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

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Student Loan Interest Giveaway at ED

This past Friday afternoon news dump included, yet, another Office of Inspector General (OIG) Report on ED corruption, this one outlining another massive jettisoning of federal tax dollars to line the pockets, this time, of the student loan corporation, Nelnet, which, by the way, is tied for # 11 on John Boehner's list of political contributors.

The amount in question is $278,000,000 paid out so far to Nelnet in interest that it has "earned" from a crooked financial maneuver that ED continues to allow. Even though ED was allowing this practice during Paige's rein at ED (despite a report from the GAO in 2004), it was after Spelling arrived to take charge that the her own OIG's first report was issued in May 2005, calling for ED to halt the overpayment to a small New Mexico lender which had abused its way to an unearned $36 million in interest payments.

Instead of taking action, however, Spellings ignored the OIG Report, even though she was warned by the OIG and others that the New Mexico deal was small potatoes compared to what was happening among corporate providers of student loans. Still she ignored the OIG recommendations. Now we find these conclusions in the most recent OIG Report, included in the Friday news dump:
We estimate that Nelnet—

• Was improperly paid about $278 million in special allowance from the quarter ended March 31, 2003, through the quarter ended June 30, 2005; and

• Could be improperly paid about $882 million in special allowance after the quarter ended June 30, 2005, if Nelnet’s billings are not corrected.
So while Spellings was being warned by OIG in May 2005, Nelnet had already carried off over a quarter-billion dollars since 2003. Since June 2005, Nelnet has pocketed another $178,000,000 as a result of Spellings' inaction. If she waits until New Year's to stop the thievery, Nelnet will have pocketed another $36,000,000. If she waits until Spring, another $34,000,000 on top of that. In short, Spellings's inaction is costing $11-12 million a month.

Of course, Spellings' media stooge, Ben Feller, does not mention these facts in the official story, the only one that has been filed except a pitiful blip by Reuters. Instead, Feller has this:

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will review the report and Nelnet's response before deciding how to proceed, said spokeswoman Katherine McLane.

"Secretary Spellings takes protection of American taxpayers very seriously and is concerned about the issues raised in the inspector general's report," McLane said.

Concern? She was not concerned in May of 2005 when her own IG gave her the first recommendation to stop this practice, an authority that the GAO had already assured her that she had. Wonder why? Could it have anything to do with John Boehner and Buck McCown and the other corrupt hacks who put her where she is today?

Here is a bit of how the scam works from a much more agressive Feller piece in 2005. Wonder what happened to him:

A Government Accountability Office report last year found that subsidy payments skyrocketed from about $209 million in 2001 to more than $600 million as of June 2004. The government said it ultimately spent about $1 billion on the payments last year.

The GAO attributed much of that increase to a drop in interest rates. But it also said the growth was tied to a number of financial maneuvers lenders used to get the 9.5 percent return -- including a method denounced by the IG. Under that arrangement, the lender issued a "refunding bond" to pay off the original, pre-1993 bond and also to finance new loans that it asserted were also eligible for the special subsidies. Because those refunding bonds mature later than the original ones, they enabled lenders to continue billing the government for the subsidies.

The GAO report, issued in September [2004], called the subsidies "unnecessary" and said the Education Department had the authority to end them immediately.

Reid, Chris, and the Barracudas: More from Reading First Finding #4

(Photo: Reid Lyon, Bush's Former Crackpot Reading Czar)
This OIG Report is only the first in a series that is planned for Reading First before the end of this year, but don't expect OIG to name names. That will only come with a criminal investigation or from a filing for OIG documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Or from a reporter with the resources and the gumption to get the facts. Any formal investigation aimed at getting the facts will have to be launched from outside ED, unless Spellings intends to surrender and resign.

There is so much rich and readable detail in this section on how Doherty, Lyon, unnamed panelists, and senior advisors stacked the deck to make sure that Direct Instruction beat out all comers that I have posted this section in its entirety from the OIG Report:
The Department Took Action With Respect to the Expert Review Panel Process That Was Contrary to the Balanced Panel Composition Envisioned by Congress

Congress, through Title 1, Part B, Section 1203(c)(2)(A) of the ESEA, envisioned an expert review panel with equal representation from the Department, NIFL, NAS, and NICHD. As we reported in Finding 1A, the Department nominated a majority of the individuals serving on the expert review panel. Additionally, 15 of the 16 subpanels had a majority of Department-nominated panelists and none had the balanced composition envisioned by Congress.

The Reading First Director took direct action to ensure that a particular approach to reading instruction was represented on the expert review panel. Direct Instruction (DI) is a model for teaching that requires the use of Reading Mastery, a program published by SRA/McGraw-Hill, to teach reading.
The Reading First Director formerly served as the Executive Director of the Baltimore Curriculum Project, which has implemented DI in Baltimore City schools since 1996.

The Reading First Director personally nominated three individuals who had significant professional connections to DI to serve on the expert review panel.
The Reading First Director selected these three individuals to serve on a total of seven of the 16 subpanels and one of these individuals to serve as the panel chair on five subpanels. These three individuals were collectively involved in reviewing a total of 23 States’ applications.

A Baltimore City Public Schools official contacted a Department official to express concern that
two panelists were involved with or employed by DI and questioned whether those two panelists indicated their connections to DI on the conflict of interest form. In May 2002, the Department official forwarded this information to the Reading First Director who passed the concerns on to one of the panelists in question as a “Confidential FYI.” This panelist replied:
I suspect that [the Baltimore City Public Schools official’s] assumption is that USDE must be warned that there may be DI infiltrators and that somehow USDE knows how dangerous that can be. You may remember that [the Baltimore City Public Schools official] is a whole language (now called Balanced Literacy) proponent.

The subsequent e-mail response from the Reading First Director suggests his intention to ensure a DI presence on the expert review panel: “Funny that [the Baltimore City Public Schools official] calls *me* to inform that there may be some pro-DI folks on *my* panel!!! Too rich!” The panelist then asked, “Does he know who you are? Past and present?” The Reading First Director replied, “That’s the funniest part – yes! You know the line from Casablanca, ‘I am SHOCKED that there is gambling going on in this establishment!’ Well, ‘I am SHOCKED that there are pro-DI people on this panel!’”


Shortly before this exchange, a Department employee reported to the Reading First Director that the Department had received a question from a member of the media about the panel composition. The response by the Reading First Director suggests that he may indeed have intended to “stack” the expert review panel. The employee stated: “The question is...are we going to ‘stack the panel’ so programs like Reading Recovery don’t get a fair shake[?]”
The Reading First Director responded, “‘Stack the panel?’...I have never *heard* of such a thing....[.]”

A few days before the Department publicly announced the panelists it had chosen to serve,
one of the Department-nominated panelists contacted the Reading First Director and shared his strong bias against Reading Recovery and his strategy for responding to any State that planned to include Reading Recovery in its application. The Reading First Director responded: “I really like the way you’re viewing/approaching this, and not just because it matches my own approach :-), I swear!” This individual later served as the panel chair for the subpanel that reviewed Wisconsin’s State application and in response to the State’s plans to use Reading Recovery, he included an 11-page negative review of Reading Recovery in his official comments on the application.

Around the same time, Reid Lyon, the former Chief of the Child Development & Behavior Branch at the NICHD, advised the Reading First Director, the Assistant Secretary for OESE, and the Senior Advisor to the Secretary at the time that one of the panelists had been “actively working to undermine the NRP [National Reading Panel] Report and the RF initiatives.” Lyon further stated, “Chances are that other reviewers can trump any bias on her part.” In a written response to all of the people involved, the former Senior Advisor to the Secretary stated, “We can’t un-invite her. Just make sure she is on a panel with one of our barracuda types.”


