparently one of the “left leaning” sites one hears so much about these days, is prohibited.

Writes the Corporal: “I think that this kind of censoring is a big deal. I can understand blocking porn, music and movies, and blatantly illegal sites, but blocking sites that some higher up just doesn’t agree with is disgusting. They are blocking a huge portion of voters from information that will help them determine which side to vote for. Because of this, the only news we get is from the big corporations or conservative based sites.”

EduCap, Inc., Student Loans, and Caribbean "Summits"

John Boehner is a lending rep's Rep who makes Tom DeLay look like a paragon of virtue. With government student loan funds slashed last spring, Boehner's primary constituency, the private student loan shark companies, have moved in big time. Their wine-and-dine strategy for corrupting university officials, of course, is the same one used to further corrupt the Congress, many of whose members will be picking up the pieces (and their paychecks) on K Street following November 7.

The light of day occasionally cast by the media is enough, however, to send these blood suckers scurrying back under their rocks. Example: today's story in the Times about EduCap, Inc.'s cancelled field trip planned for university officials and their spouses to warm and sunny Nevis during the cold and dark month of February. As the story goes, EduCap, Inc. has scored billions as a result of federal rules and regs they have essentially been allowed to write, and now they want to share some of that wealth with those university officials who can send more customers desperate for any way to fund their college educations--even if it means coming out of college swamped with debt.

Room rate at the Nevis Four Seasons? $655 per night:

It turns out there probably will not be much talk about education on the Caribbean island of Nevis this February. The student loan company that invited university officials and their spouses to an expenses-paid education summit meeting there has canceled the event.

George Pappas, a senior vice president of the loan company, EduCap Inc., had said the purpose of the conference, which was to be held Feb. 2 to 5 at the Four Seasons Resort, was to discuss education, not loans.

But some financial aid administrators have said the conference was EduCap’s way of wooing university officials who could steer student borrowers their way, for example, by putting them on so-called preferred-lender lists.

Students rely heavily on the lists when choosing a private lender, and loan companies have come up with a range of inducements to persuade officials to steer borrowers their way.

In a letter on Wednesday to people who planned to attend the conference, Mr. Pappas said the company was canceling the event “in light of recent inaccurate reports in the media regarding the financial aid community and the unfortunate perception these reports have created.”

The letter said more than 80 percent of attendees were “not members of the financial aid community.”

“Considerable confusion and misinformation exist about the purpose of the summit,” Mr. Pappas wrote, adding: “The goal of the conference was to foster an informed, thoughtful discussion about creating an educated citizenry.”

Michael Dannenberg, director of education policy at the New America Foundation, a public policy institute in Washington, called the cancellation “but a small victory for the integrity of financial aid,” saying, “larger conflicts of interest remain.”

EduCap is a nonprofit company in the Washington area that has reaped billions of dollars in the lucrative student loan business.

The company was to pay for airfare, the hotel stay and dining for each conference participant and a guest.

A standard room at the Four Seasons on the planned February dates cost $655 a night, not including “taxes, service charges and coastal protection levy,” according to the hotel’s Web site.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More on the "65% Solution"

From Kevin Franck at PFAW:

People For the American Way has just published a new educational tool to help explain the so-called “65% Solution.”

Behind the Curtain is a graphic comic strip that offers a brief introduction to the newest right-wing attack on public education, what we call the 65% Deception. A version of the comic formatted for printing on legal size paper can be found here

Please feel free to distribute this comic widely and let me know if you have any questions.

On Spellings' Redundant Database

Letter to the Editor in USA Today:

Ronald Crutcher, president - Wheaton College, Norton, Mass.

Tracking colleges USA TODAY'S editorial supporting the creation of a national student record-tracking system missed its most mind-boggling aspect: We already have the data to address the issues for which this expensive and dangerous system would be created ("Time to grade colleges," Our view, Higher education debate, Oct. 17).

Through the National Center for Education Statistics, the Department of Education conducts nationwide studies of college students. These studies help determine how students and families pay for education, help evaluate the effectiveness of higher education institutions and programs, and help measure the benefits of higher education in later life.

These ongoing, comprehensive studies address the issues that interest Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' commission. And they do so without establishing a $100 million national database that would compromise students' privacy and create expensive burdens on institutions already awash in regulations and struggling to improve financial aid packages.

Colleges and universities are accountable to more stakeholders — students, parents, alumni, trustees, employers and government — than any other imaginable U.S. enterprise. Ultimately, a free market — students voting with their feet, alumni with contributions, employers by their hires — is what keeps us accountable.

Colleges' opposition to this student-tracking system reflects our continuing commitment to affordability and accountability. We urge the federal government to invest its $100 million in the Pell Grant program rather than another big-government, Big Brother scheme.

