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

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Third Assault Wave on Higher Education by NCSL

First came the apocalytic "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" that had all the urgency and factual clout of a Left Behind sequel. That piece of propaganda used pure fear and manipulation to make the case for American universities to be turned in corporate training camps and R & D annexes. Unlike what happened during last generation's K-12 version of this kind of education reform through fear, A Nation at Risk, this time no one paid attention.

Next came the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education, led by cranky corporationist, Charles Miller. This put-up investigation was intended to intimidate universities into sorting and stacking students into big testing databases, while making the economic hegemony mission for colleges Job 1. What Chuck found out is that his strong-arm tactics that worked so well in the K-12 takeover by efficiency zealots were not so well received by university people accustomed to the type of bullying by political hacks.

So now comes the third wave in the assault against higher education, and this time fear and intimidation have given way to plain old bald-faced lies, delivered by a "blue ribbon" group from within the National Conference of State Legislators:

DENVER — More Americans must finish college if our country is to prosper in the global society, and it's up to state legislators to make that happen. Those are recommendations from the final report of the National Conference of State Legislatures' Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education, released today (more details).

There is a higher education crisis in this country, the report says. The American system is no longer the best in the world. Other countries are outperforming us. At the same time, tuition and fees are skyrocketing and financial aid and loan programs aren't keeping up. As a result, a post-secondary education is not accessible to many Americans. Student are falling through the cracks. Nationally, for every 100 ninth graders who enter high school, only 18 finish college within six years.

The report, Transforming Higher Education: National Imperative—State Responsibility, says state legislators must: be at the center of a nationwide movement to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, determine a public agenda for higher education, set clear goals, and hold institutions accountable. . .

Vanderbilt and the Spirit of Scrooge

All of those golden Vs on Vanderbilt University's front gate could stand for very, very stingy. With tuition, room, and board right at 45k a year, the intellectual center for "the Athens of the South" manages to pay its service workers less than 8 bucks an hour, less than factory workers make at the box factory out on 70w. In other words, a perfect training ground for Buffy and Biff as they learn what it means to flourish in a democracy for the elite. From the Times:

NASHVILLE, Nov. 29 — When Mary Hampton landed a housekeeping job at Vanderbilt University in 2004, she looked forward to the boost that the steady, full-time work and benefits would give her and her two young daughters.

Instead, she says she now makes $7.92 an hour and brings home less than she did in factory and warehouse jobs. She moved to a shelter for the homeless about seven months ago when her daughters’ father stopped paying child support.

The fragile economic state of some of Vanderbilt’s union employees like Ms. Hampton and the contrast with university spending elsewhere, like the $6 million renovation of the chancellor’s 20,000-square-foot house, has become a point of contention between the administration and a loose coalition of labor, students and community members. . . .

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Spellings Looking For Data in All the Wrong Places

Part of the Spellings stump speech to justify the creation of intrusive new databases on a massive scale for higher education focuses on the parents' need to find out comparative college data that is not now available. Someone needs to tell Spellings that all the information she was wanting on her daughter's college could have been found by walking down the hall at ED or by using ED's own website.

From Inside Higher Ed:
t’s part of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings’ stock speech on higher education, explaining why she appointed a commission to study what’s wrong with colleges — and why it’s time to change the accreditation system and make other changes to promote more accountability and document student learning, as the panel suggested.

The wording doesn’t change much from speech to speech. Here’s how she expressed it this month to a group of faculty members and deans at a meeting on promoting student success:

“The absence of information means we can’t answer basic questions families have during the college selection process,” Spellings said. “For example, how long will it take to get a degree? Will this institution prepare me for the field I want to work in? And how much is this education really going to cost? When my daughter applied to college two years ago, I found it challenging to get the answers I needed. And I’m the secretary of education!”

That sounds pretty damning. The secretary of education has a tough time finding out how long it would take a student to graduate or how much college costs? Spellings frequently refers to her daughter’s college search when making these points, so we decided to see what Spellings or any parent could find today. Is that information difficult to get? Spellings’ daughter enrolled at Davidson College, a liberal arts institution in North Carolina. According to Davidson, the top “overlap” colleges in applications to Davidson are Duke, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest Universities, and the Universities of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Virginia.

It turns out that a parent whose child was looking at those institutions could find out how long it would take a student to get a degree and how much college would cost — and a lot of information suggesting whether college prepares students for careers — all in one place, available at no charge: the Education Department’s Web site.

COOL, the acronym for the College Opportunities Online Locator, isn’t the best known Web site. If you type in “college information” or “college search” to Google, you get a bunch of commercial sites first. Even on the Education Department’s Web site, it doesn’t merit inclusion on the home page or the main page for parents. But with a few clicks or a search, parents can find it — as well as answers to most of Spellings’ questions. . . .

Why Proficiency for All is an Oxymoron

The No Child Left Behind Act requires all students to be proficient by 2014. This is widely understood to be unattainable because 2014 is too soon. But there is no date by which all (or nearly all) students, even middle-class students, can achieve proficiency. “Proficiency for all” is an oxymoron.

The federal education legislation does not define proficiency, but refers to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Although the Bush administration winks and nods when states require only low-level skills, the law says proficiency must be “challenging,” a term taken from NAEP’s definition. Democrats and Republicans stress that the No Child Left Behind law’s tough standards are a world apart from the minimum competency required by 1970s-style accountability programs.

But no goal can be both challenging to and achievable by all students across the achievement distribution. Standards can either be minimal and present little challenge to typical students, or challenging and unattainable by below-average students. No standard can simultaneously do both—hence the oxymoron—but that is what the No Child Left Behind law requires.

As the Harvard University professor Daniel Koretz, an expert on educational assessment and testing, has noted, typical variation in performance between those with lower and higher achievement is not primarily racial or ethnic; it is a gap within groups, including whites. Performance ranges in Japan and Korea, whose average math and science scores surpass ours, are similar to the U.S. range. If black-white gaps were eliminated in the United States, the standard deviation of test scores here would shrink by less than 10 percent. It would still be impossible to craft standards that simultaneously challenged students at the top, middle, and bottom.

The No Child Left Behind Act’s admirable goal of closing achievement gaps can only sensibly mean that achievement distributions for disadvantaged and middle-class children should be more alike. If gaps disappeared, similar proportions of whites and blacks would be “proficient”—but similar proportions would also fall below that level. Proficiency for all, implying the elimination of variation within socioeconomic groups, is inconceivable. Closing achievement gaps, implying the elimination of variation between socioeconomic groups, is daunting but worth striving for.

Not only is it logically impossible to have “proficiency for all” at a challenging level. The law and NAEP stumble further. Their expectations of proficiency are absurd, beyond challenging, even for students in the middle of the distribution. The highest-performing countries can’t come close to meeting the No Child Left Behind Act’s standard of proficiency for all. “First in the world,” a widely ridiculed U.S. goal from the 1990s that was supplanted by this federal legislation, is modest compared with the demand that all students be proficient.

States, no matter how well-intentioned, cannot perform psychometric miracles that are beyond the reach of federal experts.

We can compare performance in top-scoring countries with NAEP’s proficiency standard. Comparisons are inexact—all tests don’t cover identical curricula, define grades exactly the same, or have easily equated scales. But rough comparisons can serve policy purposes.

On a 1991 international math exam, Taiwan scored highest. But if Taiwanese students had taken the NAEP math exam, 60 percent would have scored below proficient, and 22 percent below basic. On the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, 25 percent of students in top-scoring Singapore were below NAEP proficiency in math, and 49 percent were below proficiency in science.

On a 2001 international reading test, Sweden was tops, but two-thirds of Swedish students were not proficient in reading, as NAEP defines it.

How did we get standards so divorced from reality, even for students in the middle of the distribution? Few Americans realize how unscientific the process for defining proficiency was—and must be. NAEP officials assembled some teachers, businesspeople, parents, and others, presented these judges with NAEP questions, and asked their opinions about whether students should get them right. No comparison with actual performance, even in the best schools, was required. Judges’ opinions were averaged to calculate how many NAEP questions proficient students should answer.

From the start, experts lambasted this process. When officials first contemplated defining proficiency, the NAEP board commissioned a 1982 study by Willard Wirtz, a former U.S. secretary of labor, and his colleague Archie Lapointe, a former executive director of NAEP. They reported that “setting levels of failure, mediocrity, or excellence in terms of NAEP percentages would be a serious mistake.” Indeed, they said, it would be “fatal” to NAEP’s credibility. Harold Howe II, a former U.S. commissioner of education responsible for NAEP’s early implementation, warned the assessment’s administrators that expecting all students to achieve proficiency “defies reality.”