The statute envisioned that the expert review panel would be balanced with representatives from the Department and three other named organizations. In fact, virtually all of the subpanels had a majority of Department-nominated panelists. Against this backdrop, the actions of the Director and
the former Senior Advisor to the Secretary become particularly problematic.

Additionally, the first element identified in GAO’s Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government as affecting the control environment is “the integrity and ethical values maintained and demonstrated by management and staff.” The apparent intent of the Reading First Director to include and to give a significant role to panelists who reflected his personal preference in reading programs; his specific encouragement to a panelist who held views similar to his on Reading Recovery; and the intention of the former Senior Advisor to the Secretary to control another panelist raise significant questions about the control environment was being managed.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Reading First Finding #4: Breaking Federal Law (again)

If there was any doubt that federal laws were broken by the Reading First mafia, there will be none after looking at the following examples. The heft of the OIG Report can be found in Finding 4, which is broken out into the following categories with evidence supplied to illustrate how each violation of federal law was accomplished:
In the course of answering our objectives for the inspection, we found that the Department, acting through the former Assistant Secretary for OESE, the Reading First Director, and others [Carnine and Lyon]:

  • Developed an application package that obscured the requirements of the statute;
  • Took action with respect to the expert review panel process that was contrary to the balanced panel composition envisioned by Congress;
  • Intervened to release an assessment review document without the permission of the entity that contracted for its development;
  • Intervened to influence a State’s selection of reading programs; and
  • Intervened to influence reading programs being used by LEAs after the applicationprocess was completed.
Developed an application package that obscured the requirements of the statute. This section details how Susan Neuman, then an Assistant Secretary, aided Doherty in adding some language that was not included in the Law and deleting other language that was in the law. Why? To make sure that non-Oregon mafia (Ore-Mafia) programs like Reading Recovery were cut out of the action:
The Assistant Secretary for OESE planned for the Reading First Guidance to include language that was not in the statute and exclude language that was in the statute. After reviewing a revision to the Department’s draft of the Reading First Guidance, the Assistant Secretary for OESE wrote to the Reading First Director, “under reading first plan. i’d like not to say ‘this must include early intervention and reading remediation materials’ which i think could be read as reading recovery’ [a reading program]. even if it says this in the law, i’d like it taken out.” The subject phrase appears in the law twice (p. 15).
Doherty, under the direction of his handlers, came up with a solution that moved some of the language required by law from the Reading First Criteria into the Reading Guidance section, thus effectively changing the criteria that Congress intended when the Law was enacted:
The approach outlined by the Reading First Director was eventually reflected in the application package that was available to every State on April 2, 2002. As discussed in Finding 3, the Department ultimately included the “bold” language that distorted the requirements of the statute in the Reading First Criteria.

In the Pre-reading notes document, the Reading First Director wrote:
OGC [Office of General Counsel] could likely have concerns with the overall, near-unrelenting aggressiveness of this application...the law does not really require what we are quite literally requiring in our (aggressive) application. Such examples are manifold and OGC may catch some, many or all of them. We have not highlighted them to OGC, of course, and we don’t know how many they’ll focus on. On some issues, we may be able to dodge a little by moving some ‘Meets Standards’ points to the ‘Exemplary,’ but if we do that too much, the result is a less bold application and decreased chances of overall success. We’ll need your muscle [Neuman's?] with OGC on these points across the board (p. 16).

Our next post will examine the the other remaining points under Finding 4.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

SEE IT!


The real story of our electoral system.

Reading First Finding 3: Re-Writing of the Law

FINDING 3 – The Department Included Requirements in the Criteria Used by the Expert Review Panels That Were Not Specifically Addressed in NCLB

That is the polite way to say that the Reading First thugs rewrote the law. The OIG Report shows that the application review panelists reviewed Reading First applications in accordance to the published criteria. The only problem was that Doherty and his Texas and Oregon handlers inserted requirements in the “meets standard” criteria that were not required by the Law. Why? By interjecting criteria that could not be readily achieved without the direct instruction materials/methods and the fraudulent DIBELS assessment system, the state applicants would be effectively funneled into programs that satisfied the illegal criteria:
. . . the ‘Meets Standard’ column of criterion IV(A), Key Reading First Classroom Characteristics, required State applications to meet three conditions that were not included in the statute:
  • Condition 1b required, “Coherent instructional design that includes explicit instructional strategies, coordinated instructional sequences, ample practice opportunities, and aligned student materials[.]”
  • Condition 1d required, “Protected, dedicated block of time for reading instruction[.]”
  • Condition 1f required, “Small group instruction as appropriate to meet student needs, with placement and movement based on ongoing assessment[.]”
Here’s how Doherty’s damning emails explained his illegal actions:
“[i]t’s another example of our aggressive approach because, obviously, very little of this section can be pegged to legislative language. It just makes good sense, of course, to help the States see what we know/want RF [Reading First] classrooms to look like. OGC may not like this entire section, and I wanted to birddog it for you.” He continued: We realize the Meets Standards column is much more fleshed-out than the Exemplary column....What we’ve done – again, extra-legally, really – is push all the characteristics that we originally had in Exemplary and moved them into Meets, because we want all of those (a, b, ...g) characteristics to define ALL RF classrooms, not just the star RF classrooms.
What is the upshot of this illegal manipulation? It means essentially that commitments were made by applicants to spend billions of federal grant dollars to meet reading program requirements that were never written into the NCLB law, but were inserted there by an unwavering cadre of self-serving philistines:
Because the Department included language in the ‘Meets Standard’ column of its Reading First Criteria that was not based on the statute, State applications were reviewed based upon standards that were not required by the statute.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Spellings: Keep Your Dirty Nose Out of Higher Ed

With ED reeling from the OIG report that outlines a criminal conspiracy to defraud the people's government and to turn America's public schools into joyless work camps, it seems hardly the time to come trumpeting a new opportunity for thievery and corruption by federal officials and insider cronies. Schedules are set, however, and some people's minds just cant't be changed that easily.

Spellings' lap dog, Ben Feller, has the party line story on Maggie's lunch date yesterday at the National Press Club to announce the corporate socialist game plan. Feller begins this way:

WASHINGTON — Handed a plan to shake up college life in America, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is endorsing some of its key ideas and promising to get moving on them.

Her overarching theme is to make everything about college _ choosing one, affording one, succeeding in one _ easier for families. Parents should be able to shop for a college as simply as they shop for a car, she said, with a clear expectation of what they will get.

Ah yes, the market model--how could we forget. What Feller pretends first off is that Spellings is the passive recipient here, the "get-moving" functionary who will make the college choice process simple as a window sticker and Mom-friendly. What this facade hides is the fact that Spellings was instrumental in crafting the desired results that Charles Miller was assigned to piece together into a report, which he did. Much the same way that she and Lyon and Carnine were at Sandy Kress's elbow during the entire time that NCLB was being stitched together, with its now infamous and newsworthy floodgate for federal cash, Reading First.

What Feller's press release, er, news story, doesn't say, is that the Spellings Commission Report is an underhanded device to direct the curriculums and research agendas of America's colleges and universities into the hands of corporate interests. The fact that the Spellings plans to use federal dollars for the takeover should not surprise anyone who is familiar with NCLB. Just one example of how: put public pressure (with the help of Ben Feller) on public universities to hold down tuition increases to the rate of inflation, thus making them even more dependent upon the largesse of an ED that has unlimited incentive funds waiting for those institutions that will to do follow ED's priority list. And ED's priorities? Ask any corporate lobbyist in Washington--they all have their lists.

At this point in the history of the Bush Administration, turning over control of the American university system to Margaret Spellings would be equivalent to putting Donald Rumsfeld in charge of a NASA Mars venture. All the contractors would get fat, but a lot of people would get blown up.