Right-Wing Fear Factor and Higher Education

The same morally-bankrupt toadies that ginned up the big nation-at-risk fear in 1983 are at it again. Now instead of working for control of K-12 schools to turn them into job prep factories, the focus is our university system, which has thus far remained the envy of the world. Fortunately, their con game based on economic fears and lies is taken from the same playbook that was used in the Reagan heyday. No one is buying this time, except for those who prefer their own ignorance for either financial or psychical reasons.

Here is a clip from a great piece by David Paris that appears in Inside Higher Ed:

We’ve heard this before. Our schools are failing. International competitors are gaining on us. Our economic future is in jeopardy. This time, however, the educational institutions examined and found wanting are our colleges and universities.

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence and Education declared that we were “A Nation at Risk.” The report asserted that a “rising tide of mediocrity” in K-12 education was putting America at an economic disadvantage in global competition. Now the Commission on the Future of Higher Education (the Spellings Commission) has delivered a similar message.

While acknowledging that “higher education in the United States is one of our greatest success stories,” the commission claims that “a lot of other countries have followed our lead and are “passing us by at a time when education is more important to our prosperity than ever.” The report warns that “[h]istory is littered with industries that, at their peril, failed to respond to — or even to notice — changes in the world around them ... institutions of higher education risk falling into the same trap.” Apparently, we are at risk again. . .

Would anyone really want the direction of American universities determined by the hacks and whores who have hijacked the U. S. Department of Education?

Paris closes with this:

. . . the best education — for the academy, the economy, and society — aims at more than creating productive workers. It also should produce good citizens and individuals capable of living full and meaningful lives. The best education for the economy is a broad education, one that emphasizes the full range of skills and knowledge. Liberal education outcomes such as critical thinking, quantitative literacy, communication skills, ethical reasoning, and civic engagement translate into workplace competencies in the broadest sense — an ability to understand and work with people and problems. These are the skills that business leaders most want.

The great achievement and ongoing project of higher education in the United States is giving all our citizens an opportunity for a full life in all its dimensions. That should be the aim of real, long-term reform in higher education.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Voters Beware

Pete weighs in on the importance of reading ballot initiatives:

Ballot measures appearing before voters next month require people to read them and know what they mean. At stake across the country are major pieces of legislation that have both intended and unintended consequences. Behind them are the efforts and dollars of professional lobbyists out to alter the course of the country.

Normally we rely on state legislatures and Congress to do the work of legislation. But legislators, esp. due to term limits, are more often than not puppets and spokespersons for lobbyists. A friend of mine in the MO state legislature, which has term limits, told me that she is presented with legislation already written by the lobbyists. She simply endorses it or not.

The appeal of these ballot measures is undeniable: let the people decide. It seems the ultimate tool in a democracy. But for this to work, we need to rely on the people, the demos of a democracy, to become an intelligent, critical electorate. Trouble is, when voting on ballot measures, most people have no idea what they mean; they hear about them for the fist time at the ballot box and are easily swayed by the way the proposals are written.

So how can we have a critical electorate that can be trusted with the awesome responsibility of making laws?

In its exclusive focus on reading and math, NCLB leaves aside the study of subjects crucial to forming a well-informed electorate. A survey released a few months ago by the Center on Education Policy found that since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002, 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music, and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math. The center is an independent group that has made a thorough study of the new act and has published a detailed yearly report on the implementation of the law in dozens of districts. "Narrowing the curriculum has clearly become a nationwide pattern," said Jack Jennings, the president of the center, which is based in Washington.

The survey looked at 299 school districts in 50 states. It was conducted as part of a four-year study of No Child Left Behind and appears to be the most systematic effort to track the law's footprints through the classroom.

The historian David McCullough told a Senate Committee last June that because of NCLB, "history is being put on the back burner or taken off the stove altogether in many or most schools, in favor of math and reading."

For more and more children, the exposure to social studies --- the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, how the government runs, how laws are passed, US and world history, etc. -- has been eliminated. The sociopolitical implications of poor black and Hispanic children not learning about the Civil Rights movement, not learning about women's suffrage, not learning about the US Civil War, and not learning about any historical or contemporary instance of civil disobedience is more than just chilling. It smacks of an Orwellian attempt not merely to rewrite history, but to get rid of it.

But more importantly, NCLB works to dumb down an electorate that is increasingly being charged with the task of creating the laws of the land.

So what to do? (1) increase the threshold for getting things on the ballot; (2) sponsor forums for people to find out about the issues; (3) but the long-term strategy is to inject citizenry and civitas into the curriculum of every public school in the country and to reject the efforts of groups like The Business Roundtable and The U.S. Chamber of Commerce to make public education synonymous with job training. Dumbed-down schools produce dumbed-down citizens. And dumb-downed citizens are easily controlled, by both the government and by corporations.