In 1988, Congress ordered NAEP to determine the proficient score. Later, U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s education aide, who wrote the bill’s language, testified that Congress’ demand was “deliberately ambiguous” because neither congressional staff members nor education experts could formulate it precisely. “There was not an enormous amount of introspection,” the aide acknowledged.

Others urged NAEP to wait. In 1991, Gregory Anrig, then the president of the Educational Testing Service, which administered NAEP, suggested delaying proficiency definitions until they could be properly established. Chester E. Finn Jr., an influential member of the NAEP governing board, responded that by delaying reports on how few students were proficient, “we may be sacrificing something else—the sense of urgency for national improvement.”

Once achievement levels were set, the government commissioned a series of evaluations. Each study denounced the process for defining proficiency, leading to calls for yet another evaluation that might generate a better answer.

The first such evaluation, conducted by three respected statisticians in 1991, concluded that “the technical difficulties are extremely serious.” To continue the process, they said, would be “ridiculous.” Their preliminary report said that NAEP’s willingness to proceed in this way reflected technical incompetence. NAEP fired the statisticians.

Congress then asked the U.S. General Accounting Office for its opinion. The GAO found NAEP’s approach “inherently flawed, both conceptually and procedurally.” “These weaknesses,” it said, “could have serious consequences.” The GAO recommended that NAEP results not be published using percentages of students who were allegedly basic, proficient, or advanced.

Proficiency for all, implying the elimination of variation within socioeconomic groups, is inconceivable. Closing achievement gaps, implying the elimination of variation between socioeconomic groups, is daunting but worth striving for.

In response, the U.S. Department of Education commissioned yet another study, this one by the National Academy of Education. The panel concluded that procedures for defining proficiency were “subject to large biases,” and that levels by which American students had been judged deficient were “unreasonably high.” Continued use of NAEP proficiency definitions could set back the cause of education reform because it would harm the credibility of NAEP itself, the panel warned.

Finally, the Education Department asked the National Academy of Sciences to weigh in. It concluded, in 1999, that the “process for setting NAEP achievement levels is fundamentally flawed” and “achievement-level results do not appear to be reasonable.”

All this advice has been ignored—although now, every NAEP report includes a congressionally mandated disclaimer, buried in the text: “Achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted with caution.” The disclaimer adds that conclusions about changes in proficiency over time may have merit, but not about how many students are actually proficient. Yet the same reports highlight percentages of students deemed below proficient or basic, and these, not the disclaimer, are promoted in NAEP’s press releases.

A curiosity of the No Child Left Behind legislation is that while it imposes sanctions on schools where all students are not proficient, it also acknowledges that NAEP proficiency definitions should be used only on a “developmental basis,” until re-evaluated. No re-evaluation has been performed.

Although the legislation implies that proficiency is as NAEP defines it, the law permits states to set their own proficiency levels. States use their own judges to imagine how students should perform. Widely differing conclusions of judges in different states is proof enough of how fanciful the process must be. States, no matter how well-intentioned, cannot perform psychometric miracles that are beyond the reach of federal experts.

State definitions now result in many states’ reporting far higher percentages of proficient students than NAEP does. Some states define proficiency in NAEP’s below-basic range. More will do so if the No Child Left Behind law’s requirement of proficiency for all continues.

Even then, the demand for proficiency for all cannot be met because of the inevitable distribution of ability in any human population. The federal law exempts only 1 percent of all students. From what we know of normal cognitive distributions, this means that students with IQs as low as 65 must be proficient; these cognitively challenged young people must do better in math than 60 percent of students in top-scoring Taiwan. Were proficiency standards lowered to NAEP’s basic level, children with IQs as low as 65 would be expected to perform better than the 22 percent of Taiwanese students whose achievement is below NAEP’s basic score.

Discussions of reauthorizing the now almost 5-year-old law typically propose to “fix” it: by crediting gains as well as levels, extending deadlines past 2014, fiddling with minimum subgroup sizes, giving English-learners more time. None of these can save the law unless we jettison the incoherent demand that all students be proficient.

We could design accountability with realistic goals that recognize human variability. Although research and experimentation is needed to determine practical and ambitious goals, we can imagine the outlines.

We might, for example, expect students who today are at the 65th percentile of the test-score distribution to improve so that, at some future date, they perform similarly to students who are now at the 75th; students who today are at the 40th percentile to perform similarly to those who are now at the 50th; and students who are at the 15th percentile to perform similarly to those who are now at the 25th. Such goals create challenges for all students and express our intent that no child be left behind.

Such goals would perhaps have to vary for subpopulations, ages, regions, and schools. The system would be too complex to be reduced to simple sound bites and administered by the highly politicized federal Department of Education.

The No Child Left Behind Act cannot be “fixed.” It gives us a “sense of urgency for national improvement” at the price of our intellectual integrity, and an unjustified sense of failure and humiliation for educators and students. It’s time to return to the drawing board.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

NSTA Rejects "Inconvenient Truth" for Fear of Riling Exxon

Laurie David had a piece in the Sunday WaPo on another sellout among the education establishment, this time the National Science Teachers Association. While 60,000 free DVDs sit in a warehouse in California, the NSTA mulls the likelihood that accepting and distributing An Inconvenient Truth could hinder its "'capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.' One of those supporters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp."

Here is a clip, but read the whole thing here:

By Laurie David
Sunday, November 26, 2006; B01

At hundreds of screenings this year of "An Inconvenient Truth," the first thing many viewers said after the lights came up was that every student in every school in the United States needed to see this movie.

The producers of former vice president Al Gore's film about global warming, myself included, certainly agreed. So the company that made the documentary decided to offer 50,000 free DVDs to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for educators to use in their classrooms. It seemed like a no-brainer.

The teachers had a different idea: Thanks but no thanks, they said.

In their e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that other "special interests" might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn't want to offer "political" endorsement of the film; and they saw "little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members" in accepting the free DVDs.

Gore, however, is not running for office, and the film's theatrical run is long since over. As for classroom benefits, the movie has been enthusiastically endorsed by leading climate scientists worldwide, and is required viewing for all students in Norway and Sweden.

Still, maybe the NSTA just being extra cautious. But there was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." One of those supporters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp.

That's the same Exxon Mobil that for more than a decade has done everything possible to muddle public understanding of global warming and stifle any serious effort to solve it. It has run ads in leading newspapers (including this one) questioning the role of manmade emissions in global warming, and financed the work of a small band of scientific skeptics who have tried to challenge the consensus that heat-trapping pollution is drastically altering our atmosphere. The company spends millions to support groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute that aggressively pressure lawmakers to oppose emission limits.

It's bad enough when a company tries to sell junk science to a bunch of grown-ups. But, like a tobacco company using cartoons to peddle cigarettes, Exxon Mobil is going after our kids, too. . .

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Finns Finish First Without High Stakes Testing

The Finns gave up on high-stakes testing 30 years ago. HT to Monty Neill:

The Middle East's Leading English Language Daily

Sunday, 26, November, 2006 (06, Dhul Qa`dah, 1427)

Why Finnish Educational System Is the World’s No. 1
Jonathan Power, jonatpower@aol.com —

Two hours drive due north from Helsinki lies the Artic Circle. But in this town of 120,000 people one not only feels the bitter cold but also the white heat of the technological revolution.

Here are the principal research and development offices of Nokia. There are 800 other high tech companies, some overflowing their expertise into neighboring Russia where they see the future “beckoning”, in the words of Pertti Huuskonen, the boss of Technopolis, which is just building a big facility close to St. Petersburg airport. There are probably more Ph.D.s per square meter in this compact old paper-milling town than anywhere else on earth.

This astonishing intellectual creation can be laid at the feet of the Finnish educational system, considered by all who survey it, including the OECD, as possessing the best school system in the world. Finland is also reckoned to be in the top three of the world’s most competitive countries.

Why? Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen reduces the explanation to one pithy observation. “The teachers are respected; high talent is attracted into teaching; it is considered to be one of the most important professions”, he told me.

But how did Finland get to such a happy state of being? Tapani Ruokanen, editor of Finland’s leading news weekly, Suomen Kuvalehti, argues that it goes back to 18th Century when the Lutheran bishops wouldn’t allow anyone to marry unless they could read the Bible. Then in the 19th Century there were a series a strong revivalists movements, which led to the creation of a flurry of newspapers and magazines.