With more reports of investigation into Spellings' Reading First to be issued by the Office of Inspector General before the end of the year, I think that the folks on 7 will have plenty to do before they get down to the serious business of destroying another American public institution.

JH

Reading First Finding 2B: The FEMA-ing of the Process

FINDING 2B – The Department Awarded Grants to States Without Documentation That the Subpanels Approved All Criteria

Chris Doherty, who is beginning to look more like FEMA’s Michael Brown on steroids, functioned as the ultimate loyalist functionary, disregarding the process that the Law guaranteed in order to allow his overseers to guide billions into the coffers of McGraw-Hill and other Bush insider outfits of the education industry. The parallel to Brown does not end there because we will see Spellings, who promoted Doherty after her appointment, try to avoid indictment by scapegoating Doherty, who was chosen as an expendable pawn in the event that the Reading First thievery became detected.

The OIG investigation found that four states (New York, Nevada, Virginia, and Connecticut) and one territory (Puerto Rico) were awarded grants, even though their final applications on record show a Chair Panel Summary rating of “Disapproval.”
For example, the Panel Chair Summary for New York’s final application provided a rating of “Does Not Meet Standard” for three criteria. The three criteria were Instructional Assessments, Coherence, and Process for Awarding Subgrants. . . . As a result, some applicants were funded without documentation that they met all of the criteria for approval raising a question of whether these States should have been funded (pp. 11-12).
The OIG report is short on details regarding this point, but the finding adds to the pattern that shows an ideologically-driven breakdown of protocol and process and a politically-rewarding financial feeding frenzy that used the nation’s children to line the pockets of Bush loyalists and to satisfy the demands of a crackpot “science” aimed at a fascist-inspired form of social control. (Click here for some video clips of "direct instruction" if you think your stomach can take it.)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Miller Calls for Criminal Investigation of Reading First

From Bloomberg News:

Lawmaker Asks Criminal Probe of U.S. Reading Program

By Paul Basken

Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) -- A Democratic congressman called for a criminal investigation after an audit found that a $1 billion federal program to improve reading among grade-school children was run by staff who steered contracts to favored publishers.

The Education Department's inspector-general last week recommended an overhaul of the ``Reading First'' program, part of the ``No Child Left Behind'' law, including removing directors and reviewing the propriety of their contract awards.

``The inspector-general's report raises serious questions about whether Education Department officials violated criminal law, and those questions must be pursued by the Justice Department,'' said Representative George Miller of California, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.

Miller, in his statement, called the audit part of pattern in which the Education Department under President George W. Bush ``has repeatedly run afoul of ethical standards.''

Miller's office also cited an independent analysis published last year by the Washington-based American Institutes for Research that found the program favored by Reading First directors, a product of the McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., was one of only two programs to receive AIR's highest rating.

Billion-Dollar Program

Reading First distributes about $1 billion a year to states to spend on reading programs that the government agrees have scientifically proven effectiveness.. . . The rest here


Reading First's Doherty Became Chief of Staff

Reading First has been very good for Chris Doherty. ED's Organizational Directory dated May 2006 lists Doherty as Chief of Staff for Deputy Secretary, Raymond Simon. As an ED staffer tells me, when Chris came upstairs, he not only became Christopher J. Doherty but he brought Reading First with him. (Since he and his unnamed assistant had every decision in their back pockets, no problem).

And who is Raymond Simon, other than former Asst. Superintendent of Schools from Conway, Arkansas?
President Bush nominated Raymond Simon to the position of United States Deputy Secretary of Education and the Senate confirmed him on May 26, 2005. As Deputy Secretary, Mr. Simon plays a pivotal role overseeing and managing the development of policies, recommendations and initiatives that help define a broad, coherent vision for achieving the President's education priorities, especially the No Child Left Behind Act. He also provides overall supervision and direction of program organizations of the Department. He had previously served as the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education.
Way to go, Chris!! And way to go, Ray! Congratulations on your promotions. Who else is a part of this important, nay exclusive, Office of Deputy Secretary to Mrs. Spellings? Only one other name is listed, and that is Dr. Kristi Wilson, Office of Small Business Programs. The very big business of small business. Wonder what she does? How cozy it must be up there on 7, the Power Floor.


Wonder where Chris is headed next, since he will soon be leaving? To jail, perhaps--or maybe down to Dallas to work for Randy Best and Reid Lyon.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Reading First Finding 2A: Ignored Peer-Review Process


FINDING 2A – The Department Did Not Follow Its Own Guidance For the Peer Review Process


As we discussed in the earlier OIG Report finding 1B, ED refused to ask questions or to review resumes that would have exposed serious conflicts of interest between crony review panels and the curriculum and instructional endorsements they would offer to State Reading First applicants. Now in 2A we find irrefutable evidence that Doherty and “his assistant” (who would that assistant be?) systematically undercut the peer review process in a number of ways. First, Doherty and his unnamed assistant substituted their own feedback for the review panel comments that were intended to be provided to each state applicant:
After the panel chair submitted the Panel Chair Summaries to the Reading First office, the Reading First Director and his assistant created what they called an “Expert Review Team Report.” This report was provided to the States. No other documents reflecting the expert review panel’s comments were provided to the States. . . . We have not found any documentation that the Department informed panelists that the Reading First Director and his assistant would write the report sent to SEAs[state education agencies]. . . . Likewise, we have not found any documentation that the Department informed States that they would receive a Department-written report rather than the expert review panel’s direct comments.
So what we had then were two review panels, but only one was following the process outlined by the Law. The other one, the one controlled by Doherty and his advisors (Lyon, Carnine, Neuman, et al), simply took what they wanted from the panel reviews, massaged it when necessary, and left out the majority of the rest when it did not fit their instructional, curricular, and product placement agendas. So not only did Doherty and his ED minions put themselves in the place of the official review panelists and Chairs, but they used those opportunities to make deletions or to provide misleading, misstated, inaccurate, and exaggerated renditions of the review panel comments. In some cases, comments were simply manufactured by Doherty and his cohorts. In short, they lied:
According to the Reading First Director, he and his assistant created the Expert Review Team Reports to give States a distilled, organized version of the panel’s comments that would show them which areas they needed to address. However, we found the Department’s Expert Review Team Reports were not always accurate representations of the expert review panelists’ comments. The Reading First Director and his assistant changed panelists’ comments, left off others, and added comments of their own. In a number of cases, the Departmentgeneralized or omitted specific questions or suggestions. In other situations the Department’s Expert Review Team Report exaggerated or misstated the panelists’ concerns (p. 9).
Here’s how Doherty justified his removal of the panel chairs from the conference calls between Reading First and the state applicants:
The Reading First Director stated that “it’s generally been mentioned to the States that they would hear directly from the Panel” but that the Department would “lose a bit of control” and the Panel Chair might say things that would “*complicate* matter [sic]” if included on the conference calls. In an earlier e-mail to the Assistant Secretary for OESE, the Reading First Director stated that “in remarks to groups...or face-to-face meetings about what the Review Panel will/won’t accept the opportunities for BOLDNESS and, perhaps, extralegal requirements are many.” [Emphasis in original.] (p. 9)
As a result of these thug maneuvers, states failed to receive the reviews that the Law intended to guarantee. For instance, Nevada submitted five times before approval; New York, three times; Georgia, three times; Wisconsin, four times; Virginia, three times; North Dakota, five times. What we don’t know is what advice and intimidation these SEAs were receiving from the thugs out in the field for Doherty and his criminal gang. Here is bit of Georgia’s experience:
Georgia submitted its application three times prior to receiving approval. The Department’s Expert Review Team Report [Doherty and the gang] for Georgia’s first submission failed to adequately summarize the subpanel’s comments about instructional assessments and programs. The Department’s Expert Review Team Report included the comment that “the review team expressed great concern that, according to the budget...purchasing materials for classroom libraries is a higher priority than purchasing and implementing core reading program materials.” This comment was not in the Panel Chair Summary. The Department’s Expert Review Team Report for the next submission omitted the subpanel’s request for more information on how the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Learning Skills (DIBELS) assessment could be used for progress monitoring. (P. 10)
Translation: Library books, Bad—scripted curriculum and DIBELS, Good.

