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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Majority Ready to Dump NCLB

From Scripps Howard News Servic:
Scripps Howard News Service
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Nearly two-thirds of American adults want Congress to re-write or outright abolish the landmark No Child Left Behind Act that mandates nationwide testing of elementary students to determine if public schools are performing adequately.

Opposition is especially high among people most familiar with the law, according to a survey of 1,010 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

Controversy about the law has grown in recent months as Congress begins the debate on whether to reauthorize the measure that President Bush has touted is one of the most important achievements of his administration.

"The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America's children and I ask Congress to reauthorize this good law," Bush urged legislators during his last State of the Union address.

But dissent against reauthorization has developed within his own party. Fifty-two Republican House members and five GOP senators are calling for a repeal of the law in favor of a more flexible system of achievement standards to be negotiated between the Department of Education and individual states.

"This expensive and largely unsuccessful legislation has broadened the scope of the federal government's role in education," Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., said while introducing his bill.

Participants in the poll were told that No Child Left Behind "requires states to test elementary students to determine if schools do a good job teaching. Critics say the law forces teachers to teach to a particular test. From everything you've heard, do you think the No Child Left Behind Act has been good for public schools or not good?"

Only about a third said they think the law has had a positive influence on public education while slightly less than half said it has had a negative impact and a fifth were undecided.

A few respondents volunteered different answers that were generally critical of the law.

"The schools should have more leeway," said the mother of two public school children from Lexington, S.C.

"It was a good theory, but the implementation has been faulty," remarked another mother with three children from Elmhurst, N.Y.

"No Child Left Behind created unfunded mandates which force teachers to teach to the test," complained a single woman from Tonopah, Nev.

"States should have more control over their education programs," said a mother from Houston, Texas.

Respondents in the poll were also asked: "Based upon everything you've heard, do you want Congress to renew the No Child Left Behind law, do you want Congress to make changes in the law or do you want Congress to cancel the No Child Left Behind law?"

Twenty-three percent said they want the law renewed in its current form, 14 percent want it abolished and 49 percent want it amended. Fourteen percent were undecided. Taken together, 63 percent want the law abolished or amended.

About three-quarters of people who said they are "very familiar" with the law also say they want it altered or abolished, compared to less than half of people who say they are "not familiar" with the measure.

Well-educated people, especially college graduates and those who've attended post-graduate schooling, are especially likely to call for changes to the law. People who have public school children at home are somewhat more likely to want the law altered or abolished than are people who don't currently have children in school.

Although much of the criticism in Congress against the current form of the law is coming from Republicans, the poll found that Democrats in the general public were more likely to want changes in the law than were Republicans.

The survey was conducted by telephone from May 6-27 among 1,010 adult residents of the United States who were selected at random. The survey was conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University under a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The survey has a margin of error of about 3 percent, although the margin is somewhat higher when estimating support for the No Child Left Behind Act among different subgroups.

Alfie Kohn on NCLB: Appalling and Unredeemable Experiment

From USA Today:

NCLB law 'too destructive to salvage'

By Alfie KohnThu May 31, 6:28 AM ET

It's time to say in a national newspaper what millions of teachers, students and parents already know: No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is an appalling and unredeemable experiment that has done incalculable damage to our schools - particularly those serving poor, minority and limited-English-proficiency students.

It's a stretch even to call the law "well-intentioned" given that its creators, including the Bush administration and the right-wing Heritage Foundation, want to privatize public education. Hence NCLB's merciless testing, absurd timetables and reliance on threats.

Let's be clear: This law has nothing to do with improving learning. At best, it's about raising scores on multiple-choice exams. This law is not about discovering which schools need help; we already know. This law is not about narrowing the achievement gap; its main effect has been to sentence poor children to an endless regimen of test-preparation drills. Thus, even if the scores do rise, it's at the expense of a quality education. Affluent schools are better able to maintain good teaching - and retain good teachers - despite NCLB, so the gap widens.

Sure, it's senseless for Washington to impose requirements without adequate funding. But more money to implement a bad law isn't the answer.

Indeed, according to a recent 50-state survey by Teachers Network, a non-profit education organization, exactly 3% of teachers think NCLB helps them to teach more effectively. No wonder 129 education and civil rights organizations have endorsed a letter to Congress deploring the law's overemphasis on standardized testing and punitive sanctions. No wonder 30,000 people (so far) have signed a petition at educatorroundtable.org calling the law "too destructive to salvage."

NCLB didn't invent the scourge of high-stakes testing, nor is it responsible for the egregious disparity between the education received by America's haves and have-nots. But by intensifying the former, it exacerbates the latter.

This law cannot be fixed by sanding its rough edges. It must be replaced with a policy that honors local autonomy, employs better assessments, addresses the root causes of inequity and supports a rich curriculum. The question isn't how to save NCLB; it's how to save our schools - and kids -from NCLB.