Peter Campbell

Spellings Brings Back "Separate But Equal"

Margaret Spellings is always insistent upon scientifically-based research when she and her henchmen can stack the data deck to get the end result they set out for to begin with. The most glaring instance, of course, is the criminal operation of Reading First and its force-feeding of crony-supported reading materials backed by a cooked national reading report that was shaped by the crackpot notions of Mr. Reading Code, Reid Lyon.

No such scientific necessity is now required for Spellings to open the floodgates to a new generation of "separate but equal" schools based on gender. With nothing but a tissue of flaky pseudoscience and an iron-fisted determination to make males strong and females compliant, ED regulations have now been changed to roll back the social calendar even further toward the days when women were considered property. Clip from USA Today:
School districts across the nation this fall will have unprecedented freedom to open up all-girls' or all-boys' schools and classes under sweeping new regulations announced on Tuesday by U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

The shift is the biggest in 31 years and for the first time allows schools to separate students by gender if they believe it helps — a standard that is under debate in the existing research.

Participation in such programs would be voluntary, but schools choosing to separate a class for one sex wouldn't have to provide an equivalent class for the other sex. They'd simply have to offer a "substantially equal" coed class in the same subject.

The rules, which take effect Nov. 24, also clarify rules on creating entire single-sex public schools.

Since the current rules went into effect in 1975, single-sex classes have been allowed only on a limited basis, such as in charter schools, sex education courses or gym classes involving contact sports. The Bush administration, supported by both Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Democratic New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, has favored loosening the rules.

About 240 public schools offer same-sex coursework, up from just three in 1995, says Leonard Sax of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. He thinks about 1 in 10 of the nation's 90,000 public schools could decide to become single-sex.

Critics, such as the American Association of University Women and the American Civil Liberties Union, call the changes troublesome.

Emily Martin of the ACLU Women's Rights Project said the new regulations "represent a through-the-looking-glass interpretation" of the federal Title IX law, which prohibits excluding students from school programs on the basis of sex. She noted that schools could now "separate girls and boys for virtually any reason they can dream up — including outdated and dangerous gender stereotypes." . . .

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The New Un-American Activities Committee

It is called the National Civic Literacy Board. It is packed with right-wing conservatives, and its intent is the purging of American universities. Check out the negative learning going on, according to the "research findings" shown in the chart at left (click it to enlarge). Is there any doubt which universities are in the cross-hairs?

The commentary below by John Seery is from Huffington Post:

Watch out. The conservative assault on our nation's colleges and universities continues.

We've seen David Horowitz's book warning about "dangerous" professors and his clumsy Academic Bill of Rights campaign. We've seen Sec. of Education Margaret Spellings' report on the Future of Higher Education and its proposal to submit our 6000 autonomous colleges and universities to strict federalization.

And now, last week, we received a report--"The Coming Crisis in Citizenship"--from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's National Civic Literacy Board, which claims to prove that our colleges and universities (read: those bastions of liberalism) are failing to deliver a proper Preparation for Citizenship to our nation's young adults, and may even be corrosive to our American way of life.

The ISI-funded study was based on a multiple-choice examination given to 14,000 college freshman and seniors to assess their factual knowledge in four areas: American History, U.S. Government, America and the World, and the Market Economy. The National Civic Literacy Board assigned an "F" grade to college students in all categories. The Board emphasized that college seniors barely knew anything more about such matters than incoming frosh. And it emphasized that many of the most prestigious schools and most costly schools (read: most liberal schools) produced the worst overall scores, and it singled out Brown University, Georgetown University, and Yale University as places where "negative learning" seems to transpire between incoming and outgoing students. Finally, somehow on the basis of this multiple-choice examination, the Board claims to "prove" that students who have "demonstrated greater learning of America's history and institutions were more engaged in citizenship activities such as voting, volunteer community service, and political campaigns."

So what's going on here?

It just so happens that I attended a conference on civic education last week at Georgetown University. It just so happens that the ISI apparently helped fund that conference (unbeknownst to me beforehand). It just so happens that in my own talk at the conference I severely criticized the findings of the National Civic Literacy Board. I pointed out, for instance, that Stanford Professor of Education and History Sam Wineburg, in his award-winning book, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, and in subsequent studies had already demolished the scholarly credibility of a fact-based diagnostic as a way of teaching and understanding American history. Moreover, the premise that you are a "better" citizen and will be more "engaged" because you can identify Yorktown as the battle that brought the American Revolution to an end is just silly.

After my talk, a tall gentleman came up to me and introduced himself: Lt. General Josiah Bunting III, President of the National Civic Literacy Board. Oops! He was eminently gracious, I must say. We exchanged a few polite words. And then I heard him deliver his own address to a lunchtime audience. Most of it was about the virtues of a proper university education, all very above board. But toward the end of his remarks Lt. General Bunting showed more of his own cards. He lamented the presence of so many liberal faculty members in U.S. colleges and universities today, and he concluded his talk thus: "This must change."