Thugs and criminals of the worst sort.

Which of Bloomberg's Child Abusers Will Be Left Behind?

The NY Times reports that 339 5th graders were held back in fifth grade due to the stupidity of Bloomberg's crack testing crew. The City blames the State--the State blames the City. One can only hope for class action suit by parents. And by the way, where is outrage among those who were so upset about Buffy and Biff's SAT screw-ups? I almost forgot--these poor kids don't matter, anyway.
Published: September 23, 2006

A day after New York State released results of the 2005-6 reading and writing exam, city officials said the scores showed that they had required 339 students to repeat fifth grade even though, it turned out, they had scored high enough on the English test to be promoted.

That was a turnaround from Thursday, when the city said the scores showed that they had mistakenly promoted children in the spring who failed to meet Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s criteria. The officials said the state released annual scores later than usual.

The city’s reversal came after state officials reacted furiously to being blamed, saying the state had bent over backward to provide the city with preliminary data.

“The facts show this is completely wrong in every respect,” said Alan Ray, a spokesman for the State Education Department.

The chancellor’s office said that parents of the children wrongfully held back would now be given the choice of leaving them where they are or pushing them up to sixth grade.

The backdrop for the confusion was a new set of tests used this year.

The state English scores are normally unveiled before the school year ends. But because the exams were new, extra time was needed to figure out how to score them.

Knowing the results would be delayed, New York City had initially planned to administer two sets of exams: the state tests and a city test to enforce the mayor’s promotion rules in grades 3, 5 and 7.

After an outcry from parents about double testing, state and city officials reached a deal — the state would give the city a preliminary analysis of scores in time for the city to make promotion decisions in June.

City officials said that their initial conclusion on Thursday that they had wrongly promoted students stemmed from a quick and faulty analysis of the test results.

Reading First Finding 1B: Conflicts of Interest

FINDING 1B – While Not Required to Screen for Conflicts of Interest, the Screening Process the Department Created Was Not Effective

Finding 1B has everything to do with the deliberate masking of conflicts of interest among ED and the Reading First panelists, who were likely hand picked by Lyon and Carnine before a process was ever put in place to avoid conflicts of interest. So when the Office of General Counsel’s list of six questions were offered to Reading First as a way to screen panel members for conflicts of interest, this question was eliminated from the ethics attorney’s list:
“Are you aware of any other circumstances that might cause someone to question your impartiality in serving as a reviewer for this competition?”
In other words, ED would try to preserve an escape hatch here for itself in case those “other circumstances” might reach the attention of the public or the media.

Another example of the ignorance-is-bliss ethical screening strategy involves information submitted by potential panelists. These folks provided ED with resumes that one might assume would include information that could flag some potential conflicts of interest. The only problem—ED did not bother to review the resumes. Why? First, because they already knew who they would allow on the panels, and secondly, because not knowing about conflicts of interest would provide an ethical fig leaf just in case someone got nosy:
The Department did not review the resumes as part of the conflict of interest screening process. We reviewed the resumes of 25 of the approved panelists and identified six panelists whose resumes revealed significant professional connections to a teaching methodology that requires the use of a specific reading program. The Department did not identify any of these connections in its conflict of interest screening process; therefore, it would not have been in a position to deal with the potential conflict raised by these professional connections should a State have included this program in its application (pp.7-8).
In other words, the crooks, charlatans, and hacks running ED knew exactly what they did not need to know. The only way to find out what ED (Doherty, Neuman, Hickok, Paige, Spellings) really knew is to have them testify under oath in, let’s say, a court of law.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Carnine, Lyon, Kaminski, and R. Good Links

Joe Thomas asked me to put up some previous posts so that some background on the Reading First scum can be better understood:

Reading First Corruption Award . . . (w/three links to previous posts)

DIBELS and the Science of the 60-Second Sorting Machine

Victims of the Code

NRP, Bush, and Lyon

Review of Coles' Reading the naked truth

Office of Inspector General (OIG) Finding 1A

FINDING 1A – The Department Did Not Select the Expert Review Panel in Compliance With the Requirements of NCLB

NCLB specifically describes the process to be followed by the expert review panel that will make Reading First grant decsisions. The OIG found that no panels or sub-panels were formed that adhered to the requirements of the NCLBA for adequate representation as stipulated under Section 1203(c)(2)(A). Not only did Neuman and Doherty (and who else?) break the law in this regard, but they failed to put in place an advisory and oversight panel. As the OIG dryly reports, “To date, no one in the Department has offered an explanation of why this was not done (p. 7). These actions, or lack of actions, now throw into question the compliance of every approved Reading First application:
Section 1203(c)(1) states: “The Secretary shall approve an application of a State educational agency under this section only if such application meets the requirements of this section.” Because the Department did not meet the requirements at Section 1203(c)(2)(A), it raises the question of whether any of the applications were approved in compliance with the law (p. 7).
As reported earlier, we know that the only Panel or sub-panel that mattered to the Reading First crooks was formed before Congress had even given its approval of NCLB. In late 2001, a group of hungry hackademics under the direction of Doug Carnine had gathered at the behest of ED to iron out the protocols that would be used to siphon off hundreds of millions to the Direct Instruction network:
. . . Good [Roland Good] boasts in his bio on the DMG site that he is former member of the Secretary’s Reading Leadership Academy Assessment Committee that met in late 2001 and early 2002 to develop the Reading First guidelines. Hmm.

Here are the other members on that very important and exclusive group who decided among themselves the fate of 900 million dollars a year in federal grants for the Reading First Initiative. One may note the prominence on the Committee of the University of Oregon colleagues of Doug Carnine:

Team Leader: Dr. Edward J. Kame'enui, University of Oregon
Dr. David Francis, University of Houston
Dr. Lynn Fuchs, Vanderbilt University
Dr. Roland H. Good, III, University of Oregon
Dr. Rollanda O'Connor, University of Pittsburgh
Dr. Deborah C. Simmons, University of Oregon
Dr. Gerald Tindal, University of Oregon
Dr. Joseph Torgesen, Florida State University
What we know now from the OIG Report is that Carnine, Kame'enui, and Doherty were carefully orchestrating the delivery of the Assessment Committee's work to every state reading coordinator to use as a blueprint for acquiring Reading First grants. Kame'enui, in fact, decided to present the document as "a singular effort" because his own textbook was not on the market yet--while other members could not make the same claim:
Kame’enui also made the decision to present the report itself as a “singular effort” on his part, rather than as the effort of the Assessment Committee. One reason he provided was: “Because several of [the Assessment Committee members] are authors or co-authors of the assessment instruments [the Assessment Committee] reviewed, the perception of a conflict of interest in shaping the final report was a concern” (p. 21)
In fact, 18 of the 29 reading assessment tools that were chosen for review by the Assessment Committee made the final cut list as a result of personal recommendations. From the 29 on that list, 24 were selected as having "sufficient evidence" to be judged as "scientifically based":
Of the 24 assessments the Assessment Committee found to have “sufficient evidence,” seven were directly tied to Assessment Committee members:
  • Five were developed or co-developed by Assessment Committee members;
  • One lists an Assessment Committee member as the individual who can provide technical information; and
  • One is the product of a company that is directed by an Assessment Committee member.
Here, by the way, are the amounts dispensed during the last five years for Reading First Grants:

Title 1, Part B, Section 1002(b)(1) of the ESEA authorized an appropriation for Reading First of $900,000,000 for fiscal year 2002 and “sums as may be necessary for each of the 5 succeeding fiscal years.” The appropriations for fiscal years 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 were $993,500,000, $1,023,923,000, $1,041,600,000, and $1,029,234,000, respectively.

