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

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Is Dying a Legitimate Excuse for Failing?

Can't let a little tooth infection get in the way of your impossible demands for all children, right, Ms. Spellings? (Photo by Linda Davidson, WaPo)

(From WaPo:

Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.

A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

If his mother had been insured.

If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

If Medicaid dentists weren't so hard to find.

If his mother hadn't been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

By the time Deamonte's own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George's County boy died.

Deamonte's death and the ultimate cost of his care, which could total more than $250,000, underscore an often-overlooked concern in the debate over universal health coverage: dental care. . . .

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Poverty and Neglect? No Excuses!

(Photo by Kevin Clark, WaPo)

Just down the road from the White House, the "no excuses" hardball of NCLB plays out in schools attended by the Capitol's bumper crop of impoverished children. These are the children who are commanded to perform on tests at the same level as Caitlin and Seth out in the rich suburbs of Alexandria. To expect less simply because of lead-laced drinking water, crumbling school buildings, and lives seared by poverty, would be to engage in the "bigotry of low expectations." A clip from WaPo:

Syreeta Williams, a parent at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Southeast Washington, puts bottled water in her children's backpacks rather than let them drink from the thin trickle that gurgles out of the school fountains.

Her son, Auvoen, 12, a fifth-grader, complains that the restroom near his third-floor classroom smells so bad that he walks to the second floor, a trip that keeps him out of the classroom longer, Williams said.

As a parent who also serves as a school volunteer, Williams said she wants to trust that school officials will treat King "like one of the best schools." . . .

Not the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations, but, Rather,

. . . the case-hardened racism of unattainable demands:
School districts in North Carolina have a compelling opportunity to do the right thing for children by joining the protests in Virginia against No Child Left Behind legislation that requires all students, even those new to our country and culture, to take the same high-stakes tests.

Children who've moved to our country and are struggling with learning how to ask where the bathrooms are or how to find the music room are being asked after only one year in this country to take a reading test that requires not only literal understanding of text but high-level thinking skills and complex comprehension strategies.

To require that students new to our language take this test does not, as U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings asserts (Feb. 20 news story "Schools balk at testing"), counter the "soft bigotry of low expectations." Instead, it sets them and their schools up for failure.

High expectations are indeed necessary for all students. But expectations that are unreasonable and contrary to research regarding the length of time required to become proficient in another language assault the dignity and rights of these students.

Frances Fincher


Monday, February 26, 2007

NCLB, er, Iraq

I hope Josh Marshall will not be offended if I use his comments about Iraq this morning to make the same points about NCLB--my brackets, not his:

"The reason our [NCLB] mission in Iraq has proven to be so disastrous and corrupt is very simple -- the advocates and architects of that [education policy] war are completely corrupt, inept, and deceitful." The words are Glenn Greenwald's. And though many others have said the same thing in slightly different words, it bears repeating again and again. The corruption and ineptitude aren't unfortunate add-ons to the effort. They're at the heart of it. It's a stain like original sin. And the same goes for the democratizing element of the [NCLB] mission. Even among critics of [NCLB] the war, it's often accepted as granted that a key aim of this effort was [closing the achievement gap] democratization -- only that it was botched, like so much else, or that the aim of [closing the achievement gap] democracy, in a crunch, plays second fiddle to other priorities. Not true. The key architects of the policy don't believe in [closing the achievement gap] democracy or the rule of law. The whole [testing scheme] invasion was based on contrary principles. And the aim can't be achieved because those anti-democratic principles are written into the DNA of [NCLB policy] occupation, even as secondary figures have and continue to labor to [close the achievement gap] build democracy in the country.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Next Phase: Killing Off Thinking in College

John Young of the Waco Tribune-Herald has a fine op-ed on what is quickly emerging as the corporate socialists' first big move in Texas (where else?) to kill higher education the same way they are destroying K-12 education--with an anti-intellectual testing blitzkrieg and a bullying buyout of administrators who are willing to sell their integrity and trade their ethics for a wad of dollars. First though, a clip from Wikipedia on anti-intellectualism:

Anti-intellectualism describes a sentiment of hostility towards, or mistrust of, intellectuals and intellectual pursuits. This may be expressed in various ways, such as attacks on the merits of science, education, or literature. Anti-intellectuals often perceive themselves as champions of the ordinary people and egalitarianism against elitism, especially academic elitism. These critics argue that highly educated people form an insular social group that tends to dominate political discourse and higher education (academia).

Anti-intellectualism can also be used as a term to criticize an educational system if it seems to place minimal emphasis on academic and intellectual accomplishment, or if a government has a tendency to formulate policies without consulting academic and scholarly study.

John Young's op-ed from the Dallas Morning News:

Warning to students at Texas state colleges: You are about to get used again.

Students got used four years ago when, to reduce its share of college funding, the Texas Legislature deregulated tuition. College administrators then jacked the cost through the roof.

It was another hurtful wrinkle by which lawmakers could balance the budget with "no new taxes." But it was a tax on students.

Now with a new Legislature, colleges stand to play the foils again, and students stand to be on the receiving end of a royal scam.

Gov. Rick Perry has proposed to spend $362 million more on higher education, with conditions, including standardized exit-level tests. He wants to tie funding to test scores and graduation rates. He also proposes an initiative to move students through college faster.

The idea of new dollars tweaks college administrators' salivary glands. New tests? Where do we sign? We'll just make students pay for them, $25 a pop.

But college faculty members have raised an alarm.

Texas Faculty Association president Charles Zucker told the Web site Inside Higher Ed: "We've had massive amounts of teaching to the test in public schools. ... Now there's a consensus that that has failed, the governor wants to institute the same plan for higher education."

His use of "consensus" is open to debate. If education's quest is to roll out drones who, when drilled under threat of retention, will do certain state-assigned tasks, maybe Texas' "accountability" is a success. But we all thought higher education was, well, higher.

As proposed, the plan would not require college students to pass the state exams to graduate. A no-stakes test. So, no overemphasis, right?

Listen, if money is attached, those tests will be high-stakes faster than Deutsche Bank can convert rubles to yen.

What kinds of tests are we talking about?

Let's ask Education Testing Service, the General Motors of school accountability. It has exit-level tests for college seniors in several disciplines. But a host of disciplines don't have any. Sounds like new business.

Standardized testing has become a dead weight on our nation's schools with far less benefit than anyone wants to acknowledge. It is a particular drag on children at or above grade level. Meanwhile, those in the bottom reaches of achievement are subjected to stifling repetition and test prep.

With Texas leading the way, states have shown they can increase test scores, but not necessarily produce thinkers or innovators.

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, Bob Schaefer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing warned that with state-imposed standardized testing and with economic incentives attached, colleges would "narrow their curriculum to test preparation for the exit exam."

"Test scores may soar, but education quality will be undermined."

One of two things will happen under this proposal:

1. Time and money will be spent on tests that students know don't matter but which the state says are important in "rating colleges."

2. The state would impress on colleges how important the tests are, and more and more classroom content would be dictated by some far-off test maker.

Presto. You have homogenization and standardization of a once-vibrant creature, American higher education, long the envy of the world.

John Young is opinion page editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald. His e-mail address is jyoung@ wacotrib.com.