I did some Googling. Turns out that the National Civic Literacy Board isn't so national after all. It is simply stacked with conservatives. The directors, besides Lt. General Bunting, include a former Reagan administration official, a former George W. Bush administration official, and a retired Rear Admiral who was Director of Naval Intelligence. Board members include U.S. Senator George Allen; the CEO of the Philip M. McKenna Foundation; the CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers; a Senior Fellow from the Hoover Institution; Roger Kimball, Editor of the New Criterion; Robert George, Director of the Madison Program at Princeton; a former Secretary of the Army; a Wall Street Journal Editorial Board member; a retired Vice Admiral in the Navy; an American Enterprise Institute scholar; a former CEO of Household Finance Corporation; and Lewis Lehrman of the Lehrman Institute; and so on. Does the mission of investigating civic literacy really require such a one-sided, unrepresentative, and so obviously politicized panel?

Conservatives are jumping all over the report with glee, and you can bet that they will press hard for the Board's recommendation that these colleges need to be held "accountable" for the way they contribute to the "civic life" of America, or not.

After I started to realize what was going on at the conference, namely that some folks in attendance saw "civic education" as a proxy and euphemistic front for a conservative agenda, I approached Lt. General Bunting with another line of inquiry. I pointed out to him that I, too, sometimes give my own students a pop quiz on American civics and American civic values, but my questions aren't about the particularities of the Civil War or Keynesian economics. Instead, I ask the following:

How many of you believe in constitutional government? How many of you believe in the rule of law? How many of you believe in checks and balances and the separation of powers among different branches of government? How many of you believe in due process? How many of you believe in trial by jury? How many of you believe in contested elections? How many of you believe in a bill of rights that protects freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc.? How many of you believe in universal adult suffrage? How many of you believe in the basic equality of all humans, as opposed to a caste system or a system of inherited privileges? How many of you believe that sovereignty resides in the consent of the governed? How many of you believe in democracy, rather than monarchy or aristocracy or dictatorship?

Remarkably in my experience, I've found that my students understand those questions very well and are in lock-step unanimity in endorsing those civic values. They're not the civic dummies that the National Literacy Board is trying to make them out to be.

I heard at the conference several conservative commentators bemoaning the alleged fact many liberal academics refuse to assert the "moral superiority" of the American government over other governments. What I hear in those words is something ominous: the search for an unassailable American patriotism and therewith, the search for a blanket justification for war; and also as part of that campaign, a rearguard search for scapegoats for the current national malaise in our present wartime fiasco--to be attributed no longer to the "liberal media" or to "liberal politicians" or to "liberal judges" but now to "the liberal professoriate." Holding institutions "accountable" will mean promoting American civic virtues as these conservatives define those virtues, while silencing dissenters by other means.

Why didn't the National Civic Literacy Board simply call itself the new Un-American Activities Committee? Wouldn't that have been the more forthright and honest name?

Why won't mainstream media outlets conduct even a modicum of research to inform readers and viewers about the not-so-hidden agenda behind a report such as this, instead of merely reciting uncritically the Board's findings and recommendations? Shouldn't there be some civic education about the American founders' views about the importance of a vigilant Fourth Estate?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Testing Becomes Major Domestic Political Issue

If you don't think that the child abuse inherent in the current testing madness is resonating with voters, just look around you and ask any parent or teacher. Apparently, some state and national politicians have done just that, and what they are finding is a level of disgust among the electorate for the immoral testing practices and abuse of power that are being used against the most vulnerable of America's citizens. A clip from WaPo:

. . . "We have third-grade children who have been retained so many times they are wearing brassieres in the third grade," said Florida state Sen. Frederica Wilson, one of the leaders of the anti-testing movement here.

"When parents are dealing with children vomiting on the morning of the tests and seeing other signs of test stress, they're going to be motivated at the voting booth," said Gloria Pipkin, the president of a testing watchdog group, the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform. "Texas and Florida are the poster children for excessive testing, and we're seeing an enormous backlash."

Polls are also registering growing voter discontent over tests.

A Zogby International poll for the Miami Herald last month showed that 61 percent of voters disagreed with grading and funding schools based on their test scores, and almost half said schools were allocating too much time for test preparation. A poll by the Florida Times-Union and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel showed similar results.

In Texas, a survey drafted by two polling firms, one Democratic and one Republican, and paid for by the Texas State Teachers Association, indicated that 56 percent of voters thought there was too much emphasis on state testing in their schools.

A national poll by a pro-testing group, the Teaching Commission, showed that 52 percent of respondents thought that standardized tests do not accurately measure student achievement; 35 percent thought they do. . .