The big departure that everyone refers back to was the decision by a Social Democratic government in the 1970s to turn what was then an elitist system into a comprehensive one. Before then the working class could only progress into the upper schools if they won a scholarship that covered their fees. But for the last thirty-five years the schools have been open to all, free and unstreamed.

Marie-Laure Foulon, the Stockholm correspondent of Le Figaro who has just published a book, “Le Rebond du Modèle Scandinavia” (The Rebound of the Scandinavian Model), argues that the critical ingredient in the 1970’s reform was “to decide it was better to push up the bottom level to the middle than to push the middle to the top.” She says that Finland’s success shows that a system based on equal opportunity is superior to one like the French, “with excellence at the top and mediocrity at the bottom.” She adds, “the top will go to the top anyway.” She tells of interviewing the head of the Finnish stock exchange who told her that although at the time when he was at school he felt he was not being stretched, he realizes because of the comprehensive system he now knows his peers better and that has enabled him to be a more effective businessman. “It appears”, she concludes, “that equality in education creates productivity, even if it doesn’t always create excellence.”

Day to day, the Finnish government keeps the pressure on, indeed to such a degree that the pupils complain of a lack of fun at school, a problem that the minister of education, Antti Kalliomäki, tells me is being worked on with new proposals to extend the short school day that often ends at 2 p.m. for another couple of hours where pupils can play sport and do their hobbies before they return home. Nevertheless, compared with say French or British children, the children should feel themselves lucky — there are no nationwide exams or big final tests. It is a system of continuous assessment by a mixture of monthly tests and teacher evaluations.

Much of success of the educational system lies in a detailed application to the problems that can arise in all educational systems — from making sure that all children get fed by providing free meals at school to subsidized travel. Likewise no student, however badly behaved, need fear expulsion. The school is simply responsible for getting on top of whatever behavior problems emerge.

Only 15 percent of those who apply to be teachers are accepted, even though pay levels are about average for Europe. No teacher can teach at any level without a master’s degree. Once in a job, teachers are encouraged to keep abreast of the academic literature so that educational decisions are based on rational argument, not just everyday intuition. Moreover, they are constantly being sent on courses during their long holidays to upgrade their knowledge and skills.

In short, the Finns work at it and, unencumbered by a class-stratified educational system, they have shown that equality is a plus, not a hindrance to fast progress.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Spellings Loses on Jeopardy to "Spinal Tap" Dude

A clip from Wonkette :
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings appeared on Celebrity Jeopardy last night. She lost. By a lot. This screenshot comes just after the end of the Double Jeopardy round, when the imminent loss was most painfully apparent. She lost to (in the words of outraged Wonkette emailers) either “David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap” or “Lenny from Laverne and Shirley” (better those two than Nigel Tufnel and Squiggy, we suppose). . .

Join the Drive to Dismantle NCLB

I just checked over at Educator Roundtable, and they have over 2,600 concerned teachers, parents, academics, administrators, students, clergymen, and others who have signed the petition to end the nightmare.

Please click on over, add your name, and make a statement.

While you're there, give what you can for the cause. It could be best gift your kids will ever receive.

Pass it on!

Unschooling by Homeschooling

Some parents have the wherewithal and resouces to save their children from being sacrificed to the present-day testing crucible. It is, indeed, a sad commentary to suggest that the best way to save our next generation of children may be to remove them from the straightjacketed testing camps that are quickly replacing America's schools. Here's a clip on the unschooling movement from the Times:

There is scant data on the educational results of unschooling, and little knowledge about whether the thousands of unschooled children fare better or worse than regularly schooled students. There is not even reliable data on how many people are unschooling, though many experts suggest the number is growing.

Here in Chicago, a group called the Northside Unschoolers has 100 families registered on its online list. There are similar organizations coast to coast, including the San Francisco Bay Unschooling Network, Unschoolers Unlimited in Guilford, Conn., and the Unschoolers of the Ozarks, serving Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, although accurate figures for the number of families they serve are hard to come by. Adherents say the rigidity of school-type settings and teacher-led instruction tend to stifle children’s natural curiosity, setting them up for life without a true love of learning.

“When you think about it, the way they do things in school is mostly for crowd control,” said Karen Tucker, a mother of three boys who is an unschooler in Siloam Springs, Ark., and belongs to the Unschoolers of the Ozarks. “We don’t duplicate the methods of school because we’ve rejected school.” . . .

Friday, November 24, 2006

College Republicans Supporting White Only Scholarships

Apparently the Party of Lincoln is truly completing its transformation to the Party of David Duke. The pimple-faced brownshirts at Boston U. who represent the future of the New Party of the Old Confederacy are making a strong case for White Power:
Looking to draw attention to what they call the "worst form of bigotry confronting America today," Boston University's College Republicans are circulating an application for a "Caucasian Achievement and Recognition Scholarship" that requires applicants be at least 25 percent Caucasian.
The rest of the the story here.

All the tests in the world will not close the achievement gap

The Times prints Judy Rabin's excellent letter:

To the Editor:

All the tests in the world will not close the achievement gap. When politicians and business leaders stop blaming the schools and start focusing on the real reasons for the achievement gap — the economic gap, the health care gap and the racial gap — poor and minority students may have a fighting chance.

Until then, the more than $2 billion testing industry will continue to reap a bonanza as our nation falls further and further into the educational abyss.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Start the Giving Season Today, and Save Our Schools

Here is a message from Dr. Philip Kovacs, who is now accepting donations to Educator Roundtable. I plan to send him $10.40 for me and $10.40 for each of my 3 grandsons, River, Stone, and Jackson. Please give what you can:
This is a grass roots campaign which relies on your donations. Unlike the Business Roundtable, which receives millions of dollars from corporations, or the NEA, which receives millions of dollars from membership dues, we intend to raise money in small sums from teachers and concerned citizens all over the country.

A full page ad in the national Sunday New York Times is going to cost us around $174,000. If we get 17,000 people to give $10.40, that won't be an issue. The point of the advertisement is getting individuals to come here to sign the petition. Ideally, you will leave this site and tell 10 others to return and sign. Each of them, we hope, will do the same. The next step is delivering petitions to policy makers sympathetic to our cause, which will also cost money, though that can be worried about once we have the signatures.

We are incorporating as a 501(c)(3) but that is going to take 4-6 months. In the meantime you can send personal checks made out to Philip Kovacs (acting secretary/treasurer) at:

Philip Kovacs
215 Skyline Road
Madison AL 35758


While we would rather have checks, as Pay Pal charges a fee, if you want to make your life a little easier, you can use your credit card or ATM card to make a donation here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Please Sign the Petition to End NCLB

The Educator Roundtable has just put up their petition to dismantle the turkey of all education legislation, NCLB. Check it out here.

Please do support the effort by signing and giving $10.40 to the Educator Roundtable. The first 17,000 of us to give will purchase the first full-page ad in the New York Times calling for the end of the NCLB charade.

And Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Dumber

Some day historians will look back on this era of testing madness as the time when reality intruded upon the intractable lie that schools alone can close the achievement gap. For now, however, we have to continue to watch the truth leak in, drip by drip. Here is another drip by Sam Dillon, showing that the family income, er, achievement gap is actually getting worse:
A Persistent Gap

When President Bush signed his sweeping education law a year into his presidency, it set 2014 as the deadline by which schools were to close the test-score gaps between minority and white students that have persisted since standardized testing began.

Now, as Congress prepares to consider reauthorizing the law next year, researchers and a half-dozen recent studies, including three issued last week, are reporting little progress toward that goal. Slight gains have been seen for some grade levels.

Despite concerted efforts by educators, the test-score gaps are so large that, on average, African-American and Hispanic students in high school can read and do arithmetic at only the average level of whites in junior high school.

“The gaps between African-Americans and whites are showing very few signs of closing,” Michael T. Nettles, a senior vice president at the Educational Testing Service, said in a paper he presented recently at Columbia University. One ethnic minority, Asians, generally fares as well as or better than whites.

The reports and their authors, in interviews, portrayed an educational landscape in which test-score gaps between black or Hispanic students and whites appear in kindergarten and worsen through 12 years of public education.. . .

Monday, November 20, 2006

Standing Ovation for Ohanian at NCTE Convention

From the Tennessean with a minor correction to first line, which had $71.40--it should read $10.40:
Conference speaker draws ovation with plan to lobby against '02 law

Susan Ohanian has a $10.40-a-person plan to stop the federal No Child Left Behind act.