The Beautiful, the Bad, and the Pretty Just Got Ugly

This past week McClatchy Newspapers and the New Republic reported that 16,000,000 Americans live in severe poverty and that the rate soared by 26% between 2000 and 2005. Numbers living in the upper echelons of poverty have also increased as working people experience the full force of the "Sinkhole Effect"--or the Third-Worlding of America. The conservative solution: Close down the office at the U. S. Census Bureau that compiles these embarrassing numbers. Here is TNR's take:

So the reporters at McClatchy snapped on the rubber gloves, plunged into the dark cavities of the Census Bureau, and pulled out a stunning statistic: "Nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty"--a category that includes individuals making less than $5,080 a year, and families of four bringing in less than $9,903 a year. That number, by the way, has been growing rapidly since 2000. The article itself hits the usual refrains--noting that the United States spends less on anti-poverty programs than any other industrialized country outside of Russia and Mexico--but I found this bit near the end quite striking:

The Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation shows that, in a given month, only 10 percent of severely poor Americans received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in 2003--the latest year available--and that only 36 percent received food stamps.

Many could have exhausted their eligibility for welfare or decided that the new program requirements were too onerous. But the low participation rates are troubling because the worst byproducts of poverty, such as higher crime and violence rates and poor health, nutrition and educational outcomes, are worse for those in deep poverty.

I doubt those are the only reasons for the low participation rates. As David K. Shipler reported in The Working Poor, welfare agencies spend a great deal of effort dissuading people from applying for assistance. They'll ask single mothers who come in a few perfunctory questions and then--illegally--refuse to give them an application. Or they'll design "Kafkaesque labyrinths of paperwork" that turn any attempt to obtain benefits into a full-time job. Anything to ease pressure on state budgets. Luckily, the Bush administration has taken note of all this and proposed to... eliminate the Census's Survey of Income and Program Participation, so that nosy researchers can no longer figure out how many eligible families are receiving assistance. Problem solved!

It was at least good to see that 7 of the 10 states with the highest poverty are already using high school exit exams to make sure that their citizens can compete in the global marketplace. Two others have exit exams proposed.

In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal reports this past week that bonuses for top Wall Street hustlers last year jumped 15-20%. With 2007 totals expected to exceed $26 billion, this year the average bonus will be between $2 milliion and $4 million. From the survey conducted by Prince & Associates (how appropriate), 14% of those millions paid out to the real men of Wall Street admittedly go toward " 'other' -- a category that includes hobbies such as horses and flying lessons, as well as 'mistresses and other lovers'."

And in a growing show of solidarity for the next generation of the hard-working men of Wall Street who deserve to be treated right by their women, Sam Dillon has a fascinating story on a college sorority that could represent a new national Greek strategy to weed out the brown, the black, and the heavy in order to keep their pledge numbers high and to make their coeds competitive in the local and global marketplace of highly-placed, unquestioning sluts that Wall Streeters prefer.

Perhaps these corporatist coeds will win future slots on the Fox Business News, a venue that will doubtless offer a whole new slant on the old term,"boobtube." Or at least there is the more realistic hope of sharing some of that 14% of the Wall Streeters' "other" spending that is not given over to horseback riding lessons:

GREENCASTLE, Ind. — When a psychology professor at DePauw University here surveyed students, they described one sorority as a group of “daddy’s little princesses” and another as “offbeat hippies.” The sisters of Delta Zeta were seen as “socially awkward.”

Worried that a negative stereotype of the sorority was contributing to a decline in membership that had left its Greek-columned house here half empty, Delta Zeta’s national officers interviewed 35 DePauw members in November, quizzing them about their dedication to recruitment. They judged 23 of the women insufficiently committed and later told them to vacate the sorority house.

The 23 members included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they quit.

“Virtually everyone who didn’t fit a certain sorority member archetype was told to leave,” said Kate Holloway, a senior who withdrew from the chapter during its reorganization. . . .

Oh yeah, order your own t-shirt here while supplies last.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Homegrown Terrorism and the School Privatizers

First it was the Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, referring to the NEA as a terrorist organization. Then came Reid Lyon wanting to blow up colleges of education. Now we have a local brown shirt in Minneapolis who suggests burning down a public high school. HT to Media Transparency--article from Star-Tribune:

Last update: February 17, 2007 – 7:11 PM

Samuels fans flames of public school bonfire

Don Samuels has apologized for his words, but not his views. And he isn't likely to. For the Fifth Ward City Council member from Minneapolis who suggested burning down North High School is not just one man with an opinion.

Don Samuels has apologized for his words, but not his views. And he isn't likely to. For the Fifth Ward City Council member from Minneapolis who suggested burning down North High School is not just one man with an opinion.

He is a stalking horse for a movement that wants to torch public schools. It has gotten frighteningly close to its goal.

The Center of the American Experiment, a local conservative think tank, is renewing the push for school vouchers, and it tapped Samuels to endorse its position paper. In his foreword to the recent publication, Samuels again displays a flair for the dramatic, writing that he wonders "how many future murderers are in the first grade classes of the four elementary schools within a mile of my home?"

Officer, arrest those first-graders!

But if you take Samuels seriously, it is not just his language that is lousy. It is his policies.

Samuels has become the darling of a coalition of mostly conservative, mostly suburban groups involved in a coordinated assault on "government monopoly schools." These groups are pushing hard in Minnesota for expanded tax-credit or tuition vouchers to allow public dollars to be spent on private schools. It isn't just people in the North High neighborhood who should worry about that.

Some groups pushing for vouchers have fought to outlaw gay marriage or to keep children from receiving sex education or learning about evolution. They have a right to send their kids to religious schools. They don't have a right -- Article XIII of the State Constitution bars public funding for "sectarian" schools -- to subsidize such schools with tax dollars.

Nevertheless, the crusade is on. And Samuels is its hero.

Other black leaders are being lobbied to convert to the vouchers cause. One, NAACP President Duane Reed, says he recently refused requests to testify on behalf of a vouchers/tax credit bill in the Legislature. He says the request came from a group affiliated with the Libertarian Party, whose platform praises tax credits and charter schools as "interim measures" that will help kill the public schools.

"This is not about Don Samuels," Reed said at Thursday night's public meeting at North High with Samuels. "This is about ... tax credits. Which is just a code word for vouchers. This is just teeing up a sensational issue."How many black leaders support vouchers?" he said to me later, proceeding to tick off a long list of black groups, starting with the NAACP, that oppose them. "Now Don Samuels all of a sudden is an expert, and he is going to speak for us? I don't think so."

Charter schools, funded with public funds, were supposed to help produce new teaching methodologies and education strategies. Other states limit their number. New York has a limit of 100. Iowa has a limit of 10. Minnesota has no limit. Today, we have 131 charter schools, with 23,600 students. At least 19 more charter schools are on the way.

How much is too much?

The largest sponsor of charter schools, Friends of Ascension, has ties to former state Republican chairman Bill Cooper, who has served on the group's board of directors. Friends of Ascension has 16 schools with 2,800 students (12 percent of charter school enrollment). Nor is Cooper the only former Republican Party chair to have found a keen interest in the inner city.

Former GOP chairman Ron Eibensteiner and his wife are the founders of KidsFirst Scholarships, which award privately funded vouchers to children (650 this year) to attend private schools. Those scholarships are funded by grants from right-wing billionaires such as Ted Forstmann and the late John Walton of the Walton Family Foundation. Critics such as the liberal People for the American Way point out an obvious motivation: By handing out private vouchers in the inner city, conservatives hope to create political momentum for state vouchers that will damage public schools.