ED Payola for Good News and Good Test Scores

It is only fitting that the Armstrong Williams payola case find its way back to the front pages on the same weekend that ED starts payola-ing its bonuses for teachers who have been able to "produce" higher test scores--and just before the elections. The whole illegal operation involving Uncle Armstrong has come to a final fizzle, with Williams being required to pay back $34 thousand of the $240,000 that ED paid him for favorable NCLB propaganda in black neighborhoods, where children are receiving their ongoing daily procedures of cognitive decapitations.

Apparently the illegality of ED's actions in promoting "covert propaganda" will be swept aside. In comparison to the other unprosecuted crimes of this Administration, from Iraq to Guantanamo to New Orleans and every American telephone in between, this crime seems like boyish pranks.

Here is part of the story on the teacher bonuses for test scores from a Ben Feller who seems suddenly to have figured out that Maggie won't be there to protect him much longer:

WASHINGTON -- In the closing weeks of the fall campaign, the Bush administration is handing out money for teachers who raise student test scores, the first federal effort to reward classroom performance with bonuses.

Sixteen grants totaling $42 million will go to schools in many states. The government has announced the first grants -- $5.5 million for Ohio -- where Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was to make the presentation today. Schools in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo will share the money.

The department will release the remaining grants right before the Nov. 7 elections in which the Republican Party is eager for good news.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, is trailing his Democratic rival. Also, Democrats have led for weeks in two House seats Republicans have held for a long time, and party officials talk of winning two or three more seats. Such gains could help the Democrats take over the House.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Neil Bush's COW: The Milking and Bilking of Education Funds

Here is a clip from today's piece in the L. A. Times on Neily's business enterprise (background here), which seems to have ignited more controversy than Ignite, Inc. could have imagined:
Mixed reviews

Few independent studies have been done to assess the effectiveness of Ignite's teaching strategies. Neil Bush said the company had gotten "great feedback" from educators and planned to conduct a "major scientifically valid study" to assess the COW's impact. The results
should be in by next summer, he said.

Though Ignite's products get generally rave reviews from Texas educators, the opinion is not universal.

The Tornillo, Texas, Independent School District no longer uses the Ignite programs it purchased several years ago for $43,000.

"I wouldn't advise anyone else to use it," said Supt. Paul Vranish. "Nobody wanted to use it, and the principal who bought it is no longer here."

Ignite's website features glowing videotaped testimonials from teachers, administrators, students and parents.

Many of the videos were shot at Del Valle Junior High School near Austin, where school district officials allowed Ignite to film facilities and students.

In the video, a student named India says: "I was feeling bad about my grades. I didn't know what my teacher was talking about." The COW changed everything, the girl's father says on the video.

Lori, a woman identified as India's teacher, says the child was not paying attention until the COW was brought in.

The woman, however, is not India's teacher, but Lori Anderson, a former teacher and now Ignite's marketing director. Ignite says Anderson wassimply role-playing.

In return for use of its students and facilities, a district spokeswoman said Ignite donated a free COW. Five others were purchased with district funds.

District spokeswoman Celina Bley acknowledged that regulations bar school officials from endorsing products. But she said that restriction did not apply to the videos.

"It is illegal for individuals to make an endorsement, but this was a districtwide endorsement," Bley said in an e-mail.

New Orleans Schools: Dismantling a Community

A new report on the privatization of New Orleans schools is available from the Center for Community Change.

Dismantling a Community, a new publication from the Center, chronicles the selling-off of New Orleans Schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Rather than build the first-class public education system that New Orleans kids have deserved for decades, Federal Government officials and right-wing advocates used this tragedy as fertile ground for social experimentation on a grand scale.

Thousands of seasoned teachers have been let go and teacher's unions have been decimated while some $40 million has been spent to turn the New Orleans education system into a complex web of individually operated schools where parents have to vie for a quality education for their children.

Dismantling a Community tells the consequences of the ongoing assault that privatization advocates have unleashed on the fragile neighborhoods of New Orleans.

Click here to download the report.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Sanders and Kress Tagteam

I am here in Washington for the PDK Summit on Public Education. Things got rolling yesterday with John Merrow moderating and sometimes dominating a panel of "policy superstars," brought in to mold the conference talk on NCLB. Front and center on the Hilton stage was Beelzebub himself, Sandy Kress. At his left hand was Bill Sanders, who nodded assent when Kress spoke, just as Kress did when Sanders spoke. These two dominated the discussion, and if I were a betting man, I would guess that Sanders and Co. have the inside rail position at the starting gun in the Growth Model Sweepstakes. Sanders even bragged that his outfit had helped one of the two successful supplicant states chosen by Spellings to pilot a growth model plan earlier this year.

So while growth model talk is dominating the conversation here, there is no sign in Kress's sneering face that the White House plans to give an inch in moving away from the impossible requirements of 100% proficiency. To do so would mean jettisoning the privatization plans that require the wholesale failure of public schools to make them work.