Education writer Alfie Kohn's11 books include The Schools Our Children Deserve and The Homework Myth

KIPP Cuts and Runs in Buffalo

KIPP, the darling outfit of the privatization-by-charter school movement, has maintained its reputation for generating test scores by dumping those students who can't stomach their prison camp methods. Now it seems that the same strategy is in use by the home office in San Fran as one of its stores in Buffalo shows signs of meltdown. When in doubt, pull out.

Wouldn't it be nice if the public schools had the same luxury? Just shut the doors when the going gets tough? I'll bet all public schools would be successful, then!:

Buffalo’s KIPP Sankofa Charter School, considered a promising alternative for inner-city middle school students when it opened in 1993, is plagued by failure and is fighting for its life.

The school, located in the Central Park Plaza, was recently cited by the state’s Charter Schools Institute for low test scores, high teacher turnover, severe disciplinary problems, poor teacher training and failure to use test score data to guide instruction.

The KIPP Foundation, a school management group based in San Francisco, has severed its ties with the school, and Uchenna Smith, KIPP Sankofa’s founder and director, has resigned.

Unless the school shows dramatic improvement by next fall, the state institute said, it will be closed when its charter expires after the 2007-08 school year or, at best, be given a short term renewal rather than a second five-year license.

A reform plan has been put together to turn the school around, said Samuel J. Savarino, a local developer who became board chairman of the school several months ago.

“We anticipate being able to demonstrate that we have aggressively and effectively addressed the problems you noted that have plagued the school since its inception,” Savarino said in a letter to the Charter Schools Institute, which makes licensing recommendations to the State University of New York.

“Our relationship with KIPP has been unsatisfactory — on both sides — and we are using a variety of local, trusted consultants and advisers to guide our renaissance,” Savarino said.

The school will strengthen assessment of individual students, stress its discipline policy and train teachers in classroom management, reorganize its board of directors and shorten the teachers’ current 10-hour work day, Savarino said.

The institute acknowledged those efforts in a letter to the school last month but said “it is unclear whether these and other actions will result in visible and qualitatively discernible results” before the pivotal fall evaluation. An April 20 letter to KIPP Sankofa from Jennifer G. Sneed, the institute’s senior vice president, said the school’s problems are severe and deeply rooted. For example:

• KIPP Sankofa’s top three administrators were so busy serving as substitute teachers that they were unable to perform their leadership duties.

“The school’s eighth-graders have had four English teachers, three science teachers and two social studies teachers,” it said.

• In a school with fewer than 250 students in grades 5-8, there have been from 12 to 25 referrals to the office per day and 178 suspensions as of late March. In addition, two teachers “resorted to violence in response to disruptive students” and were fired.

• Last year, just 37 percent of KIPP’s seventh-graders who had been at the school at least two years were proficient in English and math.

SUNY on Thursday will consider recommendations from the Charter Schools Institute to allow the school to drop the KIPP title from its name, and to require it to increase its reserve fund to $75,000 from $25,000 to cover any costs it might incur if it is forced to close.

Where is that intrepid investigative reporter, Jay Mathews, when a big KIPP story like this emerges?

CTB/McGraw-Hill Scores Big In NYC

If you thought you had gone insane when you heard the Decider announce his plan in 2001 to test children in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, then hold onto your straightjacket. New York City has just announced that a new contract has been awarded to Bush family friends so that children in grades 3 through 8 will now be tested five (5) times each year (at a cost of $16,000,000 a year) to get ready for the state test that will then determine if they pass to the next grade or if their school will stay open. Oh yes, don't forget that students in grades 9-12 will be tested 4 times a year.

Is this what Spellings meant this week when she said that NCLB was working? Working to enrich friends in the education-industrial complex and to crush public education? From the NY Times:
Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced yesterday that the city school system would spend $80 million over five years on a battery of new standardized tests to begin this fall for most of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students.

The contract awarded to the testing giant CTB/McGraw-Hill will involve a significant expansion of exams, known as periodic tests, which monitor students’ progress and are supposed to help predict how students will perform in the annual state exams. Mr. Klein’s announcement immediately rekindled the debate over whether such testing is emphasized too much or is even a useful tool for teachers.

Pupils in Grades 3 through 8 will be tested five times a year in both reading and math, instead of three times as they are now. High school students, for the first time, will be tested four times a year in each subject. In the next few years, the tests will expand to include science and social studies. . . .

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fire Spellings, Hire this Guy

From Time:

Most state education officials grumble that the pressure-packed annual tests and rigid adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets engendered by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law are flawed means of measuring student proficiency, raising academic standards, holding schools accountable and fostering learning. But since the penalty for defying the law is loss of federal funds, most treat NCLB's prescriptives like bitter medicine they can't afford to spit out. All, that is, except the iconoclasts who run the public schools in Nebraska.