Not to mention the teaching of evolutionary science.

The fire has been set. Public schools have lost thousands of students to charter schools and open enrollment, and that exodus has been folded into "drop-out rates" that have been recklessly exaggerated by radical opponents of public education, including Don Samuels.

This is not just an intramural squabble in the black community. All supporters of public education should be worried. It is not just North High that is under assault; it is the very idea of public education.

As an inner-city politician with friends in high places, Samuels didn't set the schools ablaze. He just fanned the flames. But his friends are dancing around the bonfire.

Nick Coleman • ncoleman@startribune.com

On a National Day of Teacher Conscience

In an America I never knew that I could know, teachers quiver and quake for their jobs as national policymakers demand of them actions that, in fact, assure the destruction of children, of public schools, of their own profession. They cower in teacher rooms and whisper about getting fired for signing a petition that calls for the repeal of the Big Lie, No Child Left Behind. They move from class to class with their idiotic slides and "dittos" and mastery motivational talks provided by the testing/textbook company chosen for its willingness to pay the most to get the business. They angrily proclaim over lunch how they have learned years ago to keep their mouths shut and to do what they are asked to do (anger is always the self-selected moral choice when cowardice is the only perceived alternative).

They grind from one school day to the next, cajoling and saluting and marching their children along shiny hallways like prisoners at the correctional facility. They are preoccupied by the bonus pay they could earn from higher test scores, as they shop the real estate ads for an affordable gated community carved into some barren red hillside in South Carolina, a place where they may retire in peaceful repose, knowing they served well--knowing that the next generation will be in good hands.

What will you do on a National Day of Teacher Conscience? Go the Walmart? Walk out? Stand up for the Code of Ethics that your professional organization has apparently forgotten they adopted?

They may have something specific that is emerging in Virginia. Could it be, conscience? Will you support them?:

. . . . Denunciations of the No Child Left Behind law's testing rules are multiplying in immigrant-rich Northern Virginia. In Fairfax and Arlington County, educators are preparing to defy the rules even though they are at risk of losing federal aid; other area officials are moving more cautiously.

Federal officials have said repeatedly that grade-level testing is needed for immigrant students after they have been in U.S. schools for one year, a requirement they say will help hold schools to high standards. Most states, including Maryland, are following the rules. So are D.C. public schools, officials say.

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has criticized Virginia educators who are resisting. "It's time to remember that yes, Virginia, there is a Standards Clause," Spellings wrote recently in a caustic open letter.

Fairfax, with the region's largest school system, has led the state's rebellion. The county School Board voted in January to continue giving proficiency tests to immigrant students who have not progressed enough to take grade-level tests that assume language fluency. Fairfax school officials appear to be standing firm even though the U.S. Department of Education has threatened to withhold $17 million in aid if the county follows through with its plan. . . .

Friday, February 23, 2007

New OIG Report Exposes DIBELS, DI, and Open Court Corruption Links

Photos (Roland, Doug, Reid, and Chris) from the Know Your Reading First Offender Series.

The Reading First story just gets slimier and slimier. Now ED's own OIG comes with, yet, a new report (MS Word) detailing how the U. of Oregon's Carnine Cabal, Roland Good's DIBELS, and McGraw-Hill's Open Cult, er, Court were installed as the weapons of choice in the Reading First war on children's learning and thinking abilities.

After Lyon, the White House (Spellings), Paige's ED, and the Oregon Mafia put together the Reading First Program so that their expertise and products would be clearly advantaged in meeting program requirements they had just written (background here), the phonics phonies set about calling leaders and education officials from all fifty states to Washington for Reading Leadership Academies (RLAs). The cabal selected presenters, then, whose use of the Direct Instruction, DIBELS, and Open Court served as models for reading officials across America. Here are some clips from the Report. First, the agendas for the the 3 RLAs:
Reading Leadership Academy (RLA)
Panel Member - Position at the time of the RLA Reading Programs Discussed

RLA 1, Jan. 23-25, 2002 Principal, City Springs Elementary, Baltimore, MD Direct Instruction
Reading Facilitator, Parham School, Cincinnati, OH Direct Instruction
Principal, Parham School, Cincinnati, OH Direct Instruction
Teacher, Tovashal Elementary School, Murrieta, CA Open Court

RLA 2, Feb. 13-15, 2002
Principal, City Springs Elementary, Baltimore, MD Direct Instruction
Asst. Administrator, Washington Reads, WA Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Olympia, WA Open Court, Read Well
Principal, Weaver Elementary School, Weaver, AL Soar to Success, Houghton-Mifflin,8

RLA 3, Feb. 20-22, 2002 Principal, City Springs Elementary, Baltimore, MD Direct Instruction
Principal, Parham School, Cincinnati, OH Direct Instruction
Asst. Superintendent, L.A. Unified School District, CA Open Court
Here are some of the comments from feedback forms of those attending the RLAs:

RLA Participant Comments

As a result of the Department not having controls to ensure compliance with the DEOA, and the NCLB Act prohibitions against endorsing or promoting programs of instruction, some attendees at the RLAs felt that the Department was endorsing the Direct Instruction and Open Court reading programs. The comments expressed on the evaluation forms from the first and third RLAs included--

· “The . . . Theory to Practice Panel – was very poor. It sounded like a sales job for a program as opposed to a description of enabling teachers to teach reading.”

· “I felt like it was simply a push for a national curriculum. I think I’ll go buy shares in Open Court!”

· “Panel was a sales job for Direct Instruction and Open Court.”

· “Please do not promote a program (Open Court) (Direct Instruction). This is not the Department of Education’s place to do.

· “I felt like I was in a Direct Instruction sales pitch all day. Thanks for including at least one other program.”

· “I felt it was wrong to showcase one specific program (D.I.) excessively . . ..”

· “Today’s sessions may have given an excessive government endorsement to Direct Instruction.”

From the OIG's Executive Summary:
With regard to the RLAs, we concluded that the Department did not have controls in place to ensure compliance with the Department of Education Organization Act (DEOA) and NCLB Act curriculum provisions. Specifically, we found that: 1) the “Theory to Practice” sessions at the RLAs focused on a select number of reading programs; and 2) the RLA Handbook and Guidebook appeared to promote the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) Assessment Test. With regard to RMC Research Corporation’s (RMC) technical proposal for the NCRFTA contract, we concluded that the Department did not adequately assess issues of bias and lack of objectivity when approving individuals to be technical assistance providers before and after the NCRFTA contract was awarded.

We recommend that the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education –

*Establish controls to ensure compliance with, and avoid the appearance of violating the DEOA and the NCLB Act curriculum provisions, especially when organizing conferences where specific programs of instruction are likely to be formally discussed or presented at Department sponsored events;
*Establish controls to ensure it does not promote curriculum or create the appearance that it is endorsing or approving curriculum in its conference materials and related publications; and
*In coordination with the Chief Financial Officer, establish controls to ensure adequate assessments of bias and lack of objectivity for individuals proposed to perform Department contract work are conducted by the Department and its contractors.

"just tired of doing the wrong thing for kids"

Five counties in Virginia have banded together to stand up to the privatizing thugs at ED who are bent on sacrificing the most vulnerable children in order to manufacture the failure of American public schools. From Media General News Service:

. . . . Some superintendents say it is "morally wrong" to force students who cannot read English to take the same reading test as fluent English speakers.