The consensus on the stage was that reauthorization will move forward next year, but that is not the talk among Senate Democrats who know something about the groundswell of resistance that is now beginning to emerge. This resistance is evident in the small group and individual discussions here at the conference, among those folks who were given no voice at the big Sandy and Bill Show yesterday. Merrow provided less than 20 minutes out of the 2 hours for questions from those who paid him to bloviate, rather than moderate, and he was downright rude to one gentleman who took the time to note that he had been a member of PDK for 50 years.

For a group like PDK dedicated to democratic education and living, I would suggest future moderators who are less blind to their own ego needs and some participants who know something besides their own ideological/business agendas.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Raising Concerns About NCLB With National Candidates

From Jan Resseger:
It is election season… Please raise concerns about the No Child Left Behind Act when you talk with candidates for national office (and people who already serve in Congress). Here are two things you can do right now:
  1. Take a copy of “Questions about the No Child Left Behind Act for Candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives,” (pdf) when you attend any candidates night. I actually did just that last Thursday night. At the event, having an opportunity to write out a question on a card, I copied off one of the questions provided. Lo and behold… my question got presented by the moderator to a candidate for U.S. Senate. Mine was the only question on NCLB, but mine was not the only intense interest in the candidate’s answer. The audience became quietly attentive … with much applause for this particular candidate’s comments. And the next night in his opening and closing remarks at a televised debate, this candidate mentioned that reform is needed in NCLB. Please make a difference by making sure this subject is raised often in this election season.
  2. Have you taken the time to participate in the “No Child Left Behind Letters to Congress Project” on-line at FaithfulAmerica.org? http://www.faithfulamerica.org/article.php?id=98 If not, check out this year-long project, which provides you with ten different opportunities to send a letter electronically to your Congressional representative and your two senators.

The project is tied to the simple National Council of Churches statement, “Ten Moral Concerns in the Implementation of No Child Left Behind.” http://www.ucc.org/justice/education/nclb-moral.pdf In our letters project, we have posted ten letters, each one lifting up one of the moral concerns. The important part is that you insert your own story into the letter at the point where your story is requested. Each letter gives you an opportunity to tell your elected officials how NCLB is affecting your child or a teacher you know, or your own school, or your community. Please take the time to participate in this project by telling your own truth as a person of faith to your elected officials.

Do share with your own contacts these opportunities to make a difference. Thanks! And peace to you.

Jan Resseger, Minister for Public Education and Witness
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

ED, Higher Ed, and the Highest Ed Thievery

Some time during the last year of Sally Stroup's stay as Asst. Secretary for Higher Ed, some mighty private documents got shipped off to a group of lawyers defending the online University of Phoenix against charges of bilking the Feds of $3,000,000,000. It seems that a "mistake" was made inside ED when a FOIA request came from University of Phoenix attorneys who were seeking information regarding details of a suit filed to recover part of the $3 billion that UP had garnered by allegedly paying enrollment recruiters to sign up anyone who could qualify for federal Pell Grants. As a result of the "mistake," the entire legal strategy of the whistleblowers was shipped off to the attorneys representing UP's parent company, the Apollo Group.

A couple of coincidences worth noting here: 1) Sally Stroup worked for University of Phoenix before hiring on at ED, and 2) Sally was responsible for writing the snippet that was included in the cons' big education bill last spring, the snippet that eliminated the need for real campuses for college programs funded by federal student loans and grants from ED. This change will result in many billions more going to the online for-profit colleges of the higher ed industry, which are now being heralded as the great equalizer for poor and minority students trapped in rural or urban hellholes, and who, most likely, will remain no less trapped after their virtual adventures in learning at the online for-profit diploma mills that are popping up faster than you can say, thank you Sally.

Thanks to Marty Solomon for the tip on the story, which appears at the Chronicle. Here is a clip:
It is unclear how the documents were released. The False Claims Act requires that plaintiffs' legal strategies and working papers be shared with the federal agencies involved in the lawsuits.

In a statement Monday, an Education Department spokesman said the agency "is aware that certain department records were released in error. ... The department is taking appropriate action to safeguard its records, but we cannot comment further as your questions concern matters in litigation." The spokesman, Jim Bradshaw, said he could not say if the department is investigating who approved the release of the records.

In this case, lawyers at the Department of Education were consulted as part of the review process for Apollo's Freedom of Information Act request. One of them, Christine M. Rose, who works in the general counsel's office, filed a declaration in federal court last week, saying the department had determined "that the disclosure statement and witness-interview notes are privileged documents."

"There are a lot of people over there trying to do the right thing," but they keep getting undermined, said Nancy G. Krop, another lawyer for the whistle-blowers.

Phoenix, the largest private university in the nation, has strong political ties. Its former chief lobbyist, Sally L. Stroup, was appointed assistant secretary for postsecondary education, the top higher-education office at the Department of Education, by the Bush administration. She left that post in April, after four years.