That's the sum that thousands of teachers would have to shell out to finance a whirlwind lobbying effort aimed at abolishing the 2002 law, which is up for reauthorization next year.

Ohanian, a longtime teacher who writes and speaks about educational issues, spoke Saturday at the National Council of Teachers of English annual conference in Nashville, which drew about 7,000 people. Her talk got a standing ovation.

"There comes a time when you can't participate in a system that's harming the children," said Ohanian, a senior fellow at the Vermont Society for the Study of Education.

The law "declares that 100 percent of children must be reading on grade level by 2014. I taught children with learning difficulties for 20 years. That's not going to happen.

"It's a formula designed to declare public schools bankrupt. It's setting schools up for failure because there's a concerted movement to privatize education," she said.

The "resistance movement," as Ohanian called it, would include collecting and submitting 1 million signatures to Congress, organizing a march on Washington, buying ads in national publications and supporting existing groups that are working to repeal the law.

No Child Left Behind went into effect Jan. 8, 2002. It sets achievement goals for various subgroups of students in public schools and tracks their yearly progress by rigorous testing. Schools that miss the benchmarks are put on notice and face sanctions up to state takeover.

When passed, the law was based on the idea that scrupulous testing gives parents a way to see how their children and schools perform and allows them to choose other options if students aren't learning.

NCLB proponents say that the measure holds educators and students accountable and is designed to eventually close achievement gaps among some groups of children. It also promotes high teacher quality and tracks safety statistics, they say.

But since its authorization, scores of NCLB's harshest critics, including teachers, have said the measure isn't adequately funded, doesn't acknowledge progress unless it meets certain benchmarks, and creates a pressure cooker for teachers and kids.

David Schultz said Saturday he knows this firsthand. An educator of 33 years, Schultz has spent the past six teaching kindergarten in New York state. He said he doesn't like that the federal government dictates what local teachers can do in their classrooms.

"It's a bad thing because people are making decisions about my children who haven't met my children. … Because of this great-stakes atmosphere, it's focused on just a few curriculum areas, in particular math and reading, which are important, but the rest falls by the wayside."

Open Letter from Brady to Spellings

Marion Brady, one of the knights of the quickly-expanding Educator Roundtable, recently wrote this letter that in now in wide circulation. The Educator Roundtable is composed of and open to parents, academics, teachers, admins, and anyone else who seeks to make sure that NCLB is dismantled. They have a new website going up very soon. Stay tuned.

An Open Letter to Margaret Spellings and Congress

"Human history," said H. G. Wells, is "a race between education and catastrophe." Stay the present course with No Child Left Behind, and catastrophe is a sure bet.

You’ll soon be deciding the fate of this well-meant but appallingly simplistic piece of legislation. Continued failure to answer the legitimate questions of those you expect to carry out your mandates will further erode trust in your leadership.

Here are some of those questions:

1. NCLB reflects the views primarily of leaders of business and industry rather than of active, working educators. Does this make sense?

2. Did at least some of those who originally helped shape NCLB hope to discredit public education as a step toward privatizing the institution?

3. On critical, instruction-related questions, NCLB removes local educators and school boards from the decision-making loop. Does the history of top-down, centralized control of complex institutions suggest this change strategy works?

4. Will manipulating the curriculum to "maintain America’s competitive position in world trade" be more likely to ensure America’s future well-being than helping the young come to love learning because it allows them to pursue their abilities and interests?

5. Management experts say that poor institutional performance almost always indicates a "system" problem. NCLB blames poor performance not on "the system" but on the people in the system. Are the management experts wrong?

6. NCLB relies on market forces to improve schools. Does this mean that learning is unnatural and won’t take place unless teachers and students are threatened or bribed?

7. Do NCLB-mandated subject-matter standards, based as they are on an 1892 curriculum design, adequately address present and future individual and societal needs?

8. If there are problems with the present, same-thing-for-every-student curriculum, don’t "raising the bar" and "rigor" make them worse?

9. NCLB is rapidly pushing "frills" out of the curriculum. Has research now established that art, music, physical activity and so on have nothing to do with scientific and mathematical reasoning ability and workforce skills?

10. Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of students are being held back because of poor reading and math skills. Is the ability to interpret written symbols the only way the young learn, and therefore sufficient reason to retain them in grade?

11. Education is supposed to teach kids to think for themselves, not merely recall what they’ve been ordered to remember. Are the centerpieces of NCLB (corporately produced, machine-scored tests) able to judge the quality of complex thought processes?

12. Should life-changing decisions for the young hinge on the results of a single test?

13. Attempting to avoid the "failing" label, schools use myriad strategies to "game" the system. For example, knowing which students are likely to fail and which will succeed on high-stakes tests, the "marginals" get the attention. Is it possible to anticipate and counter all such strategies?

14. Has provision been made for coping with NCLB’s unintended consequences — increased drop-out rate, loss of teacher autonomy and professionalism, negative student reaction to excessive rote instruction and drill, increased costs of testing and test-related materials, the stigma of the "failure" label — (just to begin a list)?

15. Are NCLB-related contracts entirely free of conflicts of interest?

Abstinence and the Avoidance of Facts

The cons in the White House have never had a problem discerning "scientifically-based" research when same research advanced their antiquarian agenda of social control based on bigotry. Suddenly, when challenged to offer the same evidence they require of everyone else for practices based on lies, the cons are nonplussed. From TPM Muckraker:

This is kind of fun. In a new report on publicly-funded abstinence programs, a government watchdog charged that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) allows programs to distribute inaccurate sex information to kids, and suggested the agency clean up its act.

But in its defense, HHS argued that it doesn't know how to tell whether something is "scientifically accurate."

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), HHS last year spent $153 million on abstinence education programs -- including my favorite, "A.C. Green's Game Plan Abstinence Program," developed by the famously abstinent onetime NBA superstar (ironic nickname: "Ironman").

Set aside the issue of whether they do any good. GAO tried to see if they did any harm, and concluded they did: Some of the abstinence programs are telling kids stuff that just isn't true. The GAO cites one program which told kids that HIV can pass through latex condoms, because latex is porous. (That's false.)

The GAO gave the reasonable-sounding recommendation to HHS that it ensure that all information given to kids through these programs should be scientifically accurate.

If only the world were so simple! In response, the Department of Health and Human Services -- which has on staff more than a few scientists and other educated types -- said the GAO's suggestion was useless. "GAO never defines the term 'scientific accuracy' in its report," HHS complained. "As such, it is difficult to precisely determine the criteria employed by GAO in making the recommendations as to scientific accuracy."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dumping School Privatization (and Edison) in Philadelphia

Perhaps Chris Whittle should go back to a business he was good at, like putting advertainment reading material above the urinals in Knoxville eateries. Now working on his third edu-business collapse, it is certainly clear that Train Wreck would have been a better title than Crash Course for his lightweight 2005 opus on the bright future of corporate welfare education.

Now he is once again faced with corporate calamity, this time from an impending cut to his 20 Philadelphia macschools, which represent 20% of his testing stores nationwide. Part of the story from the Philadelphi Inquirer:

Inquirer Staff Writer

In 2002, the Philadelphia School District embarked on the nation's largest experiment in private management of public schools, with educators across the country watching.

As the five-year anniversary approaches, the district's leadership is proposing to halve funding next fiscal year to the six private managers running 41 of the district's 270-plus schools. The managers include the for-profit Edison Schools Inc., which runs 20 of the schools.

Such a move could further erode the privatization movement in public school systems, which never took off as envisioned, experts say. Potential operators realized the hurdles in dealing with union contracts and limited resources and opted to try charter schools, tutoring, and other educational services instead.

"Had this been outstandingly successful, I think you would have seen a whole bunch of cities jump on the bandwagon," said Henry M. Levin, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University.

About 500 schools, including some charters, are run by outside managers nationwide - one half of 1 percent, he said.

In Philadelphia, schools chief Paul Vallas wants to cut 10 percent of the funding to the district's educational management organizations (EMOs) this year. If the School Reform Commission agrees, the funding would be cut again next year, for a total of 50 percent.

Vallas' proposal, which is to be decided on by April, grew out of the district's attempts to close a $73.3 million deficit in its $2.04 billion budget. But district officials had talked before that of axing managers or taking away some of their schools if performance waned.

Would such a large funding decrease next year mean the district's controversial venture had failed? Vallas says no. Others disagree.