Cannaday [Virginia's State Superintendent] sides with the school districts.

"If the coin was flipped and someone put a test in front of me in Mandarin Chinese, they'd see a grown man cry," Cannaday said. "No reasonable person would conclude this is fair and just."

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says the tests tell schools whether they are on track to reach the law's goal of all students reading and doing math at grade level by 2014.

"You don't get there by saying, 'we'll wait another year or another two years,'" before testing the students, said department spokesman Chad Colby.

In a Jan. 31 letter to Virginia officials, Simon wrote, "If (the school districts) in Virginia do not comply ... this department may take appropriate action against the state."

School superintendents across the country are looking at Virginia's challenge, said Bruce Hunter of the American Association of School Administrators.

"The rules for assessing kids who don't speak English don't make sense to school people," Hunter said. "People have put up with this for five years, and they're just tired of doing the wrong thing for kids."

The No Child law is up for renewal this year. School districts want to make a statement that it needs to be changed, Hunter said.

At least six school districts in Virginia - Arlington, Fairfax, Frederick, Prince William, and Amherst counties and Harrisonburg city schools - have passed resolutions saying they will not comply with this regulation. Both Manassas and Alexandria city schools have a resolution on their agendas.

Cannady said the state has made good progress in teaching English to the children of immigrants and that school districts should not be held to a one-size-fits-all federal rule.

"We are being placed in a position by the Department of Education to do something that is morally wrong," said Harrisonburg Superintendent Donald Ford, who would like to exempt about 250 of the 1,600 students in the district's English as a Second Language program.

Fairfax County superintendent Jack Dale said most of the students struggling to learn English are recent arrivals to America.

"It's not like they have been sitting here since birth and they're still struggling to learn English," he said. "Kids should be exempt for at least two or three years after they arrive."

Bailey's Elementary School in Fairfax County sits just a few blocks from a 7-Eleven where immigrant day laborers gather to find work. This week Kent Buckley-Ess taught English language learners to use active verbs.

He wanted them to change the sentence, "The baby took the toy."

The fifth graders struggled to find the right words as they sorted through their limited vocabulary.

"The baby grabbed the toy," said Isael Ramos, whose parents are from El Salvador

"The baby whacked the toy," said Fatima Henriquez, who was born in El Salvador.

For Maria Magdaleno Quiroz, who arrived from Mexico last summer, the lesson was difficult. Asked through an interpreter whether she understands what's going on in school, she replied, "It's easier than in September."

Buckley-Ess said he constantly assesses the students' progress and makes changes to improve the lessons. Even the Education Department's own reports say it takes two to three years for a student to speak English socially, he said, and five or six years to understand school work.

Asked how many students in this class could pass the 5th grade reading evaluation, he paused. "Maybe one."

"That test will only tell us how good they are at guessing A,B,C or D," said Bailey's principal Jay McClain. "We need a test that is refined to where the students are and then we want to be held accountable that they are making progress."

(Gil Klein can be reached at gklein@mediageneral.com).

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Reading First and the Breaking of Federal Law

As a result of a nice piece of reporting from Kathleen Manzo at Ed Week, we now can see deeper into the inner workings of the Reading First corruption scandal that is still waiting for Congress to care enough to do something about it. In the meantime, of course, an entire generation of children are learning codebreaking rather than thinking as a result stormtrooper tactics by these dangerous crackpots with links all the way into the White House.

What Manzo's piece shows is a lean direct chain of command from Spellings to Reid Lyon to Reading First Director, Chris Doherty, who lost his job when the OIG first issued its report detailing some of the corrupt bullying that was standard operating procedure by political hacks and crazed ideologues, whose agenda could not deterred by the requirements of the Law. Just one example from of Chris-stroking that comes from the West Wing office of Spellings through her conduit, Reid Lyon:
"Mr. Lyon: 'wow – Talk about a guy with smarts, integrity AND balls,” he wrote. “I am talking about you Chris'."

Balls, indeed. A big clip:
E-Mails Reveal Federal Reach Over Reading
Communications show pattern of meddling in ‘Reading First.’

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

The Reading First initiative’s rigorous requirements have earned it a reputation as the most prescriptive federal grant program in education. Now, an Education Week review of hundreds of e-mail exchanges details a pattern of federal interference that skirted legal prohibitions.

In the midst of carrying out the $1 billion-a-year program, which is part of the No Child Left Behind Act, federal officials:
  • Worked to undermine the literacy plan of the nation’s largest school system;
  • Pressured several states to reject certain reading programs and assessments that were initially approved under their Reading First plans;
  • Rallied influential politicians, political advisers, and appointees to ensure that state schools chiefs stayed on track with program mandates; and
  • Pressed one state superintendent to withdraw grant funding from a district that demoted a principal in a participating school.
In regular e-mail discussions, Christopher J. Doherty, the Reading First director at the U.S. Department of Education until last September, and G. Reid Lyon, a branch chief at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development until June 2005 and an influential adviser to the initiative, closely monitored states’ progress in applying for Reading First money, in issuing subgrants to districts, and in complying with the law’s provisions for scientifically based instruction. They also worked out strategies for intervening where they deemed more federal control was warranted.

“We ding people all the time in Reading First,” Mr. Doherty wrote in March 2005, after he pressured Illinois education leaders to pull funding from a district. “We don’t like to do it, of course, but we do it because otherwise RF turns to crap and means nothing, just another funding stream to do whatever it is you were going to do anyway.”

Some former federal officials and supporters of the program argue that such oversight was essential to its success, but a number of state and local officials took offense and questioned whether Reading First staff members exceeded their authority. Some policy experts say they came close to doing so.

“That’s an unprecedented level of interference,” said Christopher T. Cross, a policy consultant for Cross & Joftus LLC in Danville, Calif. Mr. Cross helped write the ban against federal intervention in curriculum and instruction into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the 1970s and later served as an assistant secretary in the Education Department under President George H.W. Bush.

The language was left in when the law was reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. It states that federal employees are prohibited from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system.”

“The intention when that language was put into the statute,” Mr. Cross said, “was that these were decisions that had to be made at the local level in connection with local standards. I think there’s no question what went on [in Reading First] is right on the border of crossing the line on that provision.”

Showdown in Rockford

A highly critical report issued by the Education Department’s inspector general last fall concluded that federal officials may have overstepped their authority in crafting the strict requirements. Inspector General John P. Higgins Jr. also said those officials seemed to favor a particular instructional method while discrediting others. ("Scathing Report Casts Cloud Over ‘Reading First’," Oct. 4, 2006.)

The crass and sometimes vulgar e-mail exchanges that underpinned the inspector general’s findings stunned many educators and policymakers. The findings led to a shakeup in the department’s Reading First office.
But advocates of the program, and allies of Mr. Doherty, protested that the report was overblown and had unfairly selected sensational e-mails to paint a dedicated and effective employee as a rogue operator within the department. The e-mail record, however, shows Mr. Doherty’s aggressive and arrogant tone repeated in messages to Mr. Lyon and other colleagues.

The e-mails were obtained by Education Week and a complainant in a case against the Department of Education through the Freedom of Information Act.