Reading First Crime Summary




Photos from the Know Your Reading First Offender Series.

Later we will be responding to each of the violation summaries, with details on contexts, perpetrators, and the dissembling response by Spellings' lawyers. Carnine and Lyon are so, so busted:
FINDING 1A – The Department Did Not Select the Expert Review Panel in Compliance With the Requirements of NCLB

FINDING 1B – While Not Required to Screen for Conflicts of Interest, the Screening Process the Department Created Was Not Effective

FINDING 2A – The Department Replaced What the Law Intended to be a Peer Review Process With its Own Process

FINDING 2B – The Department Awarded Grants to States Without Documentation That the Subpanels Approved All Criteria

FINDING 3 – The Department Included Requirements in the Criteria Used by the Expert Review Panels That Were Not Specifically Addressed in NCLB

FINDING 4 – In Implementing the Reading First Program, Department Officials Obscured the Statutory Requirements of the ESEA; Acted in Contravention of the GAO Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government; and Took Actions That Call Into Question Whether They Violated the Prohibitions Included in the DEOA

Feller and Spellings Spin and Lie Through Early Stages of Reading First Disaster

Feller is now calling this first in a series of investigations of Reading First by the Inspector General's Office an "audit." An AUDIT!! And the undeniable law breaking is now pegged as "ethical lapses." And near the end of the piece, Feller has this blatant lie from Spellings, herself:
Spellings said the problems happened in the early days of the program, which began in 2002, before she was secretary. She said those responsible have left the agency or been reassigned.
That is an outright and bald-faced lie. What about Doherty, Mr. Bold and Extra-Legal, himself? And all the thugs he managed? The cover-up has obviously begun.

Friday, September 22, 2006

More Reading First Revelations: Doherty, Lyon, and Carnine, Oh My

Chris Doherty, the soon-to-be ex-Director of Reading First, was described by a Washington researcher I heard from today as an "absolute imbecile." In other words, perfect for a job that required a lot of "bold" and "extra-legal" actions to make sure that, 1) the Bush Co. phonics and chain gang ideology got enforced, and 2) that Bush cronies got the majority of the billions pumping out of ED for Reading First during the past five years. Here is a verbatim clip from the Inspector General's Report that suggests my Washington acquaintance was right--Doherty is very bold, very arrogant, very much blinded by power, and in the end, very stupid:
The Department Took Action With Respect to the Expert Review Panel Process That Was Contrary to the Balanced Panel Composition Envisioned by Congress
Congress, through Title 1, Part B, Section 1203(c)(2)(A) of the ESEA, envisioned an expert review panel with equal representation from the Department, NIFL, NAS, and NICHD. As we reported in Finding 1A, the Department nominated a majority of the individuals serving on the expert review panel. Additionally, 15 of the 16 subpanels had a majority of Department- nominated panelists and none had the balanced composition envisioned by Congress.

The Reading First Director took direct action to ensure that a particular approach to reading instruction was represented on the expert review panel. Direct Instruction (DI) is a model for teaching that requires the use of Reading Mastery, a program published by SRA/McGraw-Hill, to teach reading. The Reading First Director formerly served as the Executive Director of the Baltimore Curriculum Project, which has implemented DI in Baltimore City schools since 1996.

The Reading First Director personally nominated three individuals who had significant professional connections to DI to serve on the expert review panel. The Reading First Directorselected these three individuals to serve on a total of seven of the 16 subpanels and one of these individuals to serve as the panel chair on five subpanels. These three individuals were collectively involved in reviewing a total of 23 States’ applications.

A Baltimore City Public Schools official contacted a Department official to express concern that two panelists were involved with or employed by DI and questioned whether those two panelists indicated their connections to DI on the conflict of interest form. In May 2002, the Department official forwarded this information to the Reading First Director who passed the concerns on to one of the panelists in question as a “Confidential FYI.” This panelist replied:

I suspect that [the Baltimore City Public Schools official’s] assumption is that USDE must be warned that there may be DI infiltrators and that somehow USDE knows how dangerous that can be. You may remember that [the Baltimore City Public Schools official] is a whole language (now called Balanced Literacy) proponent.

The subsequent e-mail response from the Reading First Director suggests his intention to ensure a DI presence on the expert review panel: “Funny that [the Baltimore City Public Schools official] calls *me* to inform that there may be some pro-DI folks on *my* panel!!! Too rich!” The panelist then asked, “Does he know who you are? Past and present?” The Reading First Director replied, “That’s the funniest part – yes! You know the line from Casablanca, ‘I am SHOCKED that there is gambling going on in this establishment!’ Well, ‘I am SHOCKED that there are pro-DI people on this panel!’”

Shortly before this exchange, a Department employee reported to the Reading First Director that the Department had received a question from a member of the media about the panel composition. The response by the Reading First Director suggests that he may indeed have intended to “stack” the expert review panel. The employee stated: “The question is...are we going to ‘stack the panel’ so programs like Reading Recovery don’t get a fair shake[?]” The Reading First Director responded, “‘Stack the panel?’...I have never *heard* of such a thing....[.]”

A few days before the Department publicly announced the panelists it had chosen to serve, one of the Department-nominated panelists contacted the Reading First Director and shared his strong bias against Reading Recovery and his strategy for responding to any State that planned to include Reading Recovery in its application. The Reading First Director responded: “I really like the way you’re viewing/approaching this, and not just because it matches my own approach :-), I swear!” This individual later served as the panel chair for the subpanel that reviewed Wisconsin’s State application and in response to the State’s plans to use Reading Recovery, he included an 11-page negative review of Reading Recovery in his official comments on the application.

Around the same time, Reid Lyon, the former Chief of the Child Development & Behavior Branch at the NICHD, advised the Reading First Director, the Assistant Secretary for OESE, and the Senior Advisor to the Secretary at the time that one of the panelists had been “actively working to undermine the NRP [National Reading Panel] Report and the RF initiatives.” Lyon further stated, “Chances are that other reviewers can trump any bias on her part.” In a written response to all of the people involved, the former Senior Advisor to the Secretary stated, “We can’t un-invite her. Just make sure she is on a panel with one of our barracuda types.”

The statute envisioned that the expert review panel would be balanced with representatives from the Department and three other named organizations. In fact, virtually all of the subpanels had a majority of Department-nominated panelists. Against this backdrop, the actions of the Director and the former Senior Advisor to the Secretary become particularly problematic.

Additionally, the first element identified in GAO’s Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government as affecting the control environment is “the integrity and ethical values maintained and demonstrated by management and staff.” The apparent intent of the Reading First Director to include and to give a significant role to panelists who reflected his personal preference in reading programs; his specific encouragement to a panelist who held views similar to his on Reading Recovery; and the intention of the former Senior Advisor to the Secretary to control another panelist raise significant questions about the control environment in which the program was being managed. (pp. 17-19)
More clips and more Panel members to be identified soon. Carnine's Oregon cabal is so busted.

Reading First Panel Packed with Carnine's DI Disciples

Some more details from Spellings' pet goon at the AP:
The audit found the department:

_Botched the way it picked a panel to review grant applications, raising questions over whether grants were approved as the law requires.

_Screened grant reviewers for conflicts of interest, but then failed to identify six who had a clear conflict based on their industry connections.

_Did not let states see the comments of experts who reviewed their applications.

_Required states to meet conditions that weren't part of the law.

_Tried to downplay elements of the law it didn't like when working with states.