Eschewing the Washington-created remedy, they have developed a homemade model called the School-based Teacher-led Assessment Reporting System (STARS) that has yielded impressive results, been praised by education scholars and attracted interest from Edward Kennedy, NCLB's Senate custodian. "We just told the Department of Education that if they were really trying to [serve] all kids and close the proficiency gap that high-stakes testing isn't the way to do it," says Doug Christensen, state commissioner of education. "We told them we would show them that we had a better way."

Under Nebraska's model, the state sets curriculum standards, but gives teachers free reign on instruction and lets local school districts design their own tests to measure how well students are meeting the grade-level norms. And unlike the vast majority of states, which rely solely on multiple choice exams to measure student achievement and determine yearly progress, Nebraska's students also write essays as part of a unique statewide writing exam. Districts can also include student oral presentations, demonstrations and projects in their battery of assessments. Christensen says the writing requirement gives state officials confidence that the multiple choice test scores are a true reflection of actual learning. Since the system was installed eight years ago, he says, the statewide writing scores on average have lined up "almost perfectly" with results on both math and reading proficiency tests. "Ours is a bottom-up model," Christensen says. "It begins in the classroom with instruction that's aligned to our standards and extends to assessments developed locally that are tied to how well students apply concepts and problem solve, rather than simply memorize facts and figures and dates that they can't remember 10 minutes later."

Overall last year, just over 87% of all elementary students met federal accountability goals in reading, tying Nebraska with Mississippi for the best scores in the country in that subject area. In math, more than 87% of Nebraska primary schoolkids reached their federal goals. Only the subgroup of special education students narrowly missed the targets in reading and math. Among middle schoolers, almost 87% passed in reading and nearly 85% did in math. Special education students and English language learners were the only subgroups in those grades scoring below the federal bar.

For Nebraska officials, high doses of local input and low regard for memorization skills are points of distinction, and pride. And the consistently high scores their students receive reassure them that — despite results on national reading assessments of fourth graders in 2005 that were more than 50 points lower than state-test-score levels, for instance — they are indeed proficient in reading, math and writing.

Adding to their confidence is the fact that the bosses in Lincoln exercise quality control over the testing protocols. Each year the state hires a panel of out-of-state experts to grade each district's assessment plan to insure that it matches the state curriculum standards, reliably measures proficiency and meets other technical criteria. Additionally, teams of in-state teachers and principals interview district officials as part of a peer review of their test-making methods. "What we've got that no one else has is a cadre of teachers in the state who are as assessment literate as any educators on the face of the earth," Christensen says. "They know how to teach to an outcome, to measure the outcome with high technical quality, and they know how to use that information to improve instruction."

The Nebraska model has been praised by the National Council of Measurement in Education, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing and education testing researchers at Duquesne University. Sen. Edward Kennedy met with state officials earlier this month as part of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's deliberations on revisions to NCLB and was impressed by the results they've achieved, his staff says. And now that the state has added on-site peer reviews to the annual evaluation process, Christensen says the ultimate deciders at the federal Department of Education have assured him that STARS passes NCLB muster. "Nebraska is a place where the concepts of family and community still work," Christensen says. "Our public schools are embedded in those communities and those families. So why wouldn't we first trust those folks? We believe you create the capacity at the local level to do the right thing in the first place, and then you don't need the state or federal government looking over your shoulder."

50 More Years! 50 More Years!

From the Guardian May 30,2007:

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush envisions a long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq similar to the one in South Korea where American forces have helped keep an uneasy peace for more than 50 years, the White House said Wednesday. . . .

From Mother Jones March/April 2003:

. . .
As vital as the Persian Gulf is now, its strategic importance is likely to grow exponentially in the next 20 years. Nearly one out of every three barrels of oil reserves in the world lie under just two countries: Saudi Arabia (with 259 billion barrels of proven reserves) and Iraq (112 billion). Those figures may understate Iraq's largely unexplored reserves, which according to U.S. government estimates may hold as many as 432 billion barrels.
. . . .

Anne Joyce, an editor at the Washington-based Middle East Policy Council who has spoken privately to top Exxon officials, says it's clear that most oil-industry executives "are afraid" of what a war in the Persian Gulf could mean in the long term -- especially if tensions in the region spiral out of control. "They see it as much too risky, and they are risk averse," she says. "They think it has 'fiasco' written all over it."

Gorman Learning Centers Shut

Another charter cheat has shuttered its "learning centers." Background here and here.
The Associated Press

REDLANDS, Calif.- The financially troubled Gorman Learning Center planned to close all of its campuses by Thursday and move its headquarters to Los Angeles County before September, officials said.

The charter school will continue to counsel students and offer home-schooling support, but intended to shutter the learning centers in seven cities where students used to visit for group-learning sessions, Gorman board President Kim Clark said this week. Those sites are in Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga, Lancaster, Pasadena, Pomona, Saugus and Whittier.

"I'm very pleased with the reconfiguration," Clark said. "I think that it's going to be a more efficient operation and I think we'll emerge as a stronger organization because of it."

The cutback will entail laying off 87 employees, officials said.

The closures came after a state order trimmed 40 percent of the public money the school was anticipating for this year and next.

An audit requested by the Los Angeles County Office of Education found that Gorman had claimed $7.7 million in undeserved state funding over three years.

The school is appealing the audit findings and the funding reduction.

About 2,000 students enrolled in Gorman this year, according to the California Department of Education.

Republican Senator to Spellings: Back Off

Lamar Alexander has been a reliable water carrier for Spellings and the Bush assault on education, but now it appears that even Alexander has had enough. As this piece from Inside Higher Ed makes clear, the former UT President has put a shot close over ED's bow as a warning to back off of what amounts to an attempted federal takeover of higher ed accreditation:

For months, ever since the U.S. Education Department began an aggressive push to change federal rules governing accreditation, higher education lobbyists have been urging members of Congress to rein the department in. Using the federal regulatory process to force accreditors to set minimum levels of acceptable performance by institutions on measures of how much their students learn, and to ensure that the institutions they oversee do not discriminate in their transfer policies against academic credits of students from nationally accredited institutions, exceeds the executive branch’s authority and tramples on Congress’s, college groups have argued.

Although lawmakers and Congressional aides in both parties sent Education Secretary Margaret Spellings an early warning last fall not to overstep her bounds in the process known as “negotiated rule making,” they have remained publicly silent on the regulatory process since then. But that silence was broken on the Senate floor late last week, when Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he would introduce legislation that would prevent Spellings and the department from issuing final rules on accreditation until after Congress passes a bill to renew the Higher Education Act.

“The department is proposing to restrict autonomy, choice, and competition,” Alexander said in his Senate speech. “Such changes are so fundamental that only Congress should consider them. For that reason, if necessary, I will offer an amendment to the Higher Education Act to prohibit the department from issuing any final regulations on these issues until Congress acts. Congress needs to legislate first. Then the department can regulate.” . . .

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

NJ Urban Charter Schools Get 32% Less Than District Schools

As a result of a number of New Jersey court decisions over the past 25 years that are known as the Abbot Decisions, funding discrepancies between poor urban districts and suburban districts have been greatly diminished in New Jersey. Now it would seem that what the Court giveth, the NJ DOE taketh away from children attending the new popular urban chain gang charters.

What, indeed, makes charter schools such a popular choice among neoliberal and neoconservative policymakers, alike, is the fact that they are cheaper, not that they offer any educational benefit over the public schools they would replace. What we get then is the same low quality (or lower) for a much lower price--32% lower in the case of urban charters in NJ. Press release from the Education Law Center in Newark:

Newark, NJ – May 24, 2007

Students in charter schools in New Jersey’s urban or "Abbott" districts receive 32% less to fund the basic or "foundational" education program than their fellow students in district schools, according to a report authored by Montclair University Professor Katrina E. Bulkley. The report also pinpoints the cause of the funding gap: a regulation adopted by the NJ Department of Education that excludes charter school students from receiving the remedies mandated for urban students and schools in the landmark Abbott v. Burke education equity rulings.

The report, which examines funding levels in charter schools serving students from Abbott districts, was released today by ELC.

In addition to the substantial disparity in foundational funding, the report also makes several key findings:

  • More than 80% of NJ charter schools students reside in Abbott districts, and 78% of all charter schools are located in those districts.
  • Abbott Charter schools serve high numbers of poor students and students of color. The percentages are comparable to those found in Abbott district schools.
  • In 2004-05, charter schools received an average of $7,648 in foundational education funding per student, which is approximately $3,650 (or 32%) less per pupil than the "suburban parity" amount required by the Abbott rulings.
  • Abbott charter schools are precluded from seeking additional state aid, based on need, to provide full-day kindergarten, tutoring and other "supplemental", or "at-risk", programs to address the effects of student poverty.

The inequitable treatment of Abbott charter students stems from the refusal of NJDOE to include charter schools under the provisions of the Abbott rulings, which require parity in funding and other programs to ensure urban school children a "thorough and efficient education." The NJDOE’s Abbott regulations explicitly state that, "an Abbott school district shall not include any charter school" N.J.A.C. 6A:10A-1. The Legislature, however, has never sanctioned this exclusion.

To address this funding gap, and ensure all Abbott students – those in district schools and charter schools – receive the funding and other programs to which they are constitutionally entitled, ELC is recommending:

  • The NJDOE immediately remove the charter school exclusion from the Abbott rules, and phase-in Abbott parity funding over the next two years
  • The NJDOE promptly assess the "particularized needs" of Abbott charter schools for preschool, full-day kindergarten, tutoring and other "supplemental" programs, and establish a mechanism to provide adequate funding for those needed programs
  • The Legislature authorize the NJDOE to directly provide funding to charter schools for its students, and eliminate the current requirement that Abbott districts transfer funding to charter schools
  • The NJDOE establish "collaborative networks" of educational leaders in Abbott district schools and charter schools to share data, information and strategies on improving curriculum, instruction and educational outcomes for all Abbott students

Education Law Center Press Contact:
David G. Sciarra
Executive Director
email: dsciarra@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x16

Hemorrhaging of Public Funds the Wild, Wild West Wing

Salon has an nice piece on the end of the "gilded age for the loan industry."
A clip:
May. 28, 2007 | Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings sounded like a reformer when she testified on Capitol Hill earlier this month over recent revelations of waste, fraud and bribery in the $85 billion-a-year student loan industry.

"Federal student aid is crying out for reform," said Spellings, speaking before the House Committee on Education and Labor. "The system is redundant, it's Byzantine, and it's broken."

But education experts weren't buying it -- and neither were Democrats. Spellings glossed over the fact that the Department of Education, which she took over in 2005, had known since the start of the Bush administration about questionable financial practices and had only recently asked lenders to stop them. The committee's new Democratic chairman, California Rep. George Miller, whose attempt to stop the flow of cash had been thwarted while Republicans controlled Congress, rebuked Spellings for her inaction. Either she or her predecessor, Miller said, "could have stopped this hemorrhaging of money that [lenders] were not entitled to." For six years, there had been what one House staffer called a "Wild West atmosphere of no enforcement at the department," and it had cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

From a 2001 internal Education Department memo warning the incoming Bush administration that lenders might be trying to improperly influence college financial aid offices, to a department whistle-blower, to numerous reports outlining a virtual hemorrhaging of the department's money, for nearly six years there have been signs pointing to something rotten in the state of the student loan industry. But time and time again, according to congressional staffers and Washington education experts, the department leadership and key members of Congress looked the other way.

"The day Bush was elected was the beginning of the gilded age for the loan industry," says Barmak Nassirian, of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. .. .

On the Passing (and Failing) of Another Testing Season

Aptos High School teacher, Claudia Ayers, has this excellent piece published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on May 20, 2007:

Anyone who has been moved by the fictional Sylvia Barrett in Bel Kaufman's "Up the Down Staircase," or Sidney Portier's vision of E.R. Braithwaith's teaching experience in "To Sir, With Love," or Frank McCourt's brilliant recent contribution "Teacher Man," will appreciate that teaching is as much art as science.

Anyone paying the least attention to the Bush approach to manipulating public spending to benefit corporations and cronies at the expense of the public should know by now that No Child Left Behind [NCLB] was written by people who have never taught in public schools. School administrators who yearn to "take back their schools" from its mandates or who complain about it being underfunded need to step up and do more to protect their charges by joining forces to expose it for what it is - another law with an Orwellian name that, instead of providing for children, will deliberately leave millions of children and young adults behind while cranking tens of billions of dollars into the coffers of test-writing and for-profit education corporations.

School board members and school administrators know there is a problem, yet they spend entirely too much time working within the confines of the problem instead of doing something that will fix it. Congress must amend this straitjacket of a law by actually supporting school children, authentic learning and teachers.

Today we have accountability mania. Ten or 20 years ago, headlines were made on a slow news day when it was discovered a handful of kids graduated from high school who could not read. Clearly, schools were failing abominably and needed to be held accountable. You know the rest of the story; now we test kids every other day in school, we don't promote them [even though we know this is tantamount to condemning them to becoming dropouts], and we don't let them graduate without passing the High School Exit Exam. We start school in early August to better attempt to finish detailed curricular standards before the tests are given in the early spring [well before the school year is actually over]. All too often we take away art, music and recess because this cuts into test prep time, but we can't afford these programs anyway because paying for all the standardized tests and the test-prep software has used up what few dollars come our way.

None of this has actually improved schools overall, and schools were never as bad as one might think based on the fear-mongering generated by some uninformed politicians. It is now far, far more important that education become more rigorous than it is to make it enjoyable or meaningful.

Kids have their scores right in their faces. These are typically "normed" scores; a 36th percentile score means 35 out of 100 kids scored lower than you did, and 64 out of 100 scored higher. Our kids know that they get "As" when they score 90 percent or higher in their classes, "Bs" for 80 to 89 percent and so on. Of course, a perfectly "normal" child will score at the 50th percentile on a standardized test, and this child will immediately think "I am so-o-o stupid, I failed this test," instead of "Fine, I'm a typical kid, I think I'll go outside and play." I have seen children who burst into tears when they get standardized scores in the 80s because they thought they were "A" students and this proved they were not. These tests, in fact, prove nothing.

One standard deviation from normal is the group in a population that is the "most typical." This accounts for very nearly 70 percent of our children. In other words, the "normal" kids have scores on standardized tests that range from about 15-85 percent. These, if you will, are all typical students. Those above and below this range are two or three standard deviations from normal. They may be English-language learners, students with a learning disability, or, on the other side of the distribution, students with a special talent for successfully whizzing through tests.

What do test scores and grades, for that matter, really tell you? Not much.

Parents, you sabotage authentic learning when you ask how well your child is doing, rather than asking about what your child is learning. Grades, actually, are not motivational, and plenty of studies back this up.

Standardized test scores will not give you a lick of information about your child's ability to stick with a problem, to be creative, to be a good problem-solver, to be a good citizen or a good listener, to speak bilingually, to have and support friendships, to be of high moral fiber, to participate well in democracy, to have artistic or athletic talents, to develop and rely on inner strengths, to care about the world and all living things as an interconnected web, to enjoy reading books, to thoroughly research a topic, to have a good sense of humor, to be self-reliant, or to be a valued participant in your family. These scores will only tell you how well your child takes standardized tests.

If the testocrats are not stopped, millions of kids who have done everything else right will not graduate from the schools where they have spent four years passing classes, because they are not good standardized test-takers. Whether a student is a dropout or is pushed out of high school, the results are the same: They will comprise half of the heads of households on welfare and an even higher percentage of the prison population. It costs society five to 10 times as much to imprison a person for one year as to educate a school-age child.

Let's hold the Bush administration accountable for something and take back the education of our children. Let's work to make school a place where children love to go by completely reforming NCLB. Support authentic learning; take the money back from testing companies, private tutors and publicly supported private schools.

Authentic learners enjoy the freedom to pursuit their passions; children constantly exposed to consequences, rigor, standards and high-stakes tests know only fear. Public policy is correct when it points toward freedom and devastating when it points toward fear. I was once told in a job interview that standardized testing was a necessary evil. I amazed myself by calmly responding that I didn't think evil was ever necessary. I didn't get that job, but I hope I have gotten your attention.

Military-Style Voucher School Serves Children Bread and Water

The privately-owned La Brew Troopers Military University School rakes in a million dollars of public money each year for the poor children whose parents send them there with the school vouchers they receive. While some would no doubt applaud the preparation of the next generation of warriors for the perpetual war, I am wondering if even Chief Choice Officer, Spellings, would tsk-tsk over this abuse and thievery:

The school is known for its "boot camp" regimen, including frequent rounds of exercise and the use of physical sanctions against misbehavior, sometimes including such things as carrying school desks around the block. Students often wear fatigues to school.

The state report lists more than a dozen ways that corrective action was needed in how La Brew handled subsidized lunch and breakfast programs. Records were not kept properly, and the school claimed payment for lunches for 18 children who did not have applications to participate in the program on file.

Now the AP reports that "bad children" regularly are underfed as a form of punishment, sometimes receiving bread and water if the offense warrants.

I am wondering if the right-wing privatizers who are all about choice would choose to send their own kids to this military work house--or if they would own give their own children a choice in the matter. Give the children a choice, and see how much public money would then remain in this hell hole:
The state has ordered a military-style private school to stop punishing students by serving them smaller lunches and is withholding money for food programs until the problems are corrected, according to a letter by the Department of Public Instruction.

The state has halted its share of the money for lunch and breakfast for low-income students until the La Brew Troopers Military University School stops withholding food as punishment, Helen Pesche, child nutrition program consultant for the state, wrote in a letter to the school dated May 21.

The letter said that inspections at the school found students were sometimes punished by being served lunch without either meat or a substitute and a vegetable and fruit.

A DPI report said one day when inspectors visited the school, 24 students were served lunches that did not include a sloppy joe on a bun and canned fruit, like their peers ate. Instead, the report said the children were given a slice of white bread, half a cup of mashed potatoes and a half pint of milk.

The report said students told a DPI employee that when someone is really bad, they only get bread and water.

Withholding food is unacceptable for schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted program that subsidizes school food, the report said.

“This method of discipline must stop immediately,” the report said.

State records show La Brew has 162 students from kindergarten through the sixth grade as of January. The school has participated in the private school voucher program since the 2003-04 school year, and got a little more than $1 million this year in public money.

The report also said the school needs has more than a dozen ways it needs to correct how it handles the subsidized lunch and breakfast programs, to which the state also contributes.

For instance, the report said records were not kept properly, and the school claimed payment for lunches for 18 children who did not file applications to participate in the program.

The school also claimed payment for lunch on two days in February when it was closed due to bad weather, the report said.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Earth to Kristof, Come In Please

Mr. Kristof's family field trip to China is over, and he is back at the Times enthusing over all that his totalitarian Chinese government handlers allowed him to see there. For someone who shared a Pulitzer in 1990 with his wife for coverage of the Tiananmen Square massacres, which the Times now quaintly refers to as "Tiananmen Square democracy movement," Kristof seems to have forgotten about those atrocities as he now embraces the new China that is on the march to erase history as it builds an economic juggernaut based on slave labor and environmental degradation. (If you happen to read this, Mr. Kristof, do not think I am offending the Chinese people, for Yahoo and Google and Cisco have already provided the capitalistic-communist Chinese government with the tools to block this post, or any other "offensive" website from Chinese readers. Don't worry, however--your columns are getting through loud and clear.)

According to Mr. Kristof, China has a lot to teach us in terms of how to deal with the flooding of American markets with Chinese goods produced by throwaway workers earning 30 cents an hour in factories owned by multinational operations such as Wal-Mart. It's too bad Mr. Kristof apparently missed last week's Frontline piece on PBS, The Tank Man (watch it here). If he had watched it, he would have seen that the Chinese economic miracle is the result of a never-ending supply of disposable workers who earn 10-40 cents an hour to make all the draperies, fine bed linens, cutlery, electronic gadgets, and other finished goods that he and his family buy for their Manhattan home. I wonder is the Kristofs visited Tooth Brush City, Tennis Shoe City, or Condom City.

Apparently, Kristof attributes the rise of Chinese economic power to a rise of China's educational preparedness, where, according to Mr. Kristof, peasant schools teach math more advanced than the Daltons or the Horace Manns of Manhattan. It is clear that Mr. Kristof was allowed to visit a peasant village that was lucky enough to still have a school. As shown in The Tank Man, free schooling in China is a thing of the past, and the many peasant children in the countryside can no longer afford to attend. These are the children who grow up and who are starved toward the factory towns to earn slave wages if they are lucky. And health care? Government health care has simply disappeared in many parts of rural China, leaving adults and children to depend on folk medicine or die.

But these are the realties that are kept from the Kristofs of the world, the elites who are wined and dined and promised Olympic tickets in the glittering new urban centers of China, where children who are as coddled as Kristof's own grow up with the privileges of prosperity and wealth, children who become university students eager for a chance to earn their own million. These are the same university students we see near the end of The Tank Man, students who are very, very good at math, but who do not know who the tank man is when handed a photo showing that lone individual standing before the power of a totalitarian dictatorship in 1989. By the way, Mr. Kristof, if you had searched Google or Yahoo pages during your China holiday, you would not have found the tank man. With the help of Google, Yahoo, and Cisco, Chinese Internet Police have eliminated the tank man.

Mr. Kristof closes today's column with this threadbare banality that would seem to impose more Chinese-like schools as the way to staunch the incoming flood of cheap goods and the outgoing flood of American jobs:
So let’s not respond to China’s surpluses by putting up trade barriers. Rather, let’s do as we did after the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957: raise our own education standards to meet the competition.
Mr. Kristof, sir, do you think it was more math and science in American elementary schools that led to landing a U. S. citizen on the moon just 12 years after Sputnik in 1969, or do you think it could have had something to do with the political and economic will by business and government to focus a national strategy toward a shared national goal? Which is something entirely lacking at this juncture in this country, as oligarchs such as Bill Gates and Eli Broad push on toward our own homegrown totalitarianism headed by corporate socialists, Christian theocrats, and bought political hacks who have their own history to scrub and their own shame and corruption to conceal while torturing the powerless and a creating a social sorting machine that assures the powerless remain so. If today's opinion piece serves as an example, there are plenty at the New York Times whose selective memories now put them the proper orbits to assist. Earth to Kristof, come in please.

"Raise our education standards to meet the competition?" How callow, how hollow, how utterly disrespectful of our intelligence!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Job Designed to Be Impossible

The following post showed up on the ARN list, and I asked Oakland teacher, Craig Gordon, for permission to post it. Thanks, Craig:
I am also replying rather late to this thread, but the very burnout and overwhelm Scott mentions below has something to do with it. Our job as teachers is designed to be impossible, and that's what I want to emphasize here. So I will start with PD and end with the fundamental issue connecting PD to everything else.

Scott describes well the cycle of failure to sustain high quality professional development rooted in the same cycle of failure throughout public education: systemic underresourcing. I have seen it consistently at every high school where I have taught in Oakland over the past sixteen years: PD is squeezed into an already-packed schedule, usually at the end of an exhausting day, so that even the best type of PD is likely to collide with resentment and competing needs and concerns. And, as Scott notes, the PD is usually planned and implemented in a top-down manner or by a handful of (often hand-picked) teachers, so the work is unlikely to address the most relevant PD needs.

I could go on about the failures, but most of us on this list know them well. The important point is that it all comes down to a systemic lack of resources, which in this case means a lack of time to plan or engage in meaningful, effective professional development. I happen to think the most valuable type of PD is collaborating with other teachers in developing curriculum, teaching classes, and in addressing schoolwide issues. (Addressing schoolwide issues can only be meaningful, though, if we have the power and the resources to carry out decisions.) An English teacher and I have started working this year on interdisciplinary curriculum for our 11th grade students (in English 3 and U.S. History, which I teach). If we had the time to actually discuss goals, methods, specific students, pedagogy, and more, I think it would be the most wonderful PD of my career. I've seen glimmers of this in our brief opportunities to sit and discuss our common work. But for the most part, we have to meet after school and communicate by phone or email in the evening. We're already exhausted by everything else we're doing (he's a new teacher with four subject preps!), so we just catch as catch can.
Our union has proposed to the district through various channels that new teachers be given an additional conference period to plan, observe, get support, and collaborate with veteran teachers. What a wonderful idea, the district (taken over by the state for the past four years) responds, but of course, it's "too expensive." Then we point out that it would not be "too expensive" if the district (and state) would join us in demanding that Oakland's transnational corporations and $33-billion-dollar-a-year Port be taxed appropriately to fund our rapidly disintegrating school district. The district's reply: "This is more of a funding issue, as opposed to a solution."

So around and around we go, chasing our tail in search of solutions in every area from PD to dropout/push out rates, from class size to crumbling facilities: It's the money! It's the money! It's the money!

And why are Eli Broad, Bill Gates, George Bush, and Ted Kennedy all working together to charterize, privatize, and destroy public schools from Chicago to Oakland to New Orleans? It's the money--- and the power, because under capitalism money is power and vice-versa. Destroy public education, milk it for the short term profits and reap the long-term benefits of controlling the skill sets and ideology of future generations. And maintain power by scapegoating one group or institution for systemic problems and then pretending to implement reforms. It's a tried-and-true recipe, with the final instructions being to repeat the cycle every one or two decades.

We won't tinker our way out of this snowballing disaster by improving PD a little here and there. It's not even sufficient--though it's completely necessary--to publicize the malevolent process that is dismantling public school systems in virtually every urban area of the country. We must also point to an alternative process, a solution to the problem; otherwise most people will throw up their hands in confusion and disgust, because so many of the criticisms of public schools today resonate with their experience. It won't matter that the "concern" expressed by Gates and Broad for poor children of color is laughably hypocritical if it's the only visible "alternative" to what is. We have to pose an alternative vision and show that it is NOT "too expensive."

In Oakland, teachers and others recently picketed the Port of Oakland (again, that's a $33 billion dollar annual revenue stream) to stop war shipments to Iraq and demand money for schools and social services. The ILWU unofficially supported us and longshore workers stayed out that day; the operations at a major shipper (Stevedoring Services of America, SSA) were shut down. In Colombia, 280,000 teachers struck this past week to protest a planned cut in the education budget.

We have to start planning and organizing these kinds of actions to break through the endless tail chasing and to capture the imagination of the majority of people in this country who want to see real educational reform, but are offered crumbs and phony "solutions."
Craig Gordon

Updated 9:45 PM

UMass Honors Former War Salesman, Andy Card

See Andy Card, former war salesman, receiving his honorary doctorate at UMass commencement, while hundreds boo and faculty protest on stage. The story at Raw Story.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

War Against the Weak: The Sequel

I am as regularly impressed by the amount of education news coverage in Milwaukee as I am by the degree of media blindness to the larger problems of poor people in Milwaukee--problems that cannot be separated out when trying to understand education issues that are, indeed, manifestations of the larger problems that remain invisible to those whose refusal to even acknowledge those problems serves to help rationalize harsher and harsher performance demands placed upon those least able to comply.

When social historians look back in 50 years, no doubt they will see the current education reform regime of punishment, disenfranchisement, and oppression of the weak as a direct descendant of the unfulfilled eugenics agenda of the previous century that was driven by another "scientific," though no less archaic, form of social sorting.

In the meantime, the larger problems go largely unreported or are simply ignored by those who care and those who pretend to care, both of whom are now locked arm in arm in a national crusade to get tough and tougher and toughest in a malicious treatment of the more obvious symptoms of systemic brokenness among the black, the weak, the immigrant, and the poor.

Instead of focusing on the social, environmental, and economic problems that make learning difficult to impossible, the current bit of hand-wringing in Milwaukee is focused once again on the widening academic achievement gap. Education reporters once more cluck and shake their heads as yet another keep-on-the-sunny-side superintendent insists, Decider-like, on staying the course, even as the schools would seem to be on the brink of explosion or implosion, and even as the educators and children in them seem on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown.

The big scoop missed once more by the Journal-Sentinel reporters? As family incomes fall, so do test scores, and all the testing and all the threats that can be piled on the other tests and threats will only serve to push the schools and their children closer to eventual violent upheaval.

First, here is a clip from the Journal-Sentinel, and what follows then are a few very interesting facts from a recent report by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, New Indicators of Neighborhood Need in Zipcode 53206:

Three years ago, the gap between white and black high school sophomores in Milwaukee Public Schools in reading proficiency was 33 percentage points. This year, it was 35 points.

In math, the gap was 36 points three years ago and 42 this year, according to the data released Tuesday by the state Department of Public Instruction and MPