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

Friday, December 29, 2006

Goals 2007

On the eve of 2007, those of us concerned with education and the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, might take a good look at a recent article by Richard Rothstein and Rebecca Jocobsen on The Goals of Education that appeared in the December issue of Phi Delta Kappan.
It's time to reexamine the goals of education for 2007 and beyond within a reality-based framework as the nation begins to heal from the past seven years of lies, corruption, greed and mythology that has characterized the policies of this administration and members of Congress on every front.

It's time to take a look on the Goals 2000 established during the Clinton administration used to justify NCLB and the rush to "standards" in the 1990's and ask ourselves how many of these goals have been achieved. It's time for this administration and Margaret Spellings, who is so concerned with measurements, to be held accountable for their own complete failure to measure up and accomplish even one of these goals.

By the Year 2000 -

- All children in America will start school ready to learn.

- The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.

- All students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics an government, economics, the arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our nation's modern economy.

- The United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.

- Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

- Every school in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.

- The nation's teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all American students for the next century.

- Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children."
What do we have instead? Thanks to the work of Rothstein and Jacobsen at the Economic Policy Institute we KNOW what we have:

The shift in curricular coverage is also at odds with the consensus about the goals of public education to which Americans historically have subscribed. More surprisingly, it is also starkly at odds with the apparent intentions of school board members and state legislators, who are responsible for implementing the policy, and with the intentions of the public whom these leaders represent. We will discuss the evidence with regard to these intentions later in this article. For now, let us begin by documenting the goal displacement stimulated by NCLB.

The federal government's periodic national survey of teachers demonstrates the curricular shifts. In 1991, teachers in grades 1 to 4 spent an average of 33% of their classroom instructional time on reading. By 2004, reading was consuming 36% of instructional time. For math, average weekly time went from 15% to 17%. Meanwhile, time for social studies and science decreased. Since 1991, instructional time spent on social studies went from 9% to 8%, and time spent on science went from 8% to 7%.

These seemingly small average changes mask a disproportionate impact on the most disadvantaged students. The Council for Basic Education surveyed school principals in several states in the fall of 2003 and found that principals in schools with high proportions of minorities were more likely to have reduced time for history, civics, geography, the arts, and foreign languages so that they could devote more time to math and reading. In New York, for example, twice as many principals in high-minority schools reported such curricular shifts as did principals in mostly white schools. In high-minority elementary schools, 38% of principals reported decreasing the time devoted to social studies (usually meaning history), but in low-minority schools only 17% reported decreasing such time.

A 2005 survey by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) found that 97% of high-poverty districts had new minimum-time requirements for reading, while only 55% of low-poverty districts had them. The CEP had previously found that, where districts had adopted such minimum-time policies, about half had reduced social studies, 43% had reduced art and music, and 27% had reduced physical education.

Thus, although NCLB aims to narrow the achievement gap in math and reading, its unintended consequence is to widen the gap in other curricular areas. This is how one former teacher describes her changed classroom activities:

From my experience of being an elementary school teacher at a low-performing urban school in Los Angeles, I can say that the pressure became so intense that we had to show how every single lesson we taught connected to a standard that was going to be tested. This meant that art, music, and even science and social studies were not a priority and were hardly ever taught. We were forced to spend ninety percent of the instructional time on reading and math. This made teaching boring for me and was a huge part of why I decided to leave the profession.

Even retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has joined the chorus of NCLB critics:

O'Connor now co-chairs a "Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools," which laments that, under NCLB, "as civic learning has been pushed aside, society has neglected a fundamental purpose of American education, putting the health of our democracy at risk."
It is precisely this catch-22 created by NCLB that prevents us from really improving education, closing the achievement gap, and investing in a collective future. Instead, the emphasis on testing and standards with punitive consequences have placed the nation on a dangerous path towards mediocrity and ignorance in a nation that is being left behind.

"Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America." -- Dwight David Eisenhower

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Creeping Fascism?

Some food for thought from this veteran teacher for those who still think the problem with No Child Left Behind is that it is not fully funded.

Memorization, Standardized Tests, and Official Policy
By Jack Blatherwick, PhD truthout/commentaryl
Thursday 28 December 2006

Teaching answers to standardized tests should not be called "education," especially when problem-solving will be the most important tool for a generation of students destined to inherit the incredible problems we will leave as our legacy.

To repeat the answers we feed, is at best, preparing future "patriots" for greater acceptance of official policy. The consequences of this blind trust have become painfully apparent. Our government spent millions of dollars on propaganda to sell a peace-loving populace on an illegal invasion of a sovereign country.

Of all the multiple-choice reasons for this invasion, the one remaining is that Iraq sits in a strategic position for our military to control Asian oil. Imagine the mark this answer would have received on a government-generated standardized test.

In our name, and with our unwitting approval, the United States has aggressively squandered a peace that was earned by the blood of generations before us. We the People unknowingly "agreed to" torture of prisoners, non-compliance with international treaties, destruction of the environment, and proliferation of a nuclear arsenal that was already excessive for its insane, outdated, imaginary purpose. We've widened the gap between the wealthy and the less-fortunate; denied affordable access to health care, and - to avoid any sacrifice - we've left our children with the tab.

We acquiesced, because to dissent would have been unpatriotic, non-supportive of the troops,
and part of a far-left agenda. Standardized tests have just as little room for dissent, and might be the perfect preparation for naive acceptance of creeping fascism. After all, many neo-conservative leaders believe THE problem in our country is a lack of patriotic indoctrination at the elementary levels of public education.

Rote memorization of answers to tests will not prepare anyone for this mess we leave. Furthermore, it defies logic to insist that our answers are the ones that should be memorized. Many of our answers have been abject failures, and those of our government have been criminal.

Better we teach our children no answers - only questions and suspicions, courage and insight to detect official ideology. They will need wisdom beyond ours to rebuild our trusted position of leadership in a peaceful world - to restore environmental health to a wounded planet - and to redefine concepts like patriotism, democracy, and morality.

They will need an extraordinary education, not short answers. Testing and retesting is no substitute for investment in education. We wouldn't consider cutting the budgets of failing governmental services that affect our own quality of life. If the military needs more money, it is appropriated, as it would be for police, fire, or highway departments if we thought their product was substandard. But, if irrelevant tests suggest that schools are struggling, our solution is to cut funding, rather than to give them what they need.

Will our generation be remembered as the most self-centered in history? Or will we recognize the problems we've created and leave the one thing we can - a quality education? Our ancestors sacrificed proudly to provide for us - with hammer and saw, they built the best schools in the world.