The report does not name Doherty, referring to him as the Reading First director.

It says he repeatedly used his influence to steer money toward states that used a reading approach he favored, called Direct Instruction, or DI. In one case, the report says, he was told a review panel was stacked with people who backed that program.

"That's the funniest part - yes!" he responded in e-mail dating to 2002. "You know the line from Casablanca, 'I am SHOCKED that there is gambling going on in this establishment!' Well, 'I am SHOCKED that there are pro-DI people on this panel!'"

Spellings took issue with the use of such e-mails in the audit. She said they could be used to draw unfair conclusions about a person's intentions.

The inspector general rejected that. It said the e-mails were written by Doherty in his role as director, and there is no evidence they were inaccurate or pulled out of context.

Yet the audit also faults other officials who had a big hand in Reading First, including Susan Neuman, the former assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education.

Spellings, who became secretary in 2005, said she is not aware of any effort to favor certain reading programs. That, however, is just what the audit says has happened.

"I'm doing everything I can at this point," she said. "I can't undo what's been done."
Spellings is doing everything she can, alright--everything she can to avoid being fired or indicted. She should certainly be fired for letting this mess continue after Neuman left in January 2003. As a co-rony (corrupt crony) of Sandy Kress, Spellings knew exactly that the Reading First panels were packed with Direct Instruction disciples. If I knew that, how could she not know it--she was there when the Monster was sewn together?

Spellings, through Feller, is trying to make Susan Neuman the scapegoat here, but this goes much deeper than one greedy hackademic gone mad with power. Much, much deeper.

Reading First Lawbreaking Report Included in this Friday's News Dump


As I have said before, if you really want to know what is beneath the surface of Bush Co., pay attention to the weekly news dumps that occur each Friday afternoon. This week Spellings AP lackey has this story of an ED Inspector General's Report just in time for the weekend. It will no doubt go unreported by most of the corporate media per usual.

We have been waiting now for over a year for the results of this federal investigation into illegal and corrupt practices inside the Reading First program, which has been used to direct federal grants into the chain gang reading programs approved by "scientific reading" quack, Reid Lyon and Doug Carnine. So far Reading First has dumped almost $5 billion into these programs that have primarily benefited contributors, cronies, and insider hacks of the education industry complex.

With Spellings' poodle, Feller, reporting this much, you have to know about that there is much more in the report itself. Stand by.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A scorching internal review of the Bush administration’s reading program says the Education Department ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wanted.

The government audit is unsparing in its review of how Reading First, a billion-dollar program each year, that it says has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use.

It also depicts a program in which review panels were stacked with people who shared the director’s views and in which only favored publishers of reading curricula could get money.

In one e-mail, the director told a staff member to come down hard on a company he didn’t support, according to the report released Friday by the department’s inspector general.

“They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the (expletive deleted) out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags,” the Reading First director wrote, according to the report.

That official, Chris Doherty, is resigning in the coming days, department spokeswoman Katherine McLane said Friday. Asked if his quitting was in response to the report, she said only that Doherty is returning to the private sector after five years at the agency.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, in a statement, pledged to swiftly adopt all of the audit’s recommendations. She also pledged a review of every Reading First grant.

“I am concerned about these actions and committed to addressing and resolving them,” she said.

Reading First aims to help young children read through scientifically-proven programs, and the department considers it a jewel of No Child Left Behind, Bush’s education law. Just this week, a separate review found that the effort is helping schools raise achievement.

But from the start, the program has also been dogged by accusations of impropriety, leading to several ongoing audits. The new report from the Office of Inspector General — an independent arm of the Education Department — calls into question basic matters of credibility.

When the department fails to follow the law and its own guidance, the report says, “it can only serve to undermine the public’s confidence in the department.”

The ranking Democrat on the House education committee was furious.

“They should fire everyone who was involved in this,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. “This was not an accident, this was not an oversight. This was an intentional effort to corrupt the process.”

About 1,500 school districts have received $4.8 billion in Reading First grants.

Miller is calling for firings--where are the criminal indictments????

Update: 4:10PM. From the AP:

POSTED: 2:59 pm EDT September 22, 2006
UPDATED: 3:34 pm EDT September 22, 2006
A program that spends $1 billion each year trying to make sure children can read well by the end of third grade has been mismanaged by the Education Department, according to a government audit.The audit found that the Reading First program is chock full of mismanagement and conflicts of interest.They found review panels that steered money to favored publishers. Those panels were also packed with people who shared the proggram director's views.The report also suggests laws were broken by trying to dictate which curriculum schools have to use.Education Department officials said Chris Doherty, director of Reading First, will quit in the coming days.A spokeswoman would not discuss whether it's because of the audit, saying only that he is returning to the private sector.
Will he be getting an orange jumpsuit?? Expect a criminal investigation to be announced next week.

The Drumbeat for National Testing and Moral Bankruptcy of the Privatizers

It's Fall again but that sulphurous smell in the air is not burning leaves. It is the re-surfacing of an old argument for national testing. Claiming neutrality on the issue of national testing in order to hold those Republicans who still cling to the threadbare ideological tissue of local autonomy, Bush Co. has shoved out two of its stellar fallen angels to make the case: big time gambling addict and leading virtuecrat, Bill Bennett; and former ED Sec. and bagman for Armstrong Williams, Rod Paige.

The details of this national testing plan are no less vague than the new torture agreement between Bush and the Republican "rebels," but one thing is clear: the ed industry is desperate for a reliable testing system that will continue to produce failing scores for America's public schools, and a NAEP-like instrument, normed to do just that, is their preferred solution to the variety of testing regimes in the states with their varied schedules for the same inevitable end they eventually face. Bennett has his money on the virtual charter schools that hope to soak up a sizable portion of public education funds, and Paige, as the black face of Chartwell Education Group, has his nest lined with soft dollars from the Florida Public Pension Fund, managed in part by his bosses at Liberty Partners, who are the owners of Chartwell and Edison Schools. You remember Edison Schools.

The future of Edison and other corporate welfare education outfits, virtual or otherwise, depends upon hastening the schedule of the manufactured failure of the public schools. The most efficient way to do that is to remove the latitude that comes with state accountability systems and to initiate a national system controlled by ED, who will continue to seed and feed charter and voucher initiatives while the public schools are being ground up by a national testing scheme designed to destroy any remaining public confidence in the public schools.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

An Art Teacher's Nightmare

All schools and local educational agencies that do not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) are identified for Program Improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This art teacher in a PI California school finds herself caught in the grip of an education policy that is undermining and threatening any chance of providing a meaningful education for the most vulnerable and neediest students. Her comment was posted on ScoolsMatter in response to "20 Reasons to Eliminate NCLB."
-------------------------------------------------------------------
I am a teacher in a PI school.

It is so apparent in my school in Oxnard, CA that what is passing for "improvement" is undermining the quality of instruction and the learning outcomes in my students. I can barely see my way through to do my job, much less be effective with students.

In fact, at Hathaway I would say my perception is one of mass frenzy on site and an atmosphere of eroding core teaching praxis. This is being replaced with fairly poor textbook generated pacing and content that assures us no outcome but keeps reiterating that it's based in "data driven" programs. Experienced teachers obviously retire and leave, newer teachers lack skills, voice, understanding of why things are really getting ridiculous. Many teachers are reflective enough to challenge the assumptions for these are sophisticated societal issues being addressed in a very unsophisticated manner. I doubt Bush can articulate his rhetoric well enough which is why his architects do the planning for him. No ChildLleft Behind was about all he got from his attendance in the plans, and indeed their best piece is controlling the rhetoric.

Anyway, I appreciate this list especially after listening today to a county presentation on "year 3" in “underperformance world” and the federal "take" on the rectification of teachers. I am examining the why of my teaching life. After 23 years dedicated to the poorest students in California in the Salinas Valley, South Central Los Angeles, and in Hueneme District I, find myself dealing with those I think who see the whole NCLB notion as a way to privatize, make a buck off audits, data proscribing program pieces and taking the teacher and literally flailing them alive -- and getting paid big money doing it.

And as that person who stayed in the classroom dedicated to students who watches many of these figures flee to run DataWorks or other agencies/companies that are collecting the big bucks by maintaining this big lie I ask myself..what can be done? In my world I talk.

Often teachers ask me to stop-questioning basic assumptions is a no, no. I seek outside connections and help. I try to write and talk to those we work with. But you know, as I sat today in this meeting, (in part why I found your site), it occurred to me my kids and parents are further from a voice in this picture than ever before. We know they are too poor, language hampered, possibly not even correctly papered, they can't come in to advocate, some lack the skills and tools educationally to have the view articulate enough, that places me, this elementary teacher into an advocacy role.

Concurrently, my district is mandating my voice, scripting, proscribing and reacting to the act and its bite. Lost in all of this is the little girl on my apple carpet with a family in a garage or the little boy unready to take on a curriculum paced beyond him who is now the room "problem". Now I go to my yard at recess, a place I've known for 12 years, and watch chaos. I observe, without a doubt, children in stress, children depersonalized, children shoved in "universal access" who should be doing something very different -- maybe even painting. It's like watching and living a human nightmare. I'm in as unethical a position as ever in my life.


I appreciate this site. I wish you might write for me where you think this gets us to if you go to the ultimate end point. I know privatization is one aspect but I look further. I do not see how mutual cooperation and survival, respect and the values that built America are in play here. I see a thing eating its young. I see children as commodities. I see ultimately a permanent underclass, a creation of a divide of have/have nots that's unbridgeable via educational systems. It’s so fundamentally clear here in poor South Oxnard. I'm ashamed really that this country could unleash this on our children and doubly ashamed I am forced into its implementation.

Sarah Puglisi

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Teacher Education is Out of Touch, and I am Proud of It

No doubt much hand-wringing will result from Arthur Levine's out-of-touch appraisal of how out-of-touch teacher education programs are. Here is how Brahmin Levine's Executive Summary (PDF) frames it in the opening sentence:
The nation’s teacher education programs are inadequately preparing their graduates to meet the realities of today’s standards-based, accountability-driven classrooms, in which the primary measure of success is student achievement.
I haven't had a chance to read the whole report, but there is enough here to get my attention. Let me say unequivocally that, as a teacher educator, I agree wholeheartedly with Levine's opening statement, and, furthermore, I would not have it any other way. Teacher education programs, the best ones at least, are entirely out-of-step with the present-day disaster of "accountability-driven classrooms" to which Levine refers.

Indeed, the present-day "accountability-driven classrooms" neither require, nor desire, teacher education programs, particularly if these programs include any departure or variation from this high tech version of the same iron-fisted 19th Century traditional pedagogy that was just as ineffective a hundred years ago as it is today. The fact is that the federally-mandated classroom of today looks much more like the prevailing model classroom of 1906 than it does the education models of 2006, which, by the way, continue to be the focus of good teacher education programs despite the anti-democratic aberration that has sucked the oxygen from any other educational narrative or methodology. So yes, Levine is right, thank god--we are hopelessly out of step with the march toward the past, a past that makes teacher preparation as irrelevant and foreign as, let's say, social justice and equality of opportunity.

In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs teacher training to teach to the the high-stakes standardized junk tests that have replaced professional standards and curriculums all across the nation. In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs teacher training to do the parrot math and reading programs that are pushed by the Reading First thugs (and what will soon be Math First thugs). In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs a child development course when the insanity of testing kindergarteners and first-graders has made core principles of child development entirely irrelevant. In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs an historical or philosophical foundations course when the current agenda of worldwide economic domination has replaced all the other purposes and aims that historically shaped schools that were once devoted to creating good people and to building a good democracy. In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs educational psychology courses when the current chain-gang behavior modification tactics for classroom control are provided in the various commercial scripts and canned instructional programs that accept no deviation in their lock-stepping toward "data-driven" results.

When, eventually, sanity is restored, when the public dialogue once again replaces the silenced voices, and when these crooks, hucksters, and corporate fascists are expelled from the seats of power in Washington, we may, in fact, come to celebrate those teacher education programs now demonized for not "preparing graduates to meet the demands of today's . . . accountability-driven classrooms." Perhaps those university teacher prep programs will have at least preserved the possibility of a free and just society during this melee of the fundamentalist cultural revolution, and perhaps then, when humanitarian decency is again restored, we can truly begin to give teacher education programs the attention they need to honestly make them better.

In the meantime, let us celebrate our failure.

Chris Bell Calls for End of High-Stakes Testing

Chris Bell, gubernatorial candidate from Texas, just made things more interesting in the race for governor:

Public education moved to the forefront Tuesday in the race to be governor of Texas.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell decried the state's dropout problem and offered his solution, but with few details and no price tag.

"I love Texas too much to turn a blind eye to the dropout crisis," Bell said. "Rick Perry can stick his head in the sand and kick kids out of school, but we'll lose a lot more than money in the long run."

To help curb the state's high dropout rate - either 38 percent or 16 percent, depending on which camp you believe - Bell proposed a plan to end high-stakes testing, promote innovative pilot programs targeting at-risk students, expand career and technology training programs, and support flexible scheduling and local volunteer-driven campaigns. . . .


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

In Drug Testing We Trust

As Spellings hops from city to city doling out millions for random drug testing to school systems more interested in policing than educating, a large Catholic school in Missouri is toying with a new low in the destruction of community trust and the imposition of a police state mentality:
One of St. Louis' largest Catholic boys schools is considering mandatory drug-testing for its teachers, board members and staff, a plan that could become the first in the area and one of just a few in the country.

Leaders at Christian Brothers College high school in Town and Country emphasized that they have just begun discussing the idea. It follows closely a decision to begin drug testing students at the start of next school year.

CBC's principal, Brother David Poos, said he has much to do before anything is decided, including getting formal input from his staff. But he said he had not heard resistance from teachers so far.

"Many have said, 'Let me be the first,'" he said. "I've said that."

National education leaders, however, were concerned by the precedent. Teaching, they said, is a profession that has long enjoyed a reputation for virtuous behavior. A move like this could corrode the relationship between teacher and student.

"I would be upset if we had to come to something like that," said Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Education Association. She said she had not heard of a similar plan in the United States. "We know our teachers better than that. We trust our teachers more than that."

Poos insisted that CBC leaders aren't looking at the idea in response to drug abuse among teachers.

It's more a show of solidarity with students, he said - adults setting an example for students.
Solidarity, indeed. It is a clear demonstration to students that their role models are willing to capitulate to the shameless disregard by some for Constitutional guarantees and common human decency that have been the hallmarks of our democratic experiment. It says in a loud voice that no one is worthy of trust. It says unequivocally that liberty and responsibility, the two components of human freedom, have just been transferred to the bosses of the urine examiners.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Spellings Omission on Higher Ed

Here's one worthy of discussion from Peyton Helm, President of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA:

We ignore complexity at our peril. Cut corners in the manufacture of O-rings and you have the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster; underestimate the expertise required to mount a major disaster relief effort, and you have post-Katrina New Orleans.

Now, the recently drafted Report on the Future of Higher Education (also known as the Spellings Commission Report) proposes a set of one-size-fits-all measures that, if adopted uncritically, could cripple America's extremely varied and complex system of colleges and universities - a system that, imperfect as it may be, is the envy of the world and the engine of America's economic, scientific, and technological leadership. Alarmingly, Education Department officials seem to be looking for ways to implement these recommendations without congressional approval.