The district learned some lessons, Vallas said. It adapted, for example, the six-week student testing system from Edison to track student progress.

"The goal wasn't to establish a permanent long-term relationship. It was to bring them in, let them improve those schools, then pull them out," Vallas said.

Some defend the managers, saying they were able to show gains even with the lowest-performing schools while fostering competition.

"The reality is that prior to these reforms, there had been no student achievement of any kind of comprehensive sort across Philadelphia," said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a proponent of charter schools and school choice.

If the outside managers disappeared, Allen said, "there's no reason not to go back to business as usual."

But others have pronounced the effort a failure and say it's time the district admits it, cuts its losses, and moves on. The managers, they say, failed to produce achievement on par with the extra money they get.

District-run schools overall have done better on state tests. The 2006 results show that overall, 11 of the 43 schools run by the managers met federal performance targets, down from 15 in 2005. The for-profit Edison and Victory Schools had fewer schools meeting federal targets. Only Foundations Inc. improved, by one school.

Edison, Victory, Foundations and Universal Companies receive $750 more per student than the district spends, while the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University get $450 more. Collectively, the managers are paid about $18 million to run the schools.

"It isn't so much that these EMOs are doing bad things, but it's very difficult to suggest that it's doing better than the district can do when the district puts its mind to it," said Columbia's Levin. "They're getting $22,000 more a classroom. Now the question is - hey, is it really worth it?" . . .

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Jay Mathews and the History of Testing for Dummies

Tuesday's column in WaPo is Mathews at his best, which is to say, Mathews at his worst. For what Mathews does best is to somnolently assault the truth through conflation, distortion, mollification, over-simplification, and by generally or specifically debasing the facts. His apologia yesterday to the racist origins of high stakes testing does not disappoint those who have become accustomed to his not-so-stealty rightwing revisionist ragging of the truth.

He begins with a typical smear by broad-brushing intellectuals as elites who care not for accuracy or correct responses:
In ancient Greece, Socrates tested his students through conversations. Answers were not scored as right or wrong. They just led to more dialogue. Many intellectual elites in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. cared more about finding the path to higher knowledge than producing a correct response. To them, accuracy was for shopkeepers.
So subtle. The truth is, of course, that Socrates and the foundations of Western knowledge that he spawned considered correct knowledge as the basis for moral action. According to the Ancients, the bad deeds of men are the result of having bad knowledge. Having good knowledge, i.e., the truth, would result in doing good acts. And this good knowledge, for Socrates, was arrived at through public dialogue that should be a concern for politicians, playwrights, potters, or pipe fitters. Thus, right knowledge (education) became the path to becoming a good person. This truth, for Socrates, Plato, and their inheritors, was something that could be brought to the surface from any soul if the proper methods and persistence were undertaken—which had nothing to do, by the way, with #2 pencils or scantron machines.

These knowledge assumptions from the Greeks have remained largely at the center of education until challenged at the beginning of the 20th Century by a group of education reformers who were essentially racist social-engineering efficiency zealots, who exploited racial and cultural fears to mold public education into a business efficiency model. Mathews, however, cites unnamed historians who view the rise of testing as an “inevitable” byproduct of technology:
Historians call the rise of testing an inevitable outgrowth of expanding technology. As goods and services are delivered with greater speed and in higher quantity and quality, education has been forced to pick up the pace.
The truth, of course, is something quite different. The rise of testing was driven by a desire to have a scientific way to engineer a society that would be devoid of defectives, by nurturing and breeding more of the intellectually gifted (Plato’s logico-mathematical elites), by restricting entry to the country by lesser types, and by sterilizing or segregating those immigrants and citizens of “lower mentality.” Sociologist, Edward Ross, whose Social Control (1901) provided the social theory for much of this movement, argued that there was an urgent need for schools to take the lead as public instititutions for initiating social control, and he later urged that the “beaten members of the beaten breeds” do not infect the purity or impede the progress of those who possess the “ancestral foundations of American character” (Black, 2003, p. 23).

Elwood Cubberley, head of Stanford’s program to prepare school administrators during the early part of the 20th Century, argued that “we should give up the exceedingly democratic idea that all are equal and that our society is devoid of classes. . . . One bright child may easily be worth more to the National Life than thousands of those of lower mentality.” John Franklin Bobbitt, another leading education pioneer and efficiency reformer of the era, published a 1909 article entitled “Practical Eugenics.” In it he presaged Pat Buchanan by a hundred years, as he waxed poetic on good old days of racial purity and offered dire consequences for an unstaunched flow of immigrants: “In primal days was the blood of the race kept high and pure, like mountain streams,” and he warned that the “highest, purest tributaries to the stream of heredity” were being replaced by “a rising flood in the muddy, undesirable stream” (p. 29).

It was, in fact, the fear of infecting America with “defective germ plasm” that inspired H. H. Goddard to co-opt Alfred Binet’s early intelligence test for the purposes of sorting, labeling, segregating, and/or otherwise limiting the propagation of undesirables and encouraging the breeding of those exhibiting desirable traits. And it was no less than former President, Teddy Roosevelt who noted in a 1913 letter to lead eugenicist, Charles Davenport, that “some day, we will realized that the prime duty, the inescapable duty, of the good citizen of the right type, is to leave his or blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type” (p. 99). Not one of the more widely-publicized TR qoutes.

What the education efficiency experts and race planners (eugenicists) of the early 20th Century brought with them was the belief that education should function as a social sorting machine to weed out the defective and to train the rest in the appropriate adult work behaviors and roles. Education became focused on producing compliant and efficient workers, rather than creating, as had been the custom since the Greeks, good people. This was not driven by expanding technology, as Mathews would have it, nearly so much as it was by an elitist social ideology and the eugenic pseudoscience that became, in fact, the inspiration for the social policies of the Third Reich.

Mathews’ interpretation, however, offers this palliative to the virulent racism of Henry Goddard, inventor of the psychological label “moron” and pal of Stanford professor, eugenicist, and racist, Lewis Terman:
Still, modern testing had a clumsy start as psychologists experimented with exams to help employers, schools and others rate applicants. In one early case, testing expert H.H. Goddard identified as "feeble-minded" 83 percent of Jews, 80 percent of Hungarians, 79 percent of Italians and 87 percent of Russians among a small group of immigrants assessed at Ellis Island.
Clumsy, Mathews says. There was, in fact, nothing clumsy about Terman’s and Goddard’s appropriation of Binet’s new-fangled intelligence test as a “scientific” instrument to identify mental defectives in order to segregate them, sterilize them, or to keep them from immigrating to this country. Their had the backing, in fact, of the Carnegie Foundation, which also funded the Eugenics Research Office at Cold Springs Harbor, which now has a fascinating website documenting its own sordid history.

It was the College Board’s SAT that would become the inheritor of the foundational standardized testing work done by Terman, Goddard, and Carl Brigham. And even though Mathews quotes unofficial Business Roundtable historian, Diane Ravitch, who holds to her misleading and disingenuous claim that there was some kind of egalitarian motive that inspired the SAT, the fact is that the SAT was just another in a long line of pseudo-scientific tools developed to insure the continued economic and social privileges of those who had always had same, while using the fig leaf of science as justification for an “objectivity” that was born and bred from seeds that were virulently racist in origin. Of course, it is, indeed, the sad ruse of meritocratic testing that gave James Conant and his white liberal descendants at Ed Trust their woefully-barren moral justification for educational practices that are so systemically unfair to the same poor, brown, and immigrant that were getting shafted a hundred years ago by "intelligence" testing.

That that kind of monstrous policy could begin all over again a hundred later, after Goddard, Davenport, Bobbitt, and the other scientific racists have long been moldering in their graves, says everything about the work that is requried to keep history alive--and everything, too, about the high stakes involved in the perpetuation of power and privilege by those who will never voluntarily relinquish either.

For those wanting to know more about eugenics, there is Black’s War Against the Weak website, which is quoted above—and many others, too. Here is a clip from an interview with Mathew Jacobsen that appears on the PBS website:
In this country, eugenics really starts to come into its own right after the turn of the century, particularly with the establishment of the Eugenics Research Center in Cold Springs Harbor on Long Island. A Chicago biologist named Charles Davenport is given a lot of money from the Carnegie Foundation to do eugenic research and genetic research. And that gives what had been a kind of vague intellectual movement; that gives it a kind of infrastructure. It gives it a place. It gives it some money. It gives it some laboratories. It gives it a name. It kind of becomes a focal point for eugenicists of every walk of life to kind of get into the picture and treat eugenics, this idea of biologically engineering society, as a serious idea and an idea that is not only practicable but is a good one.