E-mail Excerpts

I am going to review all my [Indiana] files on Monday. Having done no subgrants yet, it may be hard to make something stick, but if they are trying to go soft with the requirements, they are just as good a candidate as any other state to show them/the rest that RF is NOT just another federal reading program that can be flouted.
—Reading First Director Christopher J. Doherty to G. Reid Lyon, a branch chief for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, citing concerns that Indiana officials may not be taking Reading First requirements seriously enough, March 2, 2003

Monitoring will be key as usual. They will game the system if they can. They think they have already done everything and are getting the RF bucks to shine shit. How strong should I be with respect to guidance at the highest state level. I will meet with Gov. [Kathleen] Sebelius in the morning. How detailed should I be with respect to the shortcomings.
—Mr. Lyon to Mr. Doherty regarding Kansas’ Reading First program, April 16, 2003

I have been in good, regular touch with Everett Barnes, pres. Of RMC Research Corp., which does both [Reading First Technical Assistance] and some [Comprehensive] Center work, too re: the Shaywitz report and I am very happy to learn that you find it scathing and clear in its conclusions/recommendations. Not happy that NYC is doing something this bad, of course, just glad that the report is not the usual equivocating ‘On the one hand,..but on the other…’ kind of stuff.…this is not a ‘dueling experts’ kind of thing. This has the Flat Earth Society on one side and people who own/understand globes on the other.
—Mr. Doherty to Mr. Lyon, referring to a review of New York City’s literacy plan, Aug. 29, 2003

Confidentially: …Well, I spoke to [a New Jersey official] with a roomful of others on their end and they are HALTING the funding of Rigby and, while we were at it, Wright Group. They STOPPED the districts who wanted to use those programs. We won in Maine, we won in New Jersey. Morale is sky high across the country. State plans have gone from–on average–crap, to each one being–at least on paper–strong and aligned with [scientifically based reading research], and we have lots of monitoring muscle to flex and [technical assistance] brains to provide. Strong law, great funding, solid, guiding science. We are winning.
—Mr. Doherty to Mr. Lyon, in reference to the rejection of reading textbooks that they viewed as not meeting federal requirements, Sept. 5, 2003

Just got off the phone (again) with Randy Dunn. He confirms that [Illinois] has frozen Rockford’s RF remainder of $638,633 and we are working on finalizing this together. Please, close hold. There are/will be be consequences for Rockford’s idiocy. And kids, unfortunately, are paying for the decisions of adults, again.
—Mr. Doherty to Mr. Lyon, Feb. 15, 2005
SOURCE: National Institutes of Health

Some state and local officials said they felt bullied by Mr. Doherty. One such case played out in Rockford, Ill., in early 2005, after federal officials received e-mail messages about a principal at a Reading First school there. The principal was reassigned after battling with district officials over reading instruction at Lewis Lemon Elementary School. The new superintendent, Dennis Thompson, and district director of instruction Martha Hayes wanted the school to supplement its direct-instruction model with more varied reading selections and writing activities after determining that students weren’t being prepared for the more rigorous coursework of the later grades.

The principal received help from a local supporter of the National Right to Read Foundation, which promotes phonics instruction. Robert W. Sweet Jr., then an influential senior analyst with the education committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and the founder of the NRRF, asked Mr. Lyon to look into the matter. Mr. Lyon corresponded with Mr. Doherty, a direct-instruction advocate, about the need to apply pressure to state leaders in Illinois.

In March of 2005, after numerous telephone discussions and a meeting with state schools Superintendent Randy Dunn, Mr. Doherty sent a letter to the state, expressing his dissatisfaction with Illinois’ implementation of the grant. Mr. Doherty cited the Rockford case and the state’s hiring of an employee for the Reading First program who he thought did not subscribe to scientifically based reading research. He informed Mr. Dunn that the state was being “designated in need of corrective action,” and would be subject to additional monitoring, consequently risking the loss of millions of dollars in future grant funding.

“Clearly, there were issues of program compliance in Rockford, and we were working to address them,” said Mr. Dunn, the state schools chief until last month. “But the situation with the principal there had given a great entree to the feds to start wielding a heavy hand. They took an opportunity with a situation that was kind of separate from the Reading First program to get ahold of us, the state, directly by the throat.”

Mr. Thompson, the district chief, said the issue was a personnel matter, unrelated to Reading First. He said he wasn’t even aware that federal officials were involved and kept apprised of the situation in Rockford until informed by Education Week.

Mr. Doherty and Mr. Lyon e-mailed each other repeatedly about the situation, sometimes in response to Mr. Sweet’s queries. They expressed outrage at what appeared to them to be mistreatment of the principal and district officials’ undermining of the direct-instruction program with “their ill-fated wrong turn to balanced literacy.”

Although “balanced literacy” is viewed by many educators as an approach incorporating a variety of skills- and literature-based reading methods, it is considered code for “whole language” by Mr. Doherty and others pushing more explicit and systematic instruction.

The field of reading instruction has been marked for decades by disputes over the best approach to teaching reading—generally speaking, a phonics-based vs. a literature-based approach. Over the past decade, a consensus has emerged that a combination of approaches is best, although there is still considerable debate over how much skills instruction is needed.

In response to Mr. Doherty’s demands, Illinois tried to send a monitoring team to investigate Rockford’s Reading First program. Mr. Thompson refused to cooperate with the state officials and federal consultants who visited, saying the short notice would have disrupted schools’ operations. Mr. Doherty then directed the state to freeze the district’s funding, and ultimately to withdraw the grant. Those actions prompted another e-mail from Mr. Lyon: “wow – Talk about a guy with smarts, integrity AND balls,” he wrote. “I am talking about you Chris.”

The principal at Lewis Lemon Elementary sued the district. District officials said a settlement was reached in the case, but could not discuss the details.

“They made all these judgments about us when they knew absolutely nothing about what we were doing,” said Mr. Thompson, who added that he was perplexed how the revisions to the reading plan could be perceived as whole language. “We ended up getting into a war of labels.”

Mr. Doherty would not comment for this story. Sandi Jacobs, who helped administer Reading First as a senior program specialist with the Education Department, said she and Mr. Doherty believed that the Rockford district was “severely and significantly out of compliance.” They then pressed state officials to deal with the matter.

New York Story

In New York City, federal officials jumped into the fray over reading instruction months before the state even applied for Reading First money. When city Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein unveiled his plans for a districtwide literacy framework in January 2003, his action drew criticism from a number of reading experts, who argued that a highly structured, phonics-based program would serve students better than the literature- and writing-based plan.

Rod Paige, the U.S. secretary of education at the time, asked Mr. Lyon to help city officials in understanding the research on effective instruction, according to an account of the events Mr. Lyon sent in an e-mail to a prominent reading researcher. A group of researchers associated with the NICHD, Mr. Lyon’s agency, then wrote a letter to Mr. Klein detailing why they believed his “balanced literacy” program was not sufficiently research-based. The researchers subsequently met with Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam and other district officials to discuss their evaluation.

“New York City was a big concern, and legitimately so,” Mr. Lyon said in an interview this month. “If you put in place a new program that changes the rules, and you have a city like New York get the money and flout the rules, then everyone else would want to do the same thing.”

After district officials added a stronger phonics text, one of the researchers involved in the review told Education Week she considered it a sound instructional approach. ("N.Y.C. Hangs Tough Over Maverick Curriculum," Oct. 15, 2003.)