To its credit, the report makes a compelling case for higher education as an important national priority. It effectively highlights the crisis in higher education affordability, especially for minorities and the poor. It recommends more federal support for need-based financial aid. But it ignores the complexity of American higher education, and fails to appreciate the reasons for and the value of that complexity.

The difficulty begins almost immediately with the report's assumption that the sole purpose of higher education is workforce development. As the father of a college senior, I am unabashedly in favor of preparing students for the world of work. But the purpose of higher education goes far beyond providing job skills. We also expect our postsecondary institutions to transmit values, develop civic virtue and leadership skills, refine aesthetic awareness, and nurture analytical abilities. Our marvelously complicated system of higher education is currently capable of meeting each of these objectives, depending on the interests, needs and aptitude of the learner.

Admittedly, were higher education to be solely focused on workforce development, it could be much more efficient, dispensing with literature, history, philosophy, religion, music, and other "impractical" fields. On the other hand, this narrow definition assumes that we know what skills the workforce will require and in what relative numbers - not just four years hence, but 10, 20, and 30 years down the road. Anyone who has observed our economy over the last few decades will find this a highly dubious proposition.

Some of the commission recommendations flowing from this assumption are simply naïve, promising what cannot be delivered. Others pave the way for intolerable government intrusion into individual privacy and academic freedom. Creating a Department of Education database with extensive personal information on every student, for example, was already rejected as unacceptably intrusive by Congress in its recent reauthorization of the Higher Education Act - a position endorsed in a recent poll by over two-thirds of Americans.

The suggestion that institutional accreditation should be the responsibility of government bureaucrats is equally chilling. Standardized testing for all institutions ignores the variety of students' educational objectives and raises the specter of government control of the curriculum (the power to test is the power to determine what is taught).

The elimination of barriers to transfer credits regardless of the nature of institutions would weaken American higher education by insisting on mindless standardization.

By advancing proposals that would homogenize higher education, the commission missed an opportunity to rally America's families, policymakers and educators to the cause of building a stronger, more accessible, more affordable system.

Make no mistake, America's higher education system is extremely complex. Its more than 4,200 institutions include public, private, for-profit, technical, secular, and faith-based institutions with enrollments ranging from fewer than 10 students to more than 115,000; four-year graduation rates ranging from less than 1 percent to more than 97 percent; costs ranging from a few hundred to more than $45,000 per year, and teaching styles ranging from the intimate student-faculty interaction of residential liberal arts colleges such as my school, Muhlenberg College, to the on-demand (if less personal) online programs of the University of Phoenix.

The report simply ignores too many of the current system's strengths and assets and discounts too many of its triumphs to represent a helpful contribution to the national dialogue on higher education. One would never guess, for example, that a recent poll shows that recent independent college graduates right here in Pennsylvania not only earn more, but are significantly more likely to hold jobs, own homes, register to vote, and volunteer for charitable organizations than non-college grads - and that these results hold true regardless of whether the graduate originally came from an upper, middle, or lower socio-economic background.

In its quest for simple solutions, the Spellings Commission has not only missed an opportunity to send a clear message about the necessity of public support for higher education, but has proposed measures that could substantially weaken a healthy system.


Peyton R. Helm is president of Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

Social Studies in Jeopardy

In the new age of global competitiveness and flat worlds, will political or social education matter? Will an understanding of the Constitution and democratic principles be subverted by a new and virulent fascism that depends on a pliable population with limited understanding of the world?

HT to Bob Schaeffer.

Weekend Edition Sunday
Social Studies Goes to the Back of the Class
Schools are emphasizing the importance of math and reading, leaving other subjects behind. Fred Risinger, former coordinator of Social Studies Education at the School of Education at Indiana University, discusses the problem with Liane Hansen.

Open-Minded or Empty-Headed?

Spellings continues her never-ending road show to pump up support for NCLB's not-so-stealthy privatization plan. In Pittsburgh last week, she offered more lies: "I'm open-minded to different methods of measuring success. . . . We have to have different types of test elements for special education learners."

Let's do a quick inventory of Spellings' compromises to date:

  • ELL students get a year to learn English before they are tested the same as native speakers
  • only 97% of impaired students must be tested, instead of 99%
  • 2 states out of 50 are allowed to experiment with growth model testing for academic gains.
With this kind of open-mindedness, there is nothing for the ed industry to worry about: the manufactured failure of the public schools is slated to continue undeterred.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Endangering Childhood

A clip from a thoughtful piece in Saturday's Guardian:
. . . In a letter to the Daily Telegraph this week, a powerful collection of experts including Philip Pullman, Susan Greenfield and Penelope Leach argued that the fast-moving, hyper-competitive nature of our society is seriously damaging children's mental and emotional wellbeing. They suggested that junk food, computer games and constant testing in schools were directly responsible for the well-documented escalation in childhood depression.

So is childhood genuinely in such crisis? Is the modern world inimical to happy and healthy development? Certainly, children growing up today are subject to increasing containment and surveillance, and the tyranny of consumer and moral choice. The definition of maturity itself is in flux as the traditional adult milestones of courtship, marriage and procreation recede, and our popular culture reaches back to youth in order to sustain itself.

And yet our panic about childhood betrays a deep ambivalence, too. Our children are in danger, fattened on fast food, corrupted by commerce, traumatised by testing. . .

The deterioration in children's mental health is profoundly alarming, and it is right that parents and policy-makers should be encouraged to discuss it. Growing up has always charted dangerous territory, but what is occurring now is less of a crisis in childhood and more of a crisis in how adults view children. And this debate is to be welcomed if it results in a shift in focus on to children's own capacity to cope with the challenges of modern life and the ways in which adults can collaborate with them to make those capacities stronger. . .

More Ohio Charter News

From The Plain Dealer:

The Rev. Mark C. Olds found religion in prison and, once out, ascended to the pulpit, where he preached redemption and forgiveness.

But the preacher is in trouble with the law again and faces another stint in the penitentiary. Federal authorities accused him and two others Friday of defrauding the state's Department of Education of $2.2 million in connection with a defunct charter school that Olds founded and ran.

An indictment charges Olds, 56, of Solon, with conspiracy, money laundering and mail fraud. Also indicted are Shirley S. Haynes, 57, of Cleveland, the school's treasurer; and Timothy Daniels, 47, of Arizona, chairman of the school's board.

The charter school -- the Cleveland Academy of Math, Science and Technol ogy -- was one of several proj ects that gar nered media attention for Olds in the past decade. The native of North Carolina spent most of the 1980s in federal prison for bank robbery before arriving in Northeast Ohio to promote a message of forgiveness, especially for ex- convicts. . . .

Maggie's Final Frontier

Spellings is putting the final touches to a speech planned for the end of the month, when the Commission to Meddle in Higher Ed issues its final report. Here's some preview clips from Maggie's visit to Pittsburgh this past week:
Federal officials are taking the No Child Left Behind Act to the next frontier -- higher education.
In Pittsburgh yesterday, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said she will be making a policy speech about higher education at the end of this month.

She noted the federal government pays about one-third of the bill, in the form of grants, and basically puts "the money out and hopes for the best."

She said, "That was fine and dandy when higher education was kind of nice to have as opposed to must have. But that's changing more and more. . .

. . . . "The next part of the debate on higher education is for us to ask why does it cost 7 percent more this year than last year. Is it a better deal to get out of Ohio State in six years or some private college in four?

"All sorts of things that parents want to know and deserve to know and can know and find out about buying a car or going to a restaurant or ordering a book online, you can't find out about on one of the most expensive decisions and one of the most important decisions that you and your child are going to make. ...

"I think we have to start challenging that."

Are these incompetent fools the ones we want fiddling with a higher ed system that is the envy of the world?