[For] Davenport, immigration represents the importation into the country of genetic material that is unalterable, and it's also readable. You can read racial character. You can see it. You can measure it. You can define it. And ultimately, if you understand it well enough, you can use those ideas for breeding a better society or, you know, keeping procreation down among certain elements of the population who aren't desirable. And ultimately, of course, you can also use it in deciding who should be able to come into the country and become a naturalized citizen.

And ultimately that not only is the spirit of thought that carries the day in the debates in the '10s over immigration and restriction, but it's the same folks; it's the same people. You know, Davenport has connections with some of the people who are involved in intelligence testing, people like H. H. Goddard, who does intelligence testing on Ellis Island and determines, from a psychological or an intelligence point of view, that certain races are undesirable.

. . . .

It has never been the case that democracy in this country has been wide open. There [has] always been some kind of presumption that certain people are fit for self-government and certain people aren't. And that's a phrase that we don't use anymore. In fact, from the beginning, democracy and racism have been [inextricably linked, and] the notion of democracy was based on racial presumptions, about fitness for self-government for that very narrow circle in the late eighteenth century of "We the People," and that circle has been expanding over two centuries and more now. But I don't think that the presumption [is] that democracy is just something you can throw the doors open to and allow anyone to participate. And I think that's something that a lot of Americans misunderstand about their political culture.

Friday, November 17, 2006

NCLB Doesn't Measure Up

Educational researchers are beginning to accumulate empirical data and evidence for what most teachers and administrators already know: NCLB is not working and, in fact, is undermining the very goals that it set out to accomplish.

It is ironic, indeed, that those who believe in numbers and measurements when it comes to education, would ignore the findings of well-respected quantitative research. Eventually, the truth about this legislation, like the truth about WMD's and Iraq will come out and the American people will finally understand the true motives behind NCLB and the destruction it is causing in public education.

Teachers College at Columbia University held a symposium this week to present data and information.

"NCLB was created ostensibly to build on the Title I legislation enacted in the 1960s that sought to safeguard the equity vision of Brown versus Board of Education," Michael A. Rebell, executive director of The Campaign for Educational Equity, said in a news release.

"In fact, though its aims are good ones, aspects of the law are undermining that vision. It's clear from these new findings that we need to shift NCLB's focus from unrealistic and ill-defined goals such as 'one hundred percent proficiency' to issues of how to provide all students with meaningful educational opportunities, so that we can ground the law in what kids really need to learn."
Is anybody listening?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sandy Kress at the Feeding Trough Redux

At the recent PDK Summit in Washington, Sandy Kress was center stage acting, as always, as if he knew something about education besides how to polish the political apple on both sides. No doubt the great architect of the great train wreck that is NCLB has been selected once again to lead the push for reathorization a renewed education privatization plan, a new one with its egalitarian death models, er, growth models and new federal standards. I still consider it one of life's great mysteries as to how anyone who listens to Kress for as long as it takes to spell c-o-r-r-u-p-t-i-o-n could be impressed by anything he has to say about any legitimate conception of education.

Anyway, it seems that the Texas Observer piece outlining some of Sandy's ethically-challenged shenanigans down in Texas has been taken down. So as to not deprive anyone of some background on who this bottom feeder really is, here is the piece in its entirety as found at the National Center for Bilingual Education:

Texas Observer
May 13, 2005

High-Stakes Tests Aren't Good for Students, Teachers, or Schools.
So Who Are They Good for?


A committee hearing in the basement of the Texas Capitol on February 28 offered a glimpse of what the next phase of public school reform in this country might look like. The House Public Education Committee heard testimony on House Bill 2, an omnibus school finance and reform package. If the bill passes and Texas continues to serve as a national blueprint for school reform, the rest of the country should brace for more tests, with more riding on those tests than ever. The new legislation would inject additional “accountability” into public education, this time by expanding standardized testing in high schools, and tying funding, including teacher salaries, to performance on state exams. Those proposals aren’t popular in many quarters. Eighteen people representing teachers, administrators, parents, and public school advocates testified against the bill. They asked for fewer testing mandates and more public school funding. The critics of the bill are part of a growing movement against the Texas education model, enshrined in the landmark federal law No Child Left Behind. Opponents say the current focus on testing degrades education and drains resources from the neediest schools.

Only one witness testified in favor of the bill. There was a small stir as Sandy Kress came to the microphone; in gatherings like this, he is something of a celebrity. Ten years ago, public school accountability was a vague, unenforceable ideal from free market enthusiasts who wanted to see schools run more like businesses. Kress, a Dallas lawyer, was serving what would be his last, tumultuous term as president of the Dallas school board. Fellow board members were calling the newspaper to denounce him as a racist and a bully. The fortunes of the reform movement and of Kress have risen together. He is one of the principal designers of No Child Left Behind, and has used his knowledge and connections to earn millions as a high-powered lobbyist for test publishers.

Despite the lack of an endorsement from any major Texas education group, passage of HB 2 out of the committee was a foregone conclusion. Accountability, with its powerful allies, seems unstoppable. Its supporters are free market reformers who say test scores bring a needed dose of reality to lazy educational bureaucracies. Others are education reformers who believe that the best hope for poor and minority students lies in the public humiliation of their “low-performing” schools. And a select few enrich themselves supplying the demand public school reform has created for tests, and the tools it takes to pass them. Kress appears to be all of the above.

“A decade earlier, Texas was going backwards,” Kress told the committee. “Graduation rates were going down. Our minority youngsters were going nowhere.” Now, he insisted, because of accountability, schools are better. The committee should go further, and faster—more tests, shorter deadlines, tougher standards. It was a radically different perspective than that voiced by other witnesses. Of course, unlike other witnesses, Kress was not lobbying on behalf of schools, teachers, or students, but a coalition of business interests who have pushed their version of school reform in Texas for more than a decade.

Kress can be an appealing witness—unusually alert and impassioned, with a voice that readily conveys sincerity in the faintest of Dallas inflections. He champions cash incentives for teachers who improve student test scores, but says they should be used primarily to draw talented teachers into the poorest schools. (Business groups use incentives as a means to side-step blanket pay raises, teachers’ groups say.)

Kress plays up the interests of poor and minority students, while soft-pedaling the need for increased funding. Business leaders have thrown themselves foursquare against more money. “I think the business community feels we ought to spend more and more on education,” Kress told the committee. “I think some would be willing to pay more. But I think they all feel very deeply that if they’re going to pay more, they want to see results, they want to see efficiency, they want to see accountability.” HB 2, with its emphasis on test scores and its marginal increases in funding, seemed to be exactly what business leaders wanted. Kress closed with, “Keep up the good work.”

Eleven days later, the Texas House of Representatives approved HB 2, and though the Senate has tinkered with the bill’s financing, the testing provisions remain intact. If it seems peculiar that a system so good for business and so hard on public schools should also be packaged as the best answer for “disadvantaged” students, that’s the genius of Sandy Kress. From his days in Dallas to his tenure in the Bush administration, Kress has pushed accountability as the final solution for poor and minority kids stuck in under-performing public schools. Since returning to Austin and high-profile lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in 2002, Kress has been teaching businesses to turn a profit helping schools meet the mandates of No Child Left Behind. In the process, he’s made about $4 million in lobbying contracts, in large part from companies that profit from provisions of the law he helped to design. Kress says his clients share his vision of schools where unequivocal standards make educating every student no longer optional.

“When I take on a client, I try to take on people who seem committed to the same goals I have,” says Kress, who agreed to answer interview questions by e-mail. “I expect to be judged by the same standard by which I judge others—has this work contributed to improved educational results for students, particularly disadvantaged students?”

It’s a question that’s still very much up for debate.

In Dallas in the late eighties, Kress was an anomalous figure, a prominent lawyer involved in local Democratic politics—he was elected to chair the Dallas County Democratic Party in 1986—with strong connections in the local, mainly Republican, business community. “Sandy had close ties to business in Dallas,” says Rene Castilla, former president of the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees. “They listened to each other.”

It was during Castilla’s term as board president that Kress first began to dabble in school board politics. At the time, Dallas business leaders were worried about the abysmal standardized test scores in the city’s predominantly black schools. “Dallas had a pretty poor reputation for the performance of its schools,” Castilla says. “That didn’t sit well with business. A business community wants to attract new business to the area, and there’s two questions people ask before relocating—housing and schools.”

Accountability was an idea then making the rounds among business leaders. Both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton tried to implement national standards for American education, but attempts to enforce the new rules met with complex partisan opposition and by the early nineties the movement had stalled. Business leaders began to suggest the solution was to treat failing schools like failing corporations: Establish clear-cut standards, monitor whether they were met, and either reward the successful or punish the failures. “Just as businesses are results-oriented, so schools must also be,” Lou Gerstner, then CEO of IBM, wrote in his book Reinventing Education in 1994. “Results are not achieved by bureaucratic regulation. They are achieved by meeting customer requirements by rewards for success and penalties for failure. Market discipline is the key, the ultimate form of accountability.”

Kress presented accountability to the school board in 1990 as a way to simultaneously raise test scores and win the support of business. To a school board then trying to float a hefty bond issue against business opposition, that sounded like a good deal. The board tapped Kress to head a commission that would shape an accountability system for the district. After months of study, the commission proposed a system that rated schools by their test scores, with schools that showed the most improvement getting cash awards of $5,000 to $10,000. Perhaps most importantly, the system would force schools to disaggregate test scores, keeping administrators from disguising low scores for poor, black, or Latino students by averaging them into the general population. The board unanimously approved the commission’s proposals in 1991. The next year, Kress was elected to the school board with the overwhelming support of influential business leaders, including Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush. “Sandy believed minority kids deserved better than they were getting,” says Castilla, who lost the board presidency to Kress in 1994. “He was very hard-working, very zealous about making a difference.”

However, black school board members saw accountability as an attempt to undermine the city’s 1974 desegregation order, which allotted extra money and resources to Dallas’s historically neglected black schools. Kress did torpedo several key components of the desegregation order, heading efforts that slashed more than $15 million from bond proposals for a magnet school in a mostly black part of town. He also sought to limit the money spent on “learning centers” meant to reverse the city’s busing policy by bringing black students back into their own neighborhoods. As board president, Kress brought a hardball style of politics to what had been a sleepy municipal body; black board members accused him of meeting in secret with favored board members and manipulating the board’s committee system to dilute the minority vote. Secretly taped conversations alleged to be between Kress and fellow board member and political ally Dan Peavy supported the accusations. Peavy used racial slurs when describing plans to curb the influence of black board members. Kress’s identity on the tapes was never confirmed, but soon after they came to light in 1995, he announced he would not run for another term as board president. “I have no idea what the next challenge will be,” he told reporters at a press conference in January 1996. “But I am sure there will be one.”

He didn’t have long to wait. A year later, Kress moved to Austin, where he already had friends. In 1993, he had worked with Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock on the first draft of the Texas accountability system, which introduced the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test. He had briefed George W. Bush on education policy during his 1994 run against incumbent Ann Richards. Once in Austin, Kress helped Gov. Bush lobby for pet reforms like ending social promotion. As a paid consultant for the Governor’s Business Council, Kress traveled across the state pushing Bush’s education agenda. He also served as a board member of the Texas Business and Education Coalition, and a lobbyist for TBEC’s lobbying arm, Texans for Education. By 1998, Kress was working for Akin Gump. Through the firm, Kress held lobbying contracts for McGraw-Hill, the textbook publishing company that had long-standing personal ties to the Bush family. Kress was one of the architects of the Governor’s Reading Initiative, which eventually landed McGraw-Hill the lion’s share of the Texas textbook market.

In 2000, Kress helped Bush craft the education platform that became the centerpiece of “compassionate conservativism” and stumped for Bush’s plan throughout the campaign, telling the story of the “Texas miracle”—rising test scores, happy urban school kids, a bright new future—again and again. When Bush finally secured his victory, he took Kress along with him to Washington, D.C. Once inside the Beltway, Kress played key roles in crafting and passing No Child Left Behind. Officially still a Democrat, he was instrumental in putting together the bipartisan push behind the bill, pulling Democratic lawmakers Ted Kennedy, George Miller, and John Boehner into the president’s court. The law that took shape required states to test every student in the third through eighth grades and once in high school, and publicize the scores. By 2014, all students, including those in special education and those with limited English skills, would have to pass the exam. To that end, the states would establish “adequate yearly progress” or AYP standards. Schools that receive Title I funding—federal aid for schools with high numbers of poor, minority, and at-risk students—would be penalized if they failed to meet the standards for three years running.

Kress continued to promise that high-stakes testing would save poor and minority students by drawing attention to their low scores. Some credit Kress as the original coiner of Bush’s “soft bigotry of low expectations”—the catch-phrase now used to lob a subtle accusation of racism and class-ism at anyone who protests that testing mandates are unfair to those same disadvantaged kids.

The General Accounting Office predicts states will spend between $1.9 and $5.3 billion a year meeting the testing requirement of the law. But that’s only a fraction of the law’s costs; other provisions are even more expensive—and, to the suddenly burgeoning education industry, even more lucrative.

No Child Left Behind requires states to produce “interpretive, descriptive, and diagnostic reports… that allow parents, teachers, and principals to understand and address the specific academic needs of students.” Since few pretend that a standardized test given once a year can do anything so sophisticated, schools are finding they need separate “formative testing programs” to meet the requirement. The formative testing model, according to the test publisher NCS Pearson, is to “teach, assess, report, diagnose, and prescribe.” Pearson, with other publishers, offers a full range of products for every step of the process.

Schools with high numbers of low-scoring students have three years to raise their scores before penalties kick in, and those are also expensive. The so-called “choice” provision, with its passing resemblance to vouchers, has attracted media attention, but has proved unpopular so far. The provision allows students at low-performing campuses to transfer to one of their district’s better performing schools, but only about 1 percent of eligible students made the transfer last year, according to data kept by the U.S. Department of Education. Instead, parents are taking advantage of another provision that requires low-performing schools to provide free after-school tutoring services, using a state-approved, “research-based” tutoring program.

The law also demands a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by the end of the 2006 school year. Though the definition of “highly qualified” is vague, with states setting their own standards of quality, the requirement has opened up a new market in materials geared toward teachers. Most major publishers now offer professional development products and services, some of which provide general training in pedagogy, but many of which merely train teachers to use another of the publisher’s classroom products.

In a time of growing budget crises, few states—let alone districts and schools—have the time or the money to develop the programs that No Child Left Behind makes mandatory, or all but mandatory. That’s where business, and Sandy Kress, come in.

Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in January 2002. Five months later, Kress registered with the U.S. Secretary of the Senate as a lobbyist for NCS Pearson. Kress specializes in helping his clients tailor themselves to the requirements of No Child Left Behind, something Pearson has done with startling success. A publishing conglomerate that owns The Financial Times and Penguin Books, Pearson had been a bit player in the education market, concentrating on the scoring of standardized tests. In 2000, however, Pearson acquired National Computer Systems, the company that held the contract for designing and scoring the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. Since then, Pearson has built an accountability empire of sorts, becoming the third-largest testing company in the country, behind CTB McGraw-Hill and Harcourt Educational Measurement.

NCS Pearson publishes software systems that allow teachers to create, administer, and score “diagnostic” tests that purport to show how well students are learning by demonstrating in part how prepared they are for state tests. Subsidiary Pearson Educational Measurement holds test design contracts in states with large testing programs, like Florida and Texas. Pearson Education, another subsidiary, publishes reading, math, science, art, and music curricula for grades K-12. Other subsidiaries offer online testing, data management services, and professional training for teachers, including an online master’s degree program. The company claims to have at least one product placed in 50,000 schools nationwide.

Another of Kress’s clients, Educational Testing Services, Inc., also made a sudden market surge in the wake of No Child Left Behind. A non-profit best known as the publisher of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), ETS stayed clear of the commercial testing business for nearly 50 years. Beginning with the spin-off of for-profit subsidiary K-12 Works in 2000, however, ETS has aggressively pursued state testing contracts. The company now holds contracts with New Jersey, Indiana, and the plum of the state testing market, California. ETS also offers a professional development program for teachers and one of the few tests so far available to certify teaching aides.

Another Kress client, Kaplan, Inc., which formerly specialized in prepping students for college entrance exams, now offers a variety of test-related services. These include prep courses tailored to the standardized tests in 13 states and the District of Columbia, “Intervention” programs targeting low-scoring students with skill-drilling software, and professional development courses in which, for roughly $1,000 an hour, Kaplan specialists give teachers tips on how to coach their students to pass the test.

Kress also lobbies for HOSTS Learning, which publishes online testing tools and an associated line of curricular materials and for Kumon North America, a rising star in the brand-new after-school tutoring market. Other clients include Community Education Partners, a for-profit school management company that runs alternative campuses for students with disciplinary problems, as well as companies that help schools and districts collect, manage, and report the volume of data required by No Child Left Behind.

There’s a lot of money in what’s coming to be known as the assessment market, but most of it is going to the handful of companies, like Pearson, who have successfully built up assessment empires. “The top four or five players in the textbook market are also top players in the testing market,” says Mark Jackson, a senior analyst with Eduventures, a firm which tracks trends in the commercial education market. As the focus on testing intensifies, the test prep materials these companies offer are becoming the standard curriculum, especially in poor schools, where the scores are often lowest, and the pressure to raise them most extreme. “It’s a zero-sum game of financing,” Jackson says. “What fits into the testing model gets bought, and what doesn’t, doesn’t.”

But what’s been a boon for a handful of publishers has been a disaster for education, critics say. As pressure to raise scores intensifies, teachers and principals at low-performing schools have found creative ways to raise scores—from encouraging low-scoring students to drop out of school before Test Day to simply erasing and rewriting students’ testing sheets. The most common resort, however, is to drill the reading and math skills covered by the test, to the detriment of other, untested subjects. As an ever-greater percentage of class time goes into test preparation, more money flows to the companies that publish test prep material.

The schools under the most pressure are those that educate large populations of poor, minority, and limited-English students. Ninety-nine percent of the kids in the Laredo Independent School District are Latino; ninety-five percent of them come from families below the poverty level. The district’s test scores are consistently low. “These are kids who often don’t speak English, kids without the kinds of experiences that kids elsewhere may have,” says Laredo ISD superintendent Sylvia Bruni. “They come from homes without books. Some don’t have televisions.” They are, in fact, the disadvantaged kids for whom Sandy Kress has been pitching accountability for nearly 15 years.

Laredo’s third-grade teachers spent the equivalent of one day a week administering either the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test itself or diagnostic “formative assessment” tests this school year, a district-wide testing inventory found. The inventory didn’t count time spent on test prep, which Bruni says is “almost constant”—extended school days, Saturday test prep classes, and a portion of every class, in every subject, every day. Since individual schools purchase most of their test prep materials themselves, Bruni doesn’t have a district-wide figure on how much money is spent. But she says it’s a large percentage of resources that the district—one of the poorest in the state—can ill afford. “The district spends money, the campuses spend money, the teachers spend money,” Bruni says. “It’s a lot.”

Laredo administrators have decided to cut back on practice tests in future years, but the decision is a hard one. Test prep isn’t education, Bruni says, and the time and money spent on it mean that other, more sophisticated curriculum must be dumped. The district is under increasing pressure to raise scores, however. Two of Laredo’s three high schools failed to make adequate yearly progress in 2004, and progress requirements will climb each year. Without extensive drilling, more students will fail the test and the sanctions of No Child Left Behind will kick in. Earlier this year, Laredo ISD joined the National Education Agency’s lawsuit against the Department of Education, challenging the law. “You can’t seem to break the stranglehold,” Bruni says. “The temptation is just to drill. It isn’t meaningful for the kids, but teachers know that the scores will go up.”

If tests are over-emphasized, Kress says, teachers and principals themselves are at fault. “Why do administrators allow test prep materials to dominate the curriculum in schools that serve the poor?” he asks. “Damn it, they’re the ones in charge.” Despite protests from districts like Laredo, Kress is pushing for higher stakes, tougher standards, and swifter retribution against schools that don’t make the grade. Kress was the head cheerleader for proposals from the Governor’s Business Council that wound up in HB 2: requiring a passing score on high school exit exams for course credit (and thus graduation), reducing the deadline for improvement from three years to two, and allowing private companies to take over consistently low-performing schools.

He has also used his position on the Texas Education Commissioners’ Accountability Advisory Committee to push the Texas Education Agency to toughen its accountability rating system. At an advisory committee meeting in March, Kress laid out a proposal under which the percentage of students who must pass the test before a school is rated “acceptable” would jump by 10 points. Rates would then climb five points a year until 2010, when 100 percent of students must pass the reading exam before a school will be considered acceptable. When other committee members called for a more gradual and realistic stepping-up of the rating system, Kress lost his temper. “He threw a tantrum,” says one fellow committee member. “He had a very ideological perspective, and others were trying to introduce some realism. He seemed to be trying to shout us into doing what he wanted. He’s a charming, agreeable, persuasive guy, but in front of an audience he’s not trying to charm, he’s a bully.”

Accountability’s supporters continue to push testing as the surest, fastest solution for the poor kids in weak schools. That a handful of companies are making a killing off accountability, they say, is incidental—just another example of the beauty of the free market system. But a mounting body of evidence suggests the “Texas miracle” Sandy Kress used to sell accountability to the country is a sham. Critics point to Texas’ rising dropout rates and flagging scores on college entrance exams as signs that test-prep-centered teaching is taking its toll on kids—especially those who are black, Latino, or poor.

Almost two out of five Texas high school students never earn a high school diploma, according to a report released this year by the Intercultural Development Research Association, which has tracked Texas dropout rates since 1986. IDRA’s report showed that in 2004, 36 percent of students who were freshman in 2001 were gone by last spring’s graduation ceremonies. That number is down slightly from previous years, but still higher than it was 20 years ago. Attrition rates are highest among minorities, the IDRA report shows, and the gap is growing. In 1986, 27 percent of Anglo students left school without graduating. Last year, Anglo students’ attrition was down to 22 percent, while rates for black students had climbed from 34 to 44 percent, and for Latinos from 45 to 49 percent. The report estimates dropouts have cost the state $500 billion over the past two decades in lost productivity and in the costs of social services, courts, and jails.

Dr. Albert Cortez, director of IDRA’s Institute of Policy and Leadership, is quick to point out that Texas’ dropout trouble predates high-stakes testing. But the tests, far from being a solution, have become part of the problem, he says. Narrowed curriculum bores and daunts some students into dropping out. Students who don’t think they’ll pass the high school test—a requirement for graduation—may stop going to school. Other researchers, including Dr. Angela Valenzuela of the University of Texas and Rice education professor Linda McNeil, say administrators under pressure to raise test scores may push potentially low-scoring students to drop out before the exam.

Despite the emphasis accountability supporters put on “narrowing the achievement gap,” state scores on college entrance exams show minority students losing ground since the tests were instituted. Fewer Texas high school students are taking the SAT and ACT now than 10 years ago, data from the Texas Education Agency shows, and on average they are scoring worse. The average score on the SATs for Latino students has fallen 17 points since 1996. The average score of black students has also drifted down, from 852 in 1996 to 843 in 2003. Only Anglo students show slight improvement, from 1043 to 1051.

Sandy Kress knows the data on high schools isn’t good. His solution is more tests. The gains tests bring in elementary and middle schools are lost in high school, Kress says, because high schools aren’t held accountable. Here in Texas, Kress has agitated to extend standardized testing to high schools. “We still are not where we need to be in terms of college-going rates, particularly for poor and minority kids,” Kress says. “That’s what this secondary school focus is all about. We still have some schools that perform pitifully without consequence.” And if the teaching curriculum has narrowed to suit the demands of the test, Kress says the answer is to test more. “This will make some testing critics cringe, but one thing the accountability system can do with the narrowness problem is have more subjects tested,” he says.

Testing critics do indeed cringe when they imagine what history, science, and art will look like broken down into manageable, multiple-choice, worksheet-length bites. Worse, a recent report by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice suggests No Child Left Behind is exporting Texas-style testing scandals to the rest of the country: In New York, school administrators have been accused of pushing thousands of low-scoring students into high school equivalency programs, where, although they never earn diplomas, they don’t count as dropouts. In North Carolina, eight out of ten elementary school teachers say they spend more than 20 percent of class time preparing for tests. Reports of cheating by principals and teachers have surfaced in more than 20 states.

Bush’s proposed education budget for 2006 echoes Texas’ planned expansion of testing. The bulk of the president’s High School Initiative is $1.24 billion in “research-based interventions” for students at risk of failing the new tests. Few districts have such interventional programs; even fewer know how to go about designing and implementing them. Luckily, most test-publishers already offer their own versions. The jury is still out on whether the tests are good for kids, and whether more tests will be better. But they will be very, very good for business. And, of course, they’ll be good for Sandy Kress.