We, as custodians of this tradition, might even have to raise taxes to pass our own final examination.
Jack Blatherwick has been a physiologist and teacher for 40 years.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bush, Gradgrind, and NCLB

Part of a nice piece at Huffington:
. . . . What Bush's NCLB has done has been to impose an insupportable burden on the dangerously overcrowded and underfunded public school system in America, all in the name of helping the children of the poor, without actually helping to change the living conditions which so contribute to their failure rate. God save us all from such helpers. Worst of all it has imposed that greatest burden on all our beleaguered children. They are overworked and under-stimulated at the time of life when we learn more from discourse than by memorizing, when we learn from the pleasure that comes from exploring our own possibilities: practicing the arts, playing wild games (as distinguished from organized sports) and by not turning the world into a set of flash-card facts and winners and losers. A truly child-concerned program would include Civics courses so that every child knows how government works, thus nobody would ever vote for the likes of a George Bush again and have such educational programs imposed upon young lives. We might even produce the creative adults that we need for our future. Yes, there is factual information that a child must have to move forward in the world, but I don't for a moment believe that improved test scores will make for a better educated or more productive society. It is an Orwellian way to regulate minds, train children for robotic future jobs, rather than learning for the living of a better life. Does a hand-made education sound elitist? Utopian? Sure it does, but education is elitist and utopian or it is not education. It must be tailor made, one size cannot fit all, otherwise it is not education; it is regimentation. Our hope is to raise children with a love for learning because learning can be a joyful experience, right up there with sex and rap and iPods and computer games. Expensive? Undoubtedly. Hard to accomplish? Certainly. But there is no short-cut to the educated mind. Most of all there is no cheap quick fix for the problems facing our schools. It will cost for smaller class sizes and better paid, better prepared teachers, but nowhere near as much as a year in Bush's bottomless war. When we invade the public schools as we invaded Iraq with some Bushian fantasy we have those unintended consequences of educational casualties, creative children who are left behind. This learning by testing is the educational version of those missing WMDs, the product of a willful ignorance. You only need to read Charles Dickens "Hard Times" and you will see the NCLB method as practiced by Mr. Grandgrind, that horror of sadistic educational practice. It was Grandgrind who famously said, "Now what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted today." . . .

Monday, December 25, 2006

Competing in the Global Economy

Some argue the reason we should maintain the testing hysteria in schools is to make sure children grow up able to compete in the global economy. There is some logic to this, but it is such an indirect and time-consuming syllogism. It requires, in fact, years of reverse engineering and retooling that, in the end, turn thinking, autonomous organisms (children) into command-sensitive robots (workers), ready to do anything required, without complaint, for the greater good of global economic dominance by a handful of ultra-rich robber barons with a single loyalty to lucre. Work hard, be nice.

On the other hand, there seem to be some things we could do quickly and without abusing children in order to compete in the global economy. Let us count the ways:

Americans could produce the energy-efficient cars that Americans and other citizens of the world want to drive. The American auto industry is so tied up by Big Oil that a fealty to gas guzzling machines has now jeopardized the futures of millions of American workers. Solution in Michigan? More and harder tests in the schools.

The American energy industry could develop energy alternatives that produce the safe, cheap, and renewable energy that Americans and other citizens of the world want to use. Instead, we have an energy industry so wedded to the quick and oily dollar that it has jeopardized the future of the planet, while allowing other countries to gain the edge in carbon-neutral technologies. Solution: More testing on a national level, and control of university research by the corporationists who are melting Mother Earth.

Do you have your favorites? Please leave a comment if you do.

Why Do We Measure?

A thoughtful piece in WaPo this morning on the tectonic shift from test factory high schools to university. Of course, if Spellings and the corporationists have their way, that shift will become a non-shift, just as sense will become nonsense:
By Susan Kinzie

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 25, 2006; B01

By the end of last year, Elizabeth Fleming had taken the SAT, the PSAT, four AP exams and seven IB exams. At Richard Montgomery High School, her classmates agonized over the scores they needed to get into a good college, and the entire jittery month of May was spent cramming for exams.

This year, she got a culture shock.

Fleming enrolled at St. John's College, a tiny liberal arts school in Annapolis where scores are irrelevant: no exams to speak of, and no grades unless students request them.

She went from one extreme to another. In a country where "benchmarking" and "high-stakes testing" continue to be buzzwords, many Washington area high schools stand out for their competitiveness, their emphasis on testing and the stress students feel to get good numbers. "It escalates every year," independent college counselor Shirley Bloomquist said.

College is a change for most students, a shift from memorization to analysis, from weekly did-you-do-the-homework quizzes to weighty final papers. "In this era of No Child Left Behind, these students that will be coming to college are tested within an inch of their lives so regularly and so intensely," said John Bader, associate dean for academic programs and advising at Johns Hopkins University, who is co-writing a book on admissions and success.

Some college departments, such as political science, do not give college credit for AP scores, because the tests are mostly multiple choice. In many college courses, Bader said, "Most of what you learn is that there is no clear answer. There is no right or wrong. Yet when you test all the time, you're of course suggesting there is." . . . .

Teacher Revolt?

A good sign--a very good sign:

Modesto teachers are frustrated and angry with the No Child Left Behind Act because of the manner in which district officials are interpreting it.

For example, at the elementary level, district officials have been emphasizing that teachers use focus walls, post state academic standards in the classroom, and use pacing calendars. There is scant educational research that suggests that doing any of these things will boost the academic achievement of students.

These practices appear to be based on apriori assumptions, supposition and pretense about teaching. They simply represent cosmetic measures that do not address the deep instructional issues related to increasing student achievement. Many teachers are losing faith in the school district's leadership, and it goes beyond mere testiness to genuine indignation.

If the teachers and administrators collaborated to develop a plan of action, we might see the way forward while we are still in the NCLB environment. Such a solution-oriented effort would require teachers with integrity, not sycophants; it would require administrators who are collaborators, not autocrats. The circumstances of the day demand this.


sixth-grade teacher,

Franklin Elementary School


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Segregation of Students, Segregation of Teachers

A new report from the Civil Rights Project at Harvard, which will soon be moving to UCLA:

This report shows that in an increasingly segregated national system of schools, faculty segregation tends to add to — rather than counteract — the separation of students. We see that the white teachers, who continue to dominate the teaching profession, tend to grow up with little racial/ethnic diversity in their own education or experience. Not only did white teachers, on average, attend schools when they were elementary school students that were over 90% white, they are currently teaching in schools where almost 90% of their faculty colleagues are white and over 70% of students are white.

“America’s public schools and schools of education must work to create a diverse teaching force to serve a changing nation and assure that all schools seek integrated faculties to better prepare our students,” commented Gary Orfield, Director of the Civil Rights Project.

Additional findings include:

  • White teachers teach in schools with fewer poor and English Language Learner students. The typical black teacher teaches in a school were nearly three-fifths of students are from low-income families while the average white teacher has only 35% of low-income students.
  • Latino and Asian teachers are in schools that educate more than twice the share of English Language Learners than white teachers.
  • The South has the most diverse teaching force of any region in the country, along with the most integrated students. One-quarter of southern teachers are nonwhite, and 19% of southern teachers are African-American. Early concerns about the loss of African American teachers at the beginning of desegregation in the South no longer holds.
  • The West is the only region of the country with a sizeable percentage (11%) of Latino teachers. The majority of students in the West are nonwhite, with a large share of Latino students.
  • Nonwhite teachers and teachers that teach in schools with high percentages of minority and/or poor students are more likely to report that they are contemplating switching schools or careers.
  • The percentage of white teachers is lower in schools that did not make adequate yearly progress, a standard defined by the No Child Left Behind Act.
  • Schools with high concentrations of nonwhite and poor students tend to have less experience and qualified teachers despite NCLB’s emphasis that qualified teachers be equally distributed.
  • Nonwhite teachers are often teaching in schools that may be more difficult to teach in.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Odds on NCLB Reauthorization?

With the likes of Petrelli and Rotherham downplaying the likelihood for reauthorization in 2007, it is time to keep your ear to the ground, sharpen your bayonet, and make sure your powder is dry. Some time after January 1, a stealth attack to reauthorize is sure to develop.

Here is a piece from Potomac News that includes typical comments from all the now-familiar cast of cariacatures:

'No Child' faces battle for '07
Media General News Service
Friday, December 22, 2006

It has shaken every teacher in every classroom, and when the No Child Left Behind law comes up for renewal next year, it faces a political battle that could last until after the 2008 election.

"We did a survey of Washington insiders and it is almost unanimous that it won't happen until 2009, regardless of what all the politicians are saying," said Michael Petrilli, an education analyst with the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, who worked in the Education Department when the law passed.