Balanced Literacy Rebuffed

But later in 2003, as New York state was negotiating with federal officials over its final Reading First plan, federal officials and consultants took another stab at persuading city officials to take a different tack on reading instruction.

In the interview, Mr. Lyon said state officials requested guidance on how New York City could meet Reading First criteria. Sally Shaywitz, a Yale University professor and a member of the National Reading Panel—a congressionally mandated committee that issued an influential 2000 report on reading research—and two other researchers conducted the review.

Mr. Lyon helped arrange for those researchers to meet with Chancellor Klein to outline their findings and discuss how the city’s schools could benefit from a commercial core program for reading, instead of the customized framework the city had crafted.

A federal contractor for Reading First oversaw the review and recommended that a task force, consisting of Ms. Shaywitz and other key researchers, be appointed to help the district choose an appropriate program.
Mr. Lyon regularly checked in with Mr. Doherty of Reading First to ask, “Can you brief me on the status of the NYC RF application as I am getting Qs from higher.” The request continued: “Did they do the right thing?” Later, Mr. Lyon indicated that there was “WH interest.”

The former NICHD branch chief, who managed the $120 million grant program for reading research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., asked another researcher, an author of the Open Court commercial reading curriculum, to help him make the case for a structured, comprehensive core program. Mr. Lyon said he sought advice from the researcher, Marilyn Adams, because of her long-standing reputation in reading research. He did not consider her link to Open Court a conflict of interest because her commitment was to the research first. “I need good data fast,” Mr. Lyon wrote to Ms. Adams in August 2003, after describing Mr. Klein’s reluctance to adopt “an evidence based program like Open Court” because of the mixed results of the program in other big cities, and the alternative approaches being used in Boston and San Diego. “I think he will listen if we can show gains from evidence based programs.”

Mr. Lyon also acknowledges in the e-mail that the text was just one of the essential components, “teachers and implementation being as important.”

In e-mails to Margaret Spellings, who was President Bush’s chief domestic-policy adviser before becoming education secretary, Mr. Lyon discusses “NY City,” according to the subject line. All but one line was redacted under an exemption in the federal freedom-of-information law that considers pending decisions to be confidential. In the end, Mr. Lyon asks, “Let me know if you want me to do anything.”

In sharing the message with Mr. Doherty, Mr. Lyon commented: “Gees – this never stops – we have to win this one.”

When the Education Department inspector general’s report was released, now-Secretary Spellings said that the problems cited “reflected individual mistakes.” But at least one former Education Department official has suggested that Ms. Spellings was deeply involved in the program while working at the White House.

“She micromanaged the implementation of Reading First from her West Wing office
,” Michael J. Petrilli, who worked in the department from 2001 to 2005, under Secretary Paige and Secretary Spellings, wrote in the National Review Online last fall. “She was the leading cheerleader for an aggressive approach.”

Mr. Petrilli, now a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington think tank, has argued that Mr. Doherty did what officials in the White House and Congress expected him to do.

Ms. Spellings has not responded to the allegations about her role. The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment last week.

New York state was awarded it’s Reading First grant in September 2003. In the end, New York City relented and chose a commercial reading program—Harcourt Trophies—for its 49 Reading First schools, but stuck with the balanced-literacy program to guide reading instruction at other schools.

The 1.1 million-student district’s Reading First funding is considered vulnerable because the inspector general found its grant application should not have been approved, and recommended that the state take back its $107 million grant.

Chancellor Klein would not comment for this article. But in a August 2003 interview with The New York Times, he said: “I think it’s a ‘less filling/tastes great’ debate. I don’t believe curriculums are the key to education. I believe teachers are.”

Fingerprints Elsewhere

Many other Reading First details large and small came to the attention of Mr. Lyon and Mr. Doherty between 2003 and 2005, which they discussed by e-mail. Mr. Lyon also visited states to provide guidance on Reading First.

In March 2003, for example, he agreed to meet with a handful of Indiana legislators who requested his advice on ways to ensure that state officials adhered to Reading First mandates. Mr. Lyon suggested the state would need extra monitoring because of the potential for noncompliance, which could send a message to other states of the consequences of not adhering to the requirements. The legislators had suggested to Mr. Lyon that state education officials in Indiana were not ready to abandon its existing reading approach.

After meeting with officials in Louisiana and North Carolina, Mr. Lyon told Mr. Doherty that they needed to discuss various issues of concern, including the assessments and consultants that the states were planning to use under their Reading First grants. The two federal officials discussed Louisiana’s desire to use an assessment for Reading First schools that they did not deem research-based, and Mr. Lyon suggested to a North Carolina administrator that a textbook by a well-known reading researcher was inappropriate for use in Reading First training sessions.

Local educators, researchers, community leaders, or parents alerted them to some issues.

One New Jersey parent asked Mr. Lyon for help in July 2003, because state officials were allowing the use of a Wright Group reading program, owned by the McGraw-Hill Cos. She didn’t consider the text research-based. Mr. Lyon alerted Mr. Doherty. The Reading First director recalled that “we forced Maine to drop the bad program.” By September 2003, nearly a year after New Jersey’s grant had been approved, New Jersey officials disallowed funding for the text.

“As you may remember, RF got Maine to UNDO its already made decision to have Rigby be one of their two approved core programs (Ha, ha – Rigby as a CORE program? When pigs fly!) We also as you may recall, got NJ to stop its districts from using Rigby (and the Wright Group, btw) and are doing the same in Mississippi,” Mr. Doherty wrote in October 2003. “This is for your FYI, as I think this program-bashing is best done off or under the major radar screens.”

In May 2005, Harcourt Achieve Inc., which owns the Rigby Literacy program, issued a press release outlining changes it made to the program to ensure it aligned more closely with research. The changes were prompted, the company said, by deficiencies that were brought to light by the Reading First grant reviews.

And when a Texas consultant informed Mr. Lyon and Mr. Doherty of breaches in that state’s Reading First program by the interim state commissioner of education, they debated in a series of e-mail exchanges with a researcher how best to get state officials back in line. They discussed getting influential advisers to the Bush administration, and federal officials with Texas ties, to put pressure on the state education department. . . .

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Let 'Em Eat Ivory Soap

"Since Spellings never worked in a school system, and has no formal training in education (her B.A. is in political science), she is free to make educational policy on purely ideological grounds, unencumbered by the real problems facing America’s teachers." -- Howard Karger, professor of social work at University of Houston.

Now that NCLB is well-entrenched in K-12, Margaret Spellings has set her sights on higher education and the view is anything but pretty.

The poster mom for NCLB, (or as I like to call it these days, PIS, since Spellings claims it is "pure as Ivory Soap"), is busy setting the table for bigger profits that could make her friends in the testing industry even richer. All this while sucking the quality out of institutions of higher learning and creating a world in which liberal thought or any thought for that matter, will be a relic of ancient history. If she and her cronies have their way, the United States sink into the economic and educational abyss.

A professor of social work gives us a glimpse into the educational world of the rich and famous and the world of everyone else. It is a world in which any real education will be reserved for those who can afford the price tag. In the new ownership society, education will become a luxurious commodity for those who can buy their way out of being tested and measured into oblivion, as it is now becoming with public schools struggling under the weight of number 2 pencils. And, all those professors who thought they could seek refuge from the testing madness and accountability in K-12 will find themselves and their students filling in the bubbles once again.
Mandatory testing of college seniors will have a profound effect on higher education. Colleges with low scores on standardized tests—often heavily minority—could be punished by reduced state funding. Federal research dollars might also be linked to student test scores. Outcomes might determine whether some colleges are even denied federal student loan funds.