UofP, by the way, has other legal fronts to defend. It seems that non-Mormons have filed papers against UP for discriminatory practices:

PHOENIX - The University of Phoenix has been sued for religious discrimination by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The federal civil rights lawsuit, announced Wednesday, accuses the private university of favoring employees who are members of the Mormon church. Employees who are not associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were treated less favorably on new student recruiting leads, tuition waivers and reprimands, the commission alleges.

You know how pushy those non-religious types can be!

No Pot of Gold for These Turnaround Specialists

Parker Land, Principal:

"I've learned an awful lot. I've learned that our kids, a significant number of those kids are in crisis. And there's a level of support that's needed that we just haven't realized yet. "

Turnaround specialists, traditionally associated with turning failing or struggling companies around with the promise of cash rewards in the end are now the "hottest" trend in education reform. Their mission is to find ways for struggling schools to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) and raise test scores. This last installment in the PBS NewsHour series looks at an inner-city school in Richmond, Virginia and tracks "turnaround specialist" Parker Land's efforts to fix Boushall Middle School's troubles with discipline and incentives. The spot reveals a troubling picture and is a scathing indictment of the current sytem with its relentless focus on standardized test scores and punitive consequences.

JOHN MERROW: Park Land wasn't the only turnaround specialist to struggle. Fourteen of the program's 21 principals failed to meet federal standards for improvement this year. The turnaround specialists made three-year commitments, but already more than half have either changed schools or left the program.

Here are some more excerpts from the NewHour interview:

JOHN MERROW: Madieth Malone teaches English.

MADIETH MALONE: A lot of time is being spent on how to take tests, what kinds of questions are on tests, how to read test questions, the facts that are needed to answer questions on a test.
We usually spend time reading novels. I would love to do that, but now I need to spend my time focused on the bare necessities, those absolute things that I know will be tested.
The next couple of days, we will be doing the diagnostic tests for the entire SOL...

JOHN MERROW: Test prep had also taken over Lois Smith's math class.

LOIS SMITH, Teacher: The goal is that they've got to pass the test. Some of the kids aren't going to learn all the concepts, but if they have some of the strategies, they still can pass.

MADIETH MALONE: I can't go along with that, no. I can't support that. The goal for all of our schools -- and I guess it's the goal for schools across the country -- is to pass standardized tests, but the goal of educators is to prepare children to become responsible, contributing adults.

PARKER LAND: My vision is that there's so much more. We can be -- you know, there's so much more to these kids that needs to be developed. But, you know, the educational world is one that says, "Show me academic test scores." That's life now. So that's the way it's going to be.

Tests Demoralize Learning Disabled

One of the more insidious aspects of NCLB can be found in regulations dealing with learning disabled (LD) students forced to take exams that most of them do not even understand. The failure and frustration associated with these tests has led one superintendent and former special ed teacher in Delaware to sue the state and challenge "the sytem" on behalf of children and their families.
"If you are talking to someone in a different language, imagine the frustration when you have to perform and don't know what they are talking about," Andrzejewski said, adding that the constant failure demoralizes many. "It's more than frustration. These students, they cry. Sometimes they act out. They want to do [well]."

Andrzejewski, who believes federal law allows for alternate assessment, blames state leaders for not allowing it in Delaware. State officials, in turn, say they can't do much without approval from the U.S. Department of Education.

"Federal law has been very clear about what states can and can't do," said Robin Taylor, associate secretary of assessment and accountability with the state Department of Education. "They say they are giving us flexibility. States are sitting, waiting, poised, ready to go off and do something, but we don't know what to do yet."

Initially, No Child Left Behind offered three options: regular assessment, assessment with accommodations and assessment in an alternate format. In December 2003, a fourth option allowing for modified achievement standards was added, but it was exclusively for students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Last year, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings offered a fifth option to 31 states, including Delaware, on an interim basis to allow modified achievement standards for "gap kids" -- those who typically can perform at grade-level but at a slower pace. She set a 2 percent cap on the number of scores from modified testing that could be counted toward schools' yearly progress.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

National Pandemic is a Reality

Given the existence of an idealized vision of the community, movements of protest are likely to occur within the political nation when the discrepancy between the image and the reality comes to seem intolerably wide.
-- J.H. Elliott

The historian J.H. Elliott may not have envisioned the huge disconnect between image and reality that now characterizes education reform under No Child Left Behind, but his observation on what drives people to stand up and protest can be applied to the growing rebellion taking place across the country and more parents, teachers, administrators and even some astute politicians are finding the current testing craze with its punitive consequences increasingly intolerable.

Bill Archer, a counselor at R.J. Longstreet Elementary in Daytona Beach, Florida provides us with a huge dose of reality:

What is happening is pandemic across the nation. Public education is under siege from state and federal politicos who are transforming what was once an arena of pure educational learning into a corporate state of testing.

This allowed well-connected publishing companies to gorge themselves on public school dollars in a frenzied testing environment that has been sold as "accountability" to the unsuspecting public.

Local administrators are intimidated and fearful of losing money for their districts, maybe even losing their jobs if they resist.You can hear them saying submissively, "We just have to play along."

R.J. Longstreet Elementary School is so much better than the A repeatedly assigned to it by evaluation processes that can't meet minimal standards of reliability and validity in the real world of accountability. It is a safe school, a community-involvement award winner, a place where kids enjoy coming to learn, socialize and play each day.Its parents are supportive and caring.Its biggest enemies are these tests and those behind these predatory programs that starve those in need and lavish the money saved on their corporate accomplices.

This current administration is working hard to change the face of the world into its own corrupt image, and it is succeeding in public education, the only place where a defense could have been mounted to defeat it.R.J. Longstreet Elementary is fighting to maintain its right to educate rather than become of victim of the testing craze.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Privatization Ayes for the McGraw Prize

This year's recipients of the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education are
Norman Augustine, Retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Lockheed Martin Corporation; Wendy Kopp, President and Founder, Teach For America;
Vincent Murray, Principal, Henry W. Grady High School, Atlanta, GA.

The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education annually recognizes outstanding individuals who have dedicated themselves to improving education in this country and whose accomplishments are making a difference today. Honorees are chosen by a distinguished panel of judges made up of thoughtful and influential members of the education community. Each winner receives a gift of $25,000 and a bronze sculpture. The Prize was established in 1988 to honor Mr. McGraw's lifelong commitment to education, and to mark the Corporation's 100th anniversary.
As for their efforts at improving education, it seems that improvement -- like beauty -- is in the eye of the beholder. From these recipients' vantage point, improving education means something very specific.

For example, to improve education, Norman R. Augustine chaired the National Academies Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy, which produced the report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." According to McGraw-Hill, this report was "designed to address student preparedness for the 21st Century." The report is filled with the same kind of alarmist rhetoric that followed the launch of Sputnik, the same that drove "A Nation at Risk," and gave corporations an entree into defining what "improving education" meant to them. It should be noted that Mr. Augustine is a member of the boards of Conoco Phillips, Black & Decker, and Procter & Gamble. It should also be noted that he is an expert in missile defense systems currently in use in Iraq and in educational reform. Apparently the two go well together.

Wendy Kopp has chosen to improve education by relying on the romantic idealism of 20-something college graduates who want to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children. A noble goal, without doubt. But Kopp and Teach for America have managed to help snuff out the call for the kinds of socioeconomic reforms that are at the heart of the educational achievement gaps between the haves and the have nots. Kopp, herself a romantic idealist who has never set foot in a classroom as a teacher, believes that it's up to teachers to try harder and teach better. She waxes elegiac as she relays anecdotes about TFA teachers working longer hours and on Saturdays. Admirable, indeed. Scalable, not at all. After all, TFA teachers only teach for 2 years. Some teach longer, but most don't. They -- by design -- move on to positions of power where they can better affect policy changes for public education. Their major argument, based on their own experience? Teachers need to work harder and teach better. Forget about all this poverty stuff. That's just an excuse.

So why would McGraw-Hill hold these folks up as the bright stars of education?

With Bush using the bully-pulpit of the Presidency to advocate for the policies of NCLB, supporters can line up behind him and advocate solutions that are similar to his. These proponents all have slightly different intentions. But one thing that most of them, at least the educational corporations, have in common is this: if Bush's policies are successfully implemented, all of them will be incredibly rich. Peter Jovanovich, chief executive of Pearson Education, a multi-billion dollar corporate publisher of tests and education materials, described NCLB by saying, "This almost reads like our business plan.”

So, funneling tax dollars into private institutions can certainly be seen as a way of holding public schools accountable. And funneling tax dollars into private institutions can certainly be seen as a way to eventually improve them. But funneling tax dollars into private institutions can also be seen as a way to make educational corporations more profitable and investors in these corporations more excited about these companies. For example, in its 2004 Annual Report, McGraw-Hill reported its revenue increased 7.4% to a record $5.3 billion, that net income increased 9.9% to $755.8 million, and that operating margins rose 3 percentage points to 25%.

Does this mean that McGraw-Hill is out to destroy public schools? Not at all. Does this mean that Peter Jovanovich of Pearson Education is secretly colluding with Bush to privatize public schools? No way. Does this mean that private, for-profit educational companies like to see poor kids get crappy educations? No. The stunning, heart-breaking thing is that as they all work to support reform through NCLB, the following happens: (1) the companies make more money, (2) public schools are destroyed, (3) more and more schools are privatized, and (4) more and more poor kids get crappy educations. None of these companies explicitly WANT these things to happen, but as their business practices seek to fulfill on the revenue-generating opportunities that NCLB affords them, we move inexorably towards the end of public education as we know it.

Peter Campbell