President Bush touts No Child Left Behind as a "significant education accomplishment" and says its reauthorization next year is "an important part" of his legislative agenda.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has compared the five-year-old law to the old advertising slogan for Ivory Soap - 99 percent pure.

Yet most education analysts scoff at such high praise and say political forces are arrayed against it.

Conservatives are angry that the law intruded into state education responsibilities, Petrilli said. Liberals say the government never spent enough to pay for the law's requirements. Bush no longer has the political capital to overcome opposition, and the law soon will become part of the presidential campaign.

Teachers' unions, a major constituency of the Democratic Party that will control Congress, want significant changes.

"Children do not learn at the same rate, at the same speed, at the same time, but this law expects that to occur," said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teacher union. "Our folks just cannot continue to be under this gun."

That doesn't mean the law dies if Congress fails to renew it in 2007. It will continue as it stands now until Congress finds the political will to reauthorize it with changes.

"Important parts of it are not working well," Petrilli said.

Some critics say the law's requirement that every child in America be proficient in math and reading by 2014 is unrealistic. Others say states are avoiding reform by making the tests too easy. Still others say it is impossible to have challenging tests and still have 100 percent proficiency.

The law, which is aimed mostly at grades three through eight, requires that every student group - minorities, English-language learners, the disabled, the economically deprived - advances or the entire school is cited for failing to made adequate yearly progress.

"The nation can't walk away from the mission of NCLB," said Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, a think tank that supports educational standards. "This cannot be about watering it down."

Education philanthropists, led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, created a commission to review education reform options. The commission - chaired by former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, a Republican, and former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat - is slated to report in February.

"Some of our recommendations are tweaks, and some are major overhauls," said Alex Nock, the commission's director.

Spellings says the law has forced schools to examine how they are teaching poor, minority and special education students and has begun to close the gap with white suburban students. To answer critics, she has allowed some changes.

She insists that fundamentals of the law remain.

Some education analysts hope the commission will produce a specific proposal that would reduce political wrangling and lead to passage next year.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who will chair the House education committee, plans to start hearings next month. In the Senate, Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., championed the bill in 2001.

"I could see where Kennedy, Miller and Bush come to an agreement, cut a deal with a mostly status quo reauthorization based on the commission's blueprint," said Andrew Rotherham, co-director of the Education Sector and a member of the Virginia State Board of Education.

But he put the odds against that happened next year at nine to one.

Gil Klein is a national correspondent in Media General's Washington Bureau.

Bloomberg Names Ex-Whittle Exec For Next Privatization Step

Bloomberg has made the next move in his plans to privatize New York public schools. From the Times:

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein yesterday appointed the former president of Edison Schools Inc., the world’s largest for-profit operator of public schools, as a deputy chancellor, perhaps the boldest move yet in the Bloomberg administration’s effort to increase the role of the private sector in managing city public schools.

The former Edison president, Chris Cerf, is a longtime friend of Mr. Klein and has been a consultant to the city’s Education Department since early this year, paid with private donations. He is part of a team that has been re-evaluating virtually every aspect of the overhaul of the school system in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s first term.

The consulting deal ends Dec. 31, after which Mr. Cerf will be deputy chancellor for operational strategy, human capital and external affairs — a $196,571-a-year post that will formalize his role in Mr. Klein’s inner circle and make him the system’s top official for labor relations and negotiations, principal and teacher recruitment and training, media relations and political affairs.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

More on Midnight Privatization Bill in Ohio

From CantonRep.com:
By now the pattern is clear: When public schools in Ohio take a step forward, the Legislature kicks them two steps back.

The latest kick came Tuesday during a ridiculous frenzy of year-end activity. As they have for days, legislators acted like little kids throwing handfuls of tinsel at a Christmas tree, hoping some would stick and leaving the mess for someone else to clean up.

Both the House and Senate passed a bill that included an amendment - added just hours earlier at about midnight, with no public notice or debate - to broaden Ohio's school voucher program. Though the number of vouchers available would stay at 14,000, the number of public schools whose students could use vouchers to attend private schools grew to about 240 from 99.

Here's the kick: The change punishes schools that have finally escaped the worst academic classifications.

Currently, students can use vouchers if their school has been in academic watch or academic emergency for three consecutive years. If Gov. Bob Taft signs the bill passed Tuesday, students can go a private school - taking thousands of education dollars with them - if their school has been in academic watch or academic emergency for two of the past three years.

Timken High School is a perfect example, as Sen. Kirk Schuring of Jackson Township noted. Timken was in academic emergency in the 2003-04 school year and moved up to academic watch the next year and to continuous improvement last year. Where is Timken's reward for improving test scores and graduation rates? Don't waste your time looking. . . .

NCLB a Fraud, Says Superintendent

From the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (ht to Monty Neill):

(December 21, 2006) — The No Child Left Behind law is a fraud. That may be strong language from a school superintendent, but the law is a definite political, social, and economic con.

First, the law's basic premise — that public schools are performing poorly and need to be improved, or else something really bad is going to happen to America — is political nonsense. Right-wing zealots have used the phrase "failing public schools" so often that some think it's a fact, when it isn't.

American public education is the backbone of our democracy. It's the great equalizer. Gerald Bracey, an independent, highly regarded education researcher, notes in an article for the Stanford University Alumni Association that since the end of World War II, the proportion of high school graduates among those 25 or older has grown from 34 percent to 74 percent, and the percentage of college graduates has increased from 6 percent to 19 percent.

Bracey points out that according to a 2006 report published by a Columbia University research center, public schools outperform private schools when controlling for poverty. And, a 2004 U.S. Department of Education report found that despite all the rhetoric about charter schools, they're "less likely to meet state performance standards than traditional public schools."

No Child Left Behind is deceptive in social and economic ways as well. The law helps hide two of America's dirty little secrets:

  • The first is the incredible amount of poverty in America. Thomas Smeeding, professor of economics and public policy at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, has found that among the world's nine richest industrialized nations, America has the second highest poverty rate in general, and the highest rate of poverty among children. And, as we know, America's poverty is concentrated in rural and urban areas.
  • Probably the most troublesome and scheming aspect of NCLB is, as Bracey states, that it depends on punishment for schools that don't meet its standards. And its standards are rigged to make good schools look bad. NCLB arbitrarily requires that all schools show "adequate yearly progress" by subgroups, 37 or so of which are based on race/ethnicity, special education, gender, etc. If a school misses the target in just one of these subgroups, it could be deemed "failing," possibly triggering sanctions.

    In districts with high poverty rates, the everyday social and economic needs of students are more about survival than passing a test.

    So it's America's dirty little secrets, not public schools, that are failing.

    Actually, we've been down this road before. In 1983, when the report A Nation at Risk was published, public schools were blamed for every social, economic and military ill that faced our nation. Thirty years later, America is the world's only leading military power and our economy is second to none. That report was a fraud then, as No Child Left Behind is a fraud now.

    The No Child Left Behind law doesn't need to be reformed. It needs to be abolished.

    Maffucci is superintendent, East Rochester School District.

  • If you agree Dr. Maffucci, go to Educator Roundtable, sign the petition, make a statement, and find out what else you can do the end the madness.

    No Accountability Required for Brennan's Charter Chain-gangs

    Late Tuesday night, under cover of darkness and deception and with no public debate, school privatizers within the Ohio Legislature slipped a voucher extension rider into a bill intended to address background checks for prospective teachers. Also included was a big Xmas present for corporate socialist, David Brennan, whose drill-and-kill work camps for poor children now gets a free pass on performance requirements that every other publicly-funded school in Ohio must meet, charter or otherwise. Apparently, Brennan now owns the Ohio Legislature to go along his other purchase, the Ohio Supreme Court. Nice shopping, Dave! From the Akron Beacon Journal:

    . . . The bill exempts dropout recovery charter schools -- such as the Life Skills centers run by Akron businessman David Brennan -- from the closure sanction.

    Ohio Rep. Tom Raga, R-Mason, the bill's sponsor, said these schools were not included because ``their mission is different'' from that of other charter schools. He noted that Brennan's White Hat Management operates nondropout recovery charter schools that would still be subject to the closure penalty.

    ``That's an acknowledgement to their mission and is not targeted to any one operator,'' Raga said.

    Others call the exclusion unfair, arguing that all of the state's charter schools should be held to the same standards.

    ``This is another example of them setting up a completely separate system for David Brennan's schools and everyone else's schools,'' said Lisa Zellner, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Federation of Teachers, a critic of charter schools.

    Zellner was also critical of the voucher expansion, saying it was done ``at the last minute, in the dead of night, with no public discussion.''

    She said the voucher program has so far garnered little interest from eligible students.

    ``Why are they broadening it now?'' she asked. ``The market has shown no interest.'' . . .

    So while poor public schools are being turned into White Hat charters if they don't make the impossible AYP targets, the charters are given a free ride because "their mission is different"?

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    A Constructivist KIPP Teacher?

    Jay Mathews is a shameless and unceasing promoter of KIPP, the modern-day solution to what liberals referred to early in the previous century as the "Negro problem." The KIPP classroom sweatshops are viewed by Mathews and his circle as the best way to solve the ills of urban and rural poverty by changing the minds of children, rather than changing the conditions of poverty.

    With concern growing among humanitarians about the growing acceptance of eugenicidal KIPP model, Mathews has obviously been on the prowl for some evidence that KIPP schools are something other than than the "work hard, be nice" re-education camps that they are. Well, he found something, something very interesting, in fact--a KIPP teacher who uses accepted suburban methods based on thinking, rather than the anti-thought that characterizes the direct instruction abuse that is heaped on poor children (Mathews refers to such poor-child curricula as "no frills approach that often works well with students whose parents did not go to college").

    And guess what--her kids are showing much greater gains as measured by test scores.

    In D.C. KIPP has been using the Saxon math series, a no-frills approach that often works well with students whose parents never went to college. Suben said she did not have anything against Saxon. She still has copies of Saxon books and a rival program, Everyday Math, in her classroom. But she thought all the textbooks she had seen had flaws.

    "I've found that most traditional textbooks oversimplify and isolate concepts, and yet, are still too difficult for non-readers to use. They don't generally push students to think, but offer repetitive, and boring, practice," she said. She started writing each lesson nightly. This was a remarkable feat of youthful energy when you consider that KIPP teachers work 10 hours a day, and Suben was putting in another three hours each night at home composing the next day's lesson on her Dell laptop.

    Suben said: "My primary goal as a teacher is to help my students understand the reasoning behind math rules and procedures. I have several core beliefs about this: (1) Understanding is constructed by the learner, not passively received from the teacher. (2) Understanding is built by making connections between as many strands of knowledge as possible. (3) Understanding is galvanized through communication. (4) Understanding is only valuable when you reflect on it and question it."

    The core of her method is the workbook she produced last year on the fly. It "lets students build their own notes and create their own examples. It is incredibly active learning," she said. They were encouraged to write down the meaning of important terms and strategies they used that worked with certain kinds of problems.

    "I certainly refer to traditional textbooks for ideas and guidance as I write," Suben said. "My sequence and pace are set by a long-term plan that I have designed to catch the students up on second-, third- and fourth-grade material as well as introduce every single D.C. public schools fifth-grade standard by testing time. I model my word problems after the eighth-grade text that I used in Louisiana because those problems require the level of understanding that I am looking for. I focus on non-traditional problems so that students are forced to think."
    . . . .

    But there is no question of the importance of what Suben is doing, and what is happening in other schools, like KIPP, where teachers are convinced their disadvantaged students can learn a great deal if given the time and encouragement to do so.

    Suben's efforts to encourage students to think about, discuss and write down their best strategies gave them confidence. They knew when they got the right answer, it was because of their intellectual ability, not because they memorized something.

    Suben said when her class corrects homework, she hears little whispers of "YES!" from kids who got a hard one right and feel like giving themselves a quiet cheer.

    "Basically, there's ownership," Suben said. "That's the key. It's not that my lessons are so dramatically better than anyone else's lessons. It's just that we, the students and I, own our lessons."

    Kozol once expressed his skepticism about the voucher advocates' support of school choice for poor parents by saying that the moment that voucher advocates are willing to give every poor child a voucher to go to Exeter, or a school of its quality, that is the moment, he said, that he would become a Republican. I have a similar skepticism about Mathews' good-news news: the moment that KIPP offers the same content, instruction, and assessments to its chain-gang charter kids that kids get regularly at Dalton or the best publics of Westchester County, that is the day I will become a KIPPster.

    NCLB and IRAQ

    I have argued for some time that NCLB is the domestic equivalent of our Decider's FUBAR war on Iraq, from the lies to get us to get us there, to the lies to keep us there, to the tons of cash being shoveled out of the federal treasury into the pockets of corporate crooks and cronies, all while the troops on the front lines have to buy their own body armor and teaching supplies. And the end game? $$$, of course: a fifty year supply of oil and a never-ending stream of corporate welfare checks for Macschools to manufacture a reliable inventory of soldier-worker widgets whose knowledge of their Republic's past is as blank as their hopes for the future of it.

    David Berliner says it much nicer in this piece that is circulating among Web discussion groups:
    Berliner, D. C. (2006). No Child Left Behind: It cannot work, it does not work, and it causes harm along the way. (Unpublished manuscript.)

    Although bi-partisan support was obtained for both the Iraq war and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, the current administration handling both the act of war and the act to improve education showed a serious lack of understanding of the problems that needed to be solved. For example, in Iraq, there was no understanding of how we would be greeted by the Iraqi people, with ignorant and arrogant officials of the present administration saying that we would be greeted by well-wishers throwing flowers at our troops. And in the passage of NCLB there was no mention of childhood poverty, and the development of racially isolated schools throughout the US, despite the clear understanding that the schools that need the most improvement are those that serve the poorest most racially isolated children in the country. Before committing to a war or a reform in education it would be nice to believe that our government understood what the problems in each domain really are.
    Other similarities are obvious, since both the act of war and the NCLB relied upon sources of information whose credibility is dubious. The forged documents from Niger, Ahmed Chalbi, and Dick Cheney have their equivalents in Rod Paige, Phyllis Schaffly, Bill Bennett, the Manhattan Institute, Ed Trust, and the Heritage Foundation.
    Similarly, some deliberate lies and distortions have been promoted about both the war and our schools. I note that Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell lied about the war to the public, while Secretary Rod Paige and his deputies lied about the state of the schools, teacher preparation, and the effectiveness of programs designed to help our schools.
    Pursuing the similarities reveals also that vast sums of money are being made from our war, and from our educational system, by corporations with close ties to the administration. Halliburton and Kellog, Brown and Root in the war, McGraw-Hill in education.
    Also, our soldiers, like our teachers, are not equipped for the fight they have been asked to engage in. Our soldiers had neither body armor nor armor for the undersides of vehicles, and many of the teachers of the poorest children in America have no certification, teach out of field, or are inexperienced.
    Also, in its presentations to the public about the war and about our schools, the press has been manipulated and undermined. For example we now know that Judith Miller of the New York Times wrote what the administration told her about the war, while Armstrong Williams sold stories in praise of NCLB for cash from the department of education.
    Furthermore, cronyism has shown up in appointing leaders to run the War and the NCLB Act. Rod Paige, his deputy, and Reid Lyon were cronies from Houston, Texas, who ran what is arguably the most corrupt school system in the history of America. Our new Secretary, Margaret Spellings, has been Bush’s political advisor, and a lobbyist, but neither an educator nor educational researcher.
    Another similarity is that for both the war in Iraq and for the NCLB act, a mission accomplished has been proclaimed, with progress, we are told, being made every day. But actually, in both cases, victory seems to have been announced a little too prematurely. In fact, there is no evidence that American involvement in Iraq or America’s use of high-stakes testing has accomplished their missions at all. On the contrary, there exists considerable evidence that we have screwed up Iraq and education for at least a generation.
    Perhaps the worst similarity of all is that despite overwhelming evidence of failure, the war act and the NCLB act continue to be defended, and our military and our schools are asked to meet impossible demands.
    See, too, Daniel Pryzbyla's dead-on commentary from 2004, Privatizing War in Iraq, NCLB fuels deception.

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    Money Laundering Charges Against All Children Matter

    The education privatizers will stop at nothing, including the law, to get at the half-trillion a year that Americans spend on education. How deep does the corruption go, and where will the money trail lead? From the Journal Times:
    By Associated Press

    MADISON - All Children Matter, a pro-school voucher group based in Michigan and operating in many states, laundered money and failed to register as required under Wisconsin state law, according to a new election complaint.

    The complaint filed Friday with the state Elections Board says an All Children Matter political action committee based in Virginia should have registered in Wisconsin before it donated $35,000 in October to its Wisconsin PAC.

    The complaint also alleges that a $90,000 donation made to the Virginia PAC from a group not registered with Wisconsin election officials - the Milwaukee-based Alliance for Choices in Education - violated a state law barring corporate contributions.

    The complaint argues the $90,000 wound its way back to Wisconsin through the $35,000 donation spent on ads criticizing three Democratic legislative candidates - John Lehman and Cory Mason of Racine and Pat Kreitlow of Chippewa Falls. All went on to win.

    "Such a scheme to launder campaign contributions frustrated the right of Wisconsin's voters and citizens to know who provided the $35,000," the complaint said.

    The complaint asks the Elections Board to require the Virginia PAC to comply with reporting and disclosure requirements under Wisconsin law, showing who made contributions, and return the $90,0000 to the Alliance for Choices in Education.

    Attorney Richard Saks of Milwaukee, who filed the complaint on behalf of two individuals, the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Care Professionals and the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, said ACE faces a penalty of up to three times its donation, or $270,000.

    State Elections Board spokesman Kyle Richmond said the complaint likely will be taken up at the board's Jan. 17 meeting.

    The new complaint is in addition to one the board took up at its November meeting related to All Children Matters' spending in the election.

    Elections Board Chairman John Savage said at that meeting that the board may pursue criminal charges for making a false filing against All Children Matter if there is evidence showing that someone other than the Wisconsin PAC paid for the ads in question.

    All Children Matter attorney Kevin St. John of Madison said he had not seen the latest complaint and had no immediate comment. George Mitchell, director of the Wisconsin arm of the group, referred all questions to All Children Matter executive director Greg Brock in Grand Rapids, Mich. He did not respond to telephone or e-mail messages seeking comment.

    The Wisconsin president of Alliance for Choices in Education, Susan Mitchell, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

    All Children Matter was formed in 2003 by Michigan billionaire Dick DeVos to promote private school voucher programs that allow children to attend private schools at taxpayer expense. The group also supports tuition tax credits and charter schools.

    It has been active across the country in political races, including Wisconsin where it paid for a TV ad this fall attacking incumbent Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

    Just who funds the group, and its involvement in campaigns, has been an ongoing question in many of the states where it operates, including Texas and Florida.

    Connecting the Dots for the NEA

    While Marc Tucker and the Chris Whittle and the other corporate socialists stand by to watch NCLB assure the failure of America's public schools, thus assuring the irrelevance of teacher unions, the NEA has decided that it is good public relations to denounce the Educator Roundtable petition to dismantle NCLB. Go figure.

    Here is the response posted, not to the Suits, but to the rank and file who pay the salaries of the Suits. Posted at DailyKos:

    Here Horse Philosopher presents the Educator Roundtable's response the NEA's denunciation of our petition to end No Child Left Behind

    Dear Fellow Educators,

    On November 21, 2006 the Educator Roundtable launched an online petition drive to repeal the 2002 reauthorization of ESEA, the so called No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The response to the petition has been exceptional; in less than 30 days more than 20,000 signatures have been collected, all via the Internet without media support.

    Unfortunately, the national leadership of the NEA has come out against our efforts to repeal this disastrous legislation, legislation that diminishes the professionalism of teachers, cedes local control of classrooms to federal and corporate manipulation, and, most distressingly, subjects our children to an endless regimen of high-stakes tests that provide little, if any, benefit to their lives.

    Aside from being an ineffective way to educate children, the new educational culture of NCLB is patently destructive. Our children, in lieu of being prepared for contributive citizenship in our democracy, or even being prepared for the world of work, are being reduced to nothing more than passers of minimum competency tests. Your teaching is being judged only on whether you can bring your lowest performing students to meet the lowest of expectations on simplistic reading and mathematics tests, at the expense of all else -- including your best and brightest. For what purpose then does public schooling exist? Do we school to help all children develop into critical, reflective, engaged participants of their communities, or do we school to try to meet the expectations of ill-informed legislators and lobbyists who clearly have no interest in your children?

    Considering the dire consequences unfolding for public educators, students, their families, and the communities housing them, one would think that the NEA would be the foremost voice of opposition to NCLB. Instead of demanding that America's classrooms be free from corporate intrusion, the NEA's leadership offers a watered-down approach seeking only to mitigate a few of the law's more egregious effects.

    For the past four years the NEA leadership has failed to see the proverbial forest for the trees and, in so doing, has failed the very teachers it purports to represent. Now, when concerned educators and their supporters organize themselves to oppose reauthorization of the law, we are denied out of hand by the leaders of an organization that should be our greatest ally. Sadly, we have arrived at a time when the leadership that once protected our interests is willing to dismiss them in order to protect its own.

    In contrast to their policy, the members and supporters of the Educator Roundtable, now 20,000 strong, are acting in the original spirit of unionism, organizing many small voices into a meaningful wave of self-advocacy. The Educator Roundtable asks teachers and their supporters to speak openly about the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act. We encourage everyone with a stake in public education—and that is everyone— to engage in a vigorous, heartfelt debate about what we want for public education and what we want for our children and our future.

    In order to allow this broad debate to carry forward towards real education reform, we seek to end the current format of ESEA. We do not want to simply and stubbornly oppose the law without proposing "any positive changes or alternatives," as the NEA leadership accuses us, but we must establish an environment where open debate is possible—an environment free of NCLB—to move beyond the original ESEA to the betterment of our children rather than the destruction of public education. The key to this effort is, of course, openness, amongst ourselves, with the public, and with millions of disenfranchised educators both within and without the NEA.

    While it appears that openness is not the policy of the NEA leadership at present, we hold faith that the rank and file members of the NEA are able to think for themselves, and we encourage them to read our public statements and to sign our petition. It might comfort them to know that many union members are sitting at our roundtable; several have been paying dues since the late 1960s. We hope you recognize that when leaders make mistakes, their supporters must make tough decisions, holding leadership accountable for the paths they choose.

    It would be a different country if more Americans learned to do so.

    The NEA has chosen to initiate a national campaign to discredit our organization, urging their members not to sign the petition. We believe that teachers, union members or not, are tired of being told what to do, when to do it, and how it is best done. If you share our belief, we urge you to join us by signing the petition calling for and end to NCLB.

    The Educator Roundtable is an organization made up of teachers, parents, students, and educators with a shared vision for our public schools that preserves the ideals of vibrant and meaningful teaching and learning. We join the thousands of teachers who find it impossible to stay silent in the face of the destructive path of NCLB, and we will not be deterred by the leadership of an organization that ignores the voices of its own members. Please direct all inquiries to Dr. Philip Kovacs, Director of the Educator Roundtable, at www.educatorroundtable.org.

    The Incredible Lightness of the Washington Post

    Looking for the truth, the whole truth, or nothing of the truth? If the latter, have a look at this piece from the Post on the NSTA-Inconvenient Truth controversy. This could have been written for Anderson Cooper's 360--one of those she said, he said, and zero investigation by the reporter. In short, modern journalism the way we most often see it: cheap, very profitable, and entirely ineffective in informing the public.

    More Spring Planning

    Seems like others are finding hope in the air, too. Here is some of it from Scott Parker's piece in the Dallas Morning News:
    • Public schools will stop treating the beleaguered parents of special education kids like enemies and potential litigants. School administrators will put more effort into helping parents understand what the law requires schools to do for their children. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.

    • Thought leaders in public education will abandon the zany notion that all children must be prepared for college. They will refocus on how to provide solid vocational education programs for students who want to start careers after high school.

    • Every student will get a textbook as required by law. Secondary schools will stop withholding textbooks because they fear too many students will lose or damage them.

    • Lawmakers blinded by the computer hardware and software lobby will stop advocating the idea that laptops should replace textbooks.

    • Parents will stop jumping to the conclusion that the evil teacher is to blame when little Johnny gets a bad grade or gets disciplined. Instead, they start with the assumption that the teacher is right and go from there.

    • School board members will reject Texas Association of School Boards brainwashing. They will regularly bypass the superintendent to visit campuses and to speak with teachers and staff to find out what's really going on in schools.

    • School boards, the elected representatives of the people, will reject the TASB concept that they are on "a team" with the superintendent as "quarterback." Instead, they will act like bosses and treat the superintendent like a valued employee. The conceptual difference is small but important.

    • The school voucher movement will wither and die along with the Republican Party's ill-conceived drive to privatize management of "failing" public schools.

    • Courageous principals will fire lazy teachers who don't want to teach and who waste precious class time by (1) assigning students to read a chapter and answer the questions at the end of it (2) showing a film to the class while e-mailing friends and munching snack food.

    • Superintendents will support legislation that requires them to file annual financial disclosure statements with the Texas Ethics Commission.

    • School board members, superintendents and other administrators will stop taking free meals, free trips, gifts, consulting fees and other gratuities from companies that want to sell them products and services. Why? Because it looks bad.

    • Lawmakers will pass a law requiring high school students to take a course in media literacy to teach them how to analyze the unrelenting barrage of advertising aimed at young people.

    • More companies and private-sector volunteers will adopt public schools to make sure students get exposed to the thoughts and ideas of adults who aren't part of the public education bureaucracy.

    • More teachers will focus on the exhilarating challenges and rewards that first drew them into the classroom and stop obsessing about what they find maddening in their workplace.

    Monday, December 18, 2006

    Planning for Planting

    During these shortest of days, it is the time that some begin to think about new Springs, new beginnings, new opportunities once the insanity passes.

    I offer these mild bromides to all policy and curriculum writers, whether middle school or middle life ones:

    10 Sane Bromides With Implications for Educational Renewal
    • There should be no single path to learning or living. Diversity and adaptability in biological and social worlds are key to survival.
    • The strength of a democracy can be gauged by the levels of participation and the continuing sustenance by its constituents.
    • Economic success without personal happiness is misery; personal happiness without economic well-being is a myth.
    • Real freedom is composed of equal proportions of liberty and responsibility.
    • The greatest threat to freedom is a shortage of trust. As trust recedes, policing moves forward.
    • Civilization requires both conservation and growth. Too much of either is the source of all moral and intellectual ill health.
    • Leadership, in the classroom or the boardroom, requires equal proportions of support and challenge. Support without challenge breeds complacency and false competence. Challenge without support breeds intimidation and withdrawal.
    • The offering of opinion is an eliminative act and serves a purgative purpose. Understanding, on the other hand, is the metabolic act that sustains human organizations.
    • Ethical caring occurs at the intersection of cool reason and warm compassion.
    • Play that is neither therapeutic nor constructive is never fun.

    More Data, More Theft

    If there are any deep data mining enthusiasts left for the Business Roundtable, i. e., ED, call for more and bigger student information databases, have a look at this Times piece on the grand scale of data theft:
    . . . the incident involving the University of California, Los Angeles, announced last Tuesday, there was really no question about the motive and the quarry. A hacker, or hackers, had been entering the restricted database — which contained the names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other private information of current and former students and faculty —for over a year before the breach was discovered.

    A commenter at the Wired News blog, giving only the affirmative “yea” as a name, had this to say:

    “I was a U.C.L.A. student that got my info lifted. I think it’s horrible not only that these companies are so sloppy and careless about our data but that we have such a weak link in the chain of our security. Congress has let companies use SSN in ways they were never meant to be used and now we are paying the price for it. Add a debt-happy culture to the mix and you have a truly toxic brew of misery if someone gets a hold of your SSN.”

    As it turns out, educational institutions have a particularly acute problem when it comes to the nation’s leaky data issue.

    A study by the Public Policy Institute for AARP last July, using data compiled by the Identity Theft Resource Center, determined that of the 90 million records reportedly compromised in various breaches between Jan. 1, 2005, and May 26, 2006, 43 percent were at educational institutions.

    In fact, educational institutions were twice as likely to report suffering a breach as any other type of entity, with government, general businesses, financial service and healthcare companies pulling up behind.

    “College and university databases are the ideal target for cyber criminals and unscrupulous insiders,” said Ron Ben-Natan, the chief technology officer of Guardium, a database security and monitoring company based in Waltham, Mass. “They store large volumes of high-value data on students and parents, including financial aid, alumni and credit card records. . .

    11th Grade CP--Christian Proselytizing

    Apparently youth pastor, David Paszkiewicz, didn't waste any time when school began in September in getting to the heart his 11th grade American history curriculum: science bashing and religious conversion.

    KEARNY, N.J. — Before David Paszkiewicz got to teach his accelerated 11th-grade history class about the United States Constitution this fall, he was accused of violating it.

    Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.

    “If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

    The student, Matthew LaClair, said that he felt uncomfortable with Mr. Paszkiewicz’s statements in the first week, and taped eight classes starting Sept. 13 out of fear that officials would not believe the teacher had made the comments.

    Since Matthew’s complaint, administrators have said they have taken “corrective action” against Mr. Paszkiewicz, 38, who has taught in the district for 14 years and is also a youth pastor at Kearny Baptist Church. However, they declined to say what the action was, saying it was a personnel matter.

    “I think he’s an excellent teacher,” said the school principal, Al Somma. “As far as I know, there have never been any problems in the past.”

    Staci Snider, the president of the local teacher’s union, said Mr. Paszkiewicz (pronounced pass-KEV-ich) had been assigned a lawyer from the union, the New Jersey Education Association. Two calls to Mr. Paszkiewicz at school and one to his home were not returned.

    In this tale of the teacher who preached in class and the pupil he offended, students and the larger community have mostly lined up with Mr. Paszkiewicz, not with Matthew, who has received a death threat handled by the police, as well as critical comments from classmates.

    Greice Coelho, who took Mr. Paszkiewicz’s class and is a member of his youth group, said in a letter to The Observer, the local weekly newspaper, that Matthew was “ignoring the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gives every citizen the freedom of religion.” Some anonymous posters on the town’s electronic bulletin board, Kearnyontheweb.com, called for Matthew’s suspension.

    On the sidewalks outside the high school, which has 1,750 students, many agreed with 15-year-old Kyle Durkin, who said, “I’m on the teacher’s side all the way.”

    While science teachers, particularly in the Bible Belt, have been known to refuse to teach evolution, the controversy here, 10 miles west of Manhattan, hinges on assertions Mr. Paszkiewicz made in class, including how a specific Muslim girl would go to hell.

    “This is extremely rare for a teacher to get this blatantly evangelical,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit educational association. “He’s really out there proselytizing, trying to convert students to his faith, and I think that that’s more than just saying I have some academic freedom right to talk about the Bible’s view of creation as well as evolution.”

    Even some legal organizations that often champion the expression of religious beliefs are hesitant to support Mr. Paszkiewicz. . . .

    What a teachable moment! Wonder how many schools will take advantage of it. Here's some text for discussion:

    NEA Code of Ethics:

    In fulfillment of the obligation to the student, the educator--

    1. Shall not unreasonably restrain the student from independent action in the pursuit of learning.
    2. Shall not unreasonably deny the student's access to varying points of view.
    3. Shall not deliberately suppress or distort subject matter relevant to the student's progress.
    4. Shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to health and safety.
    5. Shall not intentionally expose the student to embarrassment or disparagement.
    6. Shall not on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religious beliefs, family, social or cultural background, or sexual orientation, unfairly--

        a. Exclude any student from participation in any program

        b. Deny benefits to any student

        c. Grant any advantage to any student

    First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Sunday, December 17, 2006

    "Tough Choices" Gets Tougher Reviews

    From Jerry Bracey at Huffinton Post:
    There is a cottage industry in this country that generates reports devoted to keeping Americans anxious about the future and laying the responsibility for that future on the schools which are never working as they should be. The latest of these scare tactics, Tough Choices or Tough Times, might be the dumbest, least democratic, least reality-based of them all.

    The notion that America's schools determine the nation's future developed just after World War II. During the Cold War, "manpower" was the term of the day and CIA chief, Allen Dulles, was telling politicians that the Russians were generating twice as many engineers, scientists and mathematicians as we were (doubt that CIA intelligence was any better then). Where would we get our manpower? From the colleges, of course, but the colleges depended on the schools and the schools were seen as wanting.

    The Russians' launch of Sputnik in October, 1957, proved to the school critics that they had been right. Blaming the current schools for letting the Russians get into space first was silly since those working on rockets were well past their K-12 and university educations. Education historian Lawrence Cremin quipped that Sputnik only proved that the Nazi scientists the Russians had absconded with after World War II had gotten a little ahead of the Nazi scientists we had absconded with after World War II.

    The schools were hit from time to time in the 1960's and 1970's with other critical reports, but the next big bombshell blew up in 1983, A Nation At Risk. The commissioners who wrote this golden treasury of selected, spun and distorted statistics were, like many Americans at the time, convinced that other nations, especially Japan, were going to eat our economic lunch. They wrote, "if only to keep and improve on the slim advantage we still enjoy in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system."

    This assertion reflected the commissioners' erroneous assumption that high test scores were causally linked to thriving economies. But Japan's bubble burst in 1990 and it is only now coming out of 15 years of recession and stagnation. Beginning in 1991, on the other hand, the U. S. enjoyed the longest sustained economic expansion in the nation's history. Japan's kids continued to ace tests, but that didn't goose the Japanese economy. Our kids continued to score in the middle of the pack, but the economy boomed and the World Economic Forum ranked us No. 1 in global competitiveness among over 100 nations (this year the U. S. fell to No. 6 largely because of the incompetence in the Bush administration, the incompetence and corruption in both the Bush administration and the private sector, and the insanity of an open-ended, coffer-draining commitment to war coupled with the simultaneous commitment to continue cutting taxes).

    American kids were average on the various international comparisons in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003, and 2004 and the "Oh ain't it awful, we're doomed" refrain was reprised over and over. Now comes Tough Choices. If successful it would accomplish what some have been intending for decades: the private control of publicly funded education. School boards would not operate schools. Private firms would do that.

    The report throughout emphasizes the importance of creativity and imagination, but it calls for kids to be tracked into different institutions after 10th grade based on scores from tests that cannot measure creativity or imagination. This is the commission at its most naïve. About the exams it writes "No one would fail. If they did not succeed, they would just try again." Oh, sure. The nature of human nature is beyond these guys. Given the inequality of opportunity in schools and society generally, one can quickly see the Brave New World this would lead to (it would save a lot of money currently spent on coaches, band directors and uniforms, though).

    Perhaps the most inane proposal from the report is to let the states, not localities, fund the schools based on some kind of formula. Excuse me, but aren't these the same states that have been sued by districts, state after state, because of inadequate, unconstitutional funding formulas? Just who would have the power to install this new funding scheme is not clear.

    The report claims that the future "is a world in which a very high level of preparation in reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, science, literature, history and the arts will be an indispensable foundation for everything that comes after for most members of the workforce" (emphasis added). Huh? Who really wrote this thing? Ayn Rand's ghost? The nation currently has 9 cashiers, 6 waiters and 5+ janitors for every computer programmer and it has no shortage of programmers. I want some of the commissioners' mushrooms.

    IB's for the Do-Be's

    Resume building and corporation preparation for your child can never start too early. Now, parents, you can begin in the rig-rig-rigorous world of IB (International Baccalaureate) Primary Schools, where children learn the virtues of economic globalism at the same time they are molded "from preschool age on, into 'transdisciplinary' and bilingual scholars who can deliver a major academic project by fifth grade and then move into deeper studies in secondary schools and beyond. (IB middle schools also exist.)."

    Out are Cat-in-the-Hat and nursery rhymes. In are economics and nonfiction writing. By the time your child graduates from an IB high school and enters an IB, or Ivy, college, he will be entirely immune to the crushing economic oppression in that flatter and and flatter world that remains farther and farther below him.

    I think I'll remain a Don't Be. From WaPo:
    . . . . Critics wonder whether it's all a bit much for a student demographic that still receives scratch-and-sniff stickers on written work.

    "We initially hear from parents that they're a little worried about the amount of work," said Sandra Coyle, a regional marketing and communications manager for the IB organization. "But they do realize the way it expands their children's minds and teaches them how to learn and how it helps them to manage their schedules. We like to say that IB prepares kids for success in college but also for success in life."

    So far, Randolph Elementary and the private Washington International and Rock Creek International schools in the District are the only ones in the region with authorized IB primary programs. But efforts to join them are underway in several local school systems. Prince William County is training staff for an IB rollout in eight elementary schools. Plans are made for five such schools in the District and three in Anne Arundel County. And an IB elementary awaits authorization in Montgomery County.

    For some schools with a sizable number of students from low-income families, IB's cachet helps lure -- and retain -- children whose parents are better off. At Ellis Elementary School, one of the chosen few in Prince William to get the IB program, transfer requests are trickling in. "We've already fielded a few phone calls, and most of them were from higher socioeconomic areas," Principal Jewell Moore said. At her school, 40 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged.

    IB elementary classes differ from the ordinary in several ways. Subjects as varied as economics and nonfiction writing can be taught in a single IB class. When students begin learning new material, they are asked to think of numerous questions that get posted on the chalkboard under a title such as "What we want to find out," giving classes an investigative feel.

    "In the past, when students asked questions, they just mimicked mine," said Randolph science teacher Judith Kendall. "With IB, they have to think about what they know and what they really don't know."

    Teachers at IB schools, who receive special training, say the elementary program will help ensure that students will be able to compete globally and learn from an early age about the importance of other cultures. They also say that the programs can help students pass standardized state exams, especially in the many elementary schools serving low-income areas that face the threat of sanctions under the No Child Left Behind law if test scores fall short. . .

    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    Education for Democracy

    Here is a clip from a piece at Common Dreams about a conference put together by Richard Dreyfuss's in hopes of promoting civics education curriculum. As Katrina vanden Heuvel points out, it is not every movie star who is willing to give up a career to write curriculum:

    Last summer, Dreyfuss and his longtime friend and Martha's Vineyard educator, Robert Tankard, spoke with the island's Superintendent, James Weiss, about teaching a new civics curriculum. They wanted parents, teachers, students, historians, and others to collaborate on it, use the Martha's Vineyard school system as a laboratory, and then offer it as a model for a national civics revival. Weiss said that if they could generate interest in the local community he would implement the classes.

    "I never heard such a great offer in my life," Dreyfuss says. "It's the difference between walking and talking." And that's how Citizen Dreyfuss found himself talking civics with the community last week.

    Dreyfuss spoke about the risk of doing nothing. Without doing the rigorous work, the training, and learning "the tools of democracy, we leave the running of our system to happenstance and luck. We can kiss it goodbye in the lives of my children and yours."

    Dreyfuss found a receptive crowd. On the importance of civility an elderly man said, "You were born with two eyes, two ears, one nose, and one mouth. Use them in those proportions." Others complained of people "making up facts in order to win arguments." Or "bashing others to score political points instead of working to solve problems." They felt that civics education needed to start younger so that by the time people finished high school they were practicing citizenship rather than learning it. Historian Gordon Wood told the group, "We are a nation of immigrants.... What holds us together? It can't be Starbucks and McDonald's. That's why we go back to the Founders--equality, liberty, self-government.... If younger people don't know [this foundation], they will lose any sense of collectivity, identity as Americans." Sociologist James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, also participated in the meeting and called the teaching of civics "one leg of many in our culture to revive and renew us." A retired principal spoke of the obstacles created by No Child Left Behind--the forced focus on reading and math, and the consequent cuts to music, arts and other programs. "To be successful, we need to think of the whole child again," he said.

    There was another target on the mind of Dreyfuss and many of the citizens at the meeting: the media, and especially television. (Dreyfuss calls television "possibly the worst thing that ever happened to us. I think it shortened our brains. I think it created road rage. I think it killed rumination. I think it allows us to think that we are discussing serious public issues when we're not. I think that it has become the place of serious public discussion of issues but it isn't. And it just passes for that.") He said that television is where we go for news information. It delivers information through image (rather than text) instantaneously, leaving no time for rumination. He cited 9/11 coverage as an example--the instantaneous images of the Twin Towers replayed over and over again--leaving room for nothing other than feelings of "grief and revenge." Dreyfuss believes television has caused us to reinterpret what makes a good politician (the image being more important than the text). He called people in the industry "like addicts--denying that a problem exists." Meanwhile, he says, we accept the medium as offering the same level of reflection and insight as reading and rumination. There was general agreement that we have lost our way in teaching young people to be critical thinkers and sort through the information industry.

    As the meeting ended, Dreyfuss asked: "Are you in favor of teaching civics in American public schools?" He called for the nays and there was silence. Dreyfuss allowed it to linger. Finally, he asked for the yeas, and hundreds of people responded with enthusiasm. The contrast was striking, and Dreyfuss had clearly drawn on his skillful sense of timing to orchestrate the moment. Dreyfuss and Tankard had achieved their objective of demonstrating strong public support. Participants were invited to attend a follow-up session at a local high school the next day where the focus would shift to developing a pilot program.

    After the meeting Superintendent Weiss said that there is an eighteen-month window of opportunity to revamp civics education on the island. The standardized testing in social studies for the state will be decided during that time period and curricula will be revised. He said that eighteen months was "just enough time" to succeed.

    The Gathering Storm Against NCLB

    From the Florida Times-Union--ht to Susan O:
    Let's drop No Child Left Behind

    The television news recently captured my attention with iconoclastic filmmaker Michael Moore blasting the Democrats. Yes, the Democrats.

    He was demanding those now in control of the government's budget immediately order a withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

    While no fan of Moore, it is tantalizing to think of a similar tirade he might direct toward federal interference in control of education through the No Child Left Behind Act.

    Now that the election has been decided, politicians are talking of bipartisanship. What we really need is nonpartisanship, not bipartisanship.

    We need to find out whether the majority of Democrats really care about the issues facing schools.

    Politically informed citizens of either party are displeased with No Child. Conservatives have expressed their displeasure with No Child's federal control. Liberals criticize the law that places accountability measures on teachers whose unions are among their largest benefactors.

    It is important to recognize the contradiction inherent in supporting local control through charter schools and vouchers while unloading federal education mandates on the nation's public schools, many of them unfunded. It has been well documented that No Child is not improving education quality. The current administration is using misleading statistics to support No Child.

    Also, corruption issues are emerging:

    First, seeking to build support for its education reform law, the Bush administration inappropriately paid commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 with federal tax dollars to promote No Child on his nationally syndicated television show.

    Then according to the U.S. Department of Education's own inspector general, the $5 billion "Reading First" program showed preference in funding curricula developed by publisher McGraw-Hill. As reported in a previous column, the Bush and McGraw families have been personal friends since the 1930s and the McGraws have been generous donors to the Bush presidential campaigns. Under No Child, the administration populated the committees charged with approving states' curriculums with individuals having "significant professional connections" to another profitable McGraw program, "Direct Instruction."

    In October, the Los Angeles Times documented that "Ignite Learning," a company owned by President Bush's brother and his parents, is benefiting from federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students. Many U.S. school districts were convinced to use federal funds to purchase products from Neil Bush's company, such as Ignite's "portable learning centers" that cost $3,800 each. Ignite does not offer reading instruction, and the Ignite math program is not scheduled to be available until next year.

    Department of Education officials appointed by a president elected as a "compassionate conservative" are now hinting at a new Washington, D.C., controlled "national standardized test." This, in turn, will require billions of dollars in development and implementation costs.

    Before such a test could be developed, additional contracts would be let and national content standards would have to be developed. Efforts would likely rely on firms like McGraw-Hill that are currently reaping the benefits of the flawed No Child legislation.

    Public schools were created to provide every child an opportunity to succeed. It is high time federal interference in our schools be "Left Behind." Democrats have the power of the purse strings needed to step up and abolish No Child.

    While it is rare for Democrats to reduce federal involvement, the new congressional leadership needs to empower local governments to:

    1. Better address problems of children who are homeless, live in poverty and lack health care, by reducing federal taxes in lieu of state initiatives in this area.

    2. Realize that testing alone does not increase performance.

    3. Eliminate No Child's culture of simplistic criterion referenced tests by simply abolishing them. Before No Child, the country had excellent nationally normed tests in use in all states.

    4. Reclaim governance of public education, a function documented in state constitutions, but
    not anywhere in our national constitution.

    5. Receive federal dollars spent on education without restrictions from Washington, D.C.

    Simply put, No Child can never reach its stated goal for every child to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

    Instead of helping to tinker with No Child, as is being discussed, Democrats now need to lead the effort to abolish the law they have continually criticized.

    William Bainbridge of St. Augustine is CEO of SchoolMatch, a national educational auditing, research and data organization.