If the Spellings Commission report led the horse to water, Republican governors like Texas’ Rick Perry are ready to make that pony drink. Texas is the home of standardized testing—out of a 180-day school year about 120 days are devoted to testing or preparation. So it’s predictable that Perry’s new plan for educational reform includes standardized testing for college seniors. While students initially won’t have to pass the test to graduate, high scores will mean extra money for colleges, and extra money is something that cash-starved Texas universities can’t resist. The Texas Faculty Association’s Charles Zucker says, “It’s so ironic because, just at the point where we’re beginning to develop a widespread consensus that teaching to the test has been a miserable failure in K-12, now the governor wants to do it for higher education.” The danger, of course, is that other state governors will follow suit. (By the way, standardized testing for college seniors won’t be cheap. Education Week ’s annual report found that school districts pay many millions for these tests.)

Since money will be attached to scores, college administrators will push for more basic courses geared to the test material. Math and science will increasingly replace the soft subjects like anthropology, sociology, history and philosophy. Say goodbye to diverse and interesting college courses. There’s no room for nuance or variety in an outcome-driven learning model.

College professors who reject standardized testing will either be disinvited from the academy or leave out of disgust. Most casualties will be progressive instructors interested in teaching critical content. Their replacements will be educational technicians or hungry adjuncts willing to teach for peanuts. Textbooks—like those in high school—will be standardized and used across public universities, a move that will make textbook publishers happier and richer. Since cost-cutting is a concern for the Spellings Commission, cheaper teaching models like distance education and online courses will increasingly replace traditional and more expensive classroom settings. While some private schools will still offer a rounded education, it will be only for those who can afford the $30,000 to $40,000 a year in tuition and board.
Let 'em eat Ivory Soap.

It Takes Balls

Historically, schools have been ground zero for playing out the battles taking place in the world of grown ups. But, in a recent story taking place a few miles from New York City, both young and old Christian warriors are taking on 16-year-old Mathew LaClair who still believes that the U.S. Constitution should protect public school students from being told they that if they do not believe in Jesus they "belong in hell,"and that there is no scientific basis for evolution, and that dinosaurs were on Noah's ark.

The story was reported widely in the press a few months ago, but since Mathew recorded a popular history teacher and disseminated the tape outside the school district, he has received death threats and has been bullied by fellow students who don't understand why this is a big deal. Meanwhile, the school has since instituted a new policy that requires students to get permission from the administration, teachers and classmates to tape a teacher.
On the other side of this battle are the American Civil Liberties Union, the People for the American Way Foundation, and a partner from a large Manhattan law firm who are threatening to sue the Kearny Board of Education if their complaints are not resolved.
Since Matthew turned over the tapes to school officials, his family and supporters said, he has been the target of harassment and a death threat from fellow students and “retaliation” by school officials who have treated him, not the teacher, as the problem.
The retaliation, they say, includes the district’s policy banning students from recording what is said in class without a teacher’s permission and officials’ refusal to punish students who have harassed Matthew. Matthew and his parents, Paul and Debra LaClair, are demanding an apology to Matthew and public correction of some of Mr. Paszkiewicz’s statements in class.

The LaClairs filed a torts claim notice on Feb. 13 against the school board, Mr. Paszkiewicz and other school officials. Such a claim is required before a lawsuit can be filed in New Jersey. “The school created a climate in which the students in the school community held resentment for Matthew,” said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the A.C.L.U. in New Jersey. She said Kearny High School had “violated the spirit and the letter of freedom of religion and the First Amendment.”
Meanwhile, on another battlefront, librarians are keeping children "scrotum free" and safe from the dark porn of the Newberry Award winning book The Higher Power of Lucky, a children's book. The story is about a dog that gets bit by a rattlesnake on his scrotum. Apparently, it has parents in an uproar and the Department of Education and Miss Margaret likely haven't been this outraged since they launched their war against Buster the Bunny.
From the New York Times:
The inclusion of the word has shocked some school librarians, who have pledged to ban the book from elementary schools, and reopened the debate over what constitutes acceptable content in children’s books. The controversy was first reported by Publishers Weekly, a trade magazine.
On electronic mailing lists like
Librarian.net, dozens of literary blogs and pages on the social-networking site LiveJournal, teachers, authors and school librarians took sides over the book. Librarians from all over the country, including Missoula, Mont.; upstate New York; Central Pennsylvania; and Portland, Ore., weighed in, questioning the role of the librarian when selecting — or censoring, some argued — literature for children.
With all those balls being thrown around, it's likely someone is going to get hurt.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bringing Your No. 2 into the Pew

Nick Lemann documents in the The Big Test Lewis Terman's crackpot notion to retrospectively derive the IQs of famous men, from Leonardo to Lincoln. Never mind that it was, as Lemann kindly puts it, a complete crock: it worked in the media to publicize Terman's new crude instrument for sorting people, the IQ Test.

In a development that makes Santayana's dictum about conditions for repeating the past ever the more prescient, the present-day orgy of tabulation has moved even into religious sanctuaries once more, and test enthusiasts such as Reverend Simms are eagerly measuring their flocks' profiles with assessments sold by religious publishers who are hitching a ride on the testing gravy train:

Greeting churchgoers as an usher or playing hostess at church socials never came easy to Vera Finney.

And after her pastor asked her to sit down with a No. 2 pencil and a multiple-choice questionnaire, the lifelong churchgoer finally figured out why.

"Hospitality" doesn't rank high among Finney's God-given gifts, the 110-question "spiritual gift assessment" revealed. Instead, Finney's responses suggested that God has bestowed on her the gifts of teaching, administration and exhortation.

The test Finney took is just one of a growing variety of assessments, or "spiritual inventories," offered by Christian publishing companies and denominations. Some types of assessments have been available for decades. But local pastors say their widespread availability for free on the Internet and a renewed interest in defining spiritual gifts have prompted them to begin offering the assessments in recent years.

"I believe that your gifts come from God, that he has gifted each and every one of us with something, and this helped me be confident in what my gifts are," said Finney, 54, who now focuses on the choir, teaching Sunday school and administrative work at Nashville's Mount Hopewell Baptist Church, which has been offering the tests for three years.

The tests are similar to personality profiling and assessment tools with roots in modern psychology.

But instead of revealing whether you're a Type A or B personality, the spiritual assessments are intended to reveal specific spiritual gifts described in certain passages of the New Testament, such as "mercy," "apostleship," "prophecy" or "shepherding." . . .

Does NCLB Need Fixing or Trashing?

When something is worth saving, you fix it, otherwise it needs to be thrown in the trash. The debate over how to "fix" No Child Left Behind has begun as the drumbeat for more funding and national standards dominate the discourse. A recent editorial in the New York Times on the "needed fixes" for NCLB yielded the following responses from around the country on why changes to NCLB won't fix what's broken.

To the Editor:

When a significant segment of the school-age population is homeless, hungry, upset by discussions over possible or actual loss of health insurance, inability to get health insurance, possible or actual loss of employment, and discussions on deficiencies in the household budget, they are not equipped to learn.

Students do not check these problems at the school door before they enter the classroom, and these students may often be absent from school.

The failure to deal with these problems makes improvement in this segment of the school population difficult.

Worse, the teachers who deal with these student populations will be unfairly judged deficient because of not being able to perform an impossible task.

This is not to diminish the needed improvements that your editorial notes.

Ken CurtisValley Park, Mo., Feb. 15, 2007 The writer is a retired high school teacher.

To the Editor:

You rightly recognize that school reform is at a historic crossroads in this country, but even if the 75 specific recommendations made by the bipartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind were carried out, they would do little in the final analysis to help students most in need.

The big deficits in socialization, motivation and intellectual development that they bring to class (through no fault of their own) will overwhelm efforts by the best teachers.

It will take intervention on an unprecedented scale in the lives of these students to significantly narrow the achievement gap that continues to plague the system.

Whether we have the will to take the necessary steps is another question.

Walt GardnerLos Angeles, Feb. 15, 2007 The writer taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was a lecturer in the U.C.L.A. Graduate School of Education.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Countering Conservative Propaganda

What's the plural of "smackdown?" Smackdowns or smacksdown? Anyway, there are three of them here on the latest propaganda by Jay "Walmart Scholar" Greene, Louisa "In Your Eye" Moats, and Andrew "Sounds French to Me" LeFevre. Enjoy.

Hope, and Call

From the NEA website:

Ten United States senators have declared their support for significantly overhauling the No Child Left Behind Act's testing mandates and other changes as Congress prepares to tackle reauthorization of the massive federal education law.

The concerns are expressed in a letter dated Feb. 15, 2007 by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee chaired by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). Work in the Senate on NCLB/ESEA reauthorization will start in this committee.

Others signing on to Sen. Feingold's letter so far include Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)

In the letter, the lawmakers state:

"We have concluded that the testing mandates of No Child Left Behind in their current form are unsustainable and must be overhauled significantly during the reauthorization process beginning this year."

"While we all agree that states and districts should be held accountable for academic outcomes and continue working toward closing the achievement gap among their students, federal education law should not take the form of a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach."

The senators articulate a wide range of concerns, including the effects of federal funding that is "well below the agreed upon authorization levels," that indicate a thorough understanding of the problems NCLB poses for administrators, teachers, and students as it has been implemented to date.

They wrote, "Time and again, we have heard from teachers and administrators who are frustrated by the lack of flexibility in the Department of Education's implementation of the law. Additionally, national reports have also called into question the effectiveness of NCLB's statutory provisions and the effects of these provisions on students and teachers."

Feingold and the other senators who signed the letter are calling on the Senate HELP Committee to focus its hearings on the following:

Adequate Funding and Financial Burdens Facing School Districts

  • the effect that federal funding well below the agreed upon authorization levels for crucial programs such as Title I and special education is having on schools' ability to meet NCLB and state standards;
  • the financial cost to states and school districts for the NCLB data collection and reporting requirements, and its effect on the overall education of our children as states and districts continue to face tight budgets;

Sensible Accountability Models

  • the inability of schools and districts to receive credit for student growth under the current AYP provisions of NCLB;
  • the concern and likelihood that nearly all public schools may not be able to meet the goal of 100percent proficient scores on reading and math tests by the 2013-2014 school year, even if those schools show a steady increase in student achievement each year;
  • the concern with the Department of Education's process for approving and denying states' amendments to their accountability plans and whether more transparency in the Department's process is needed;

Differences in School Districts Size and Composition

  • the unique circumstances of rural and smaller school districts, as well as large urban districts, and in particular, the special challenges that the supplementary services and public school transfer requirements and NCLB accountability structure pose for these districts;

Effect on Teachers Students and Curriculum

  • the long-term effects that meeting the one-size-fits-all adequate yearly progress provisions will have on students, schools, and school districts;
  • the toll that preparation for the mandatory reading and math tests for students in grades 3-8, including time spent teaching to the tests, is having on, and will have on, the ability of teachers to spend time on innovative and exciting approaches to instruction and assessment; instruction time available for such subjects as social studies, art, and music; the strength of state academic standards; and the morale of students and educators;
  • the degree to which requirements of NCLB are pressuring schools and teachers to narrow curriculums to the subject and content areas that appear on standardized tests;
  • the ongoing efforts to align the NCLB and the Individuals with Disabilities Act, and particularly how we can ensure that meeting the NCLB's accountability goals is not in conflict with the education goals in a student's Individualized Education Plan;
  • the unique challenges that the accountability provisions pose for special education students and students with limited English proficiency, including efforts to ensure that these students are tested in a manner that is tailored to their individual needs;
  • the ongoing problems with the Reading First program as documented in the recent Inspector General report;
  • the need for additional federal funding for professional development and for the costs of providing additional training for paraprofessionals, as well as the need for increased funding for teacher and principal recruitment and retention in light of the expected teacher and administrator shortage, on the ability of states and school districts to comply with the NCLB requirements for highly qualified teachers and paraprofessionals;

Supportive Interventions for Struggling Schools

  • the federal sanctions structure included in the law, which focuses more on taking away from schools than on targeting resources to what those schools need to succeed; and
  • the implementation of the supplemental services provisions, including implications for federal civil rights law.

Part of a commentary from Delaware Online:

. . . . Delaware had clear expectations of continuous improvement, with support and collaboration to make that happen. Under No Child Left Behind, the issue of improvement has been replaced by a time-certain deadline that school board members believe is impossible to achieve.

Sanctions -- such as placing a school "under watch" -- can actually hurt a school. Sanctions do not adequately take into account gains made. They are sometimes unfair when schools with particular demographics need not count small groups of high-risk students.

The No Child Left Behind labels can drive achieving students from a school. Many low-achieving students come from homes where parents are not involved in the schools or do not have good enough educations themselves to understand the options.

There are factors that affect the education of children that cannot be addressed appropriately within the current structure and finances of public schools. Under the specifications of NCLB, special education is one of the most critical. While schools have made some significant advances in this area, it remains one of the most difficult to conquer as student needs change.

Growing numbers of families move to Delaware to enroll children in our schools for the exceptional special-education services they provide.

School board members across this state are committed to providing for all children to the best of our ability. Our issue is an "absolute" percentage of special-education students allowed to be exempted from the standard tests when our programs are attracting more students with exceptional needs.

The ranking of an entire school and district based not on ability to continuously improve but rather on a target number in every student category -- and sometimes on a single category -- is not productive.

Another significant issue some of our schools are facing is the growing number of students who do not speak English. Many of these children are entering our classrooms directly from countries where they got little or no education. Their parents also have had little or no education and do not speak our language.

After a year, these children must take the same tests as the children who have been in Delaware schools since kindergarten. While we have the ability to issue tests in other languages, it is often difficult to adjust for the different educational experiences of such children in a year.

It would be helpful in coming deliberations if all the education needs of non-English- speaking students could be addressed along with the language barrier.

Finally but most important, the mandates currently in NCLB are not adequately funded. The appropriations provided are not even close to the allocations defined as necessary in the federal law.

The stakes and their costs have increased for the State of Delaware and local school districts in the past five years, while the federal funding remains at fiscal 2005 levels. The results of this gap is that local money that could be used for programs appropriate to a school or district -- and for which the citizens passed referenda -- is being used to support federal law and regulations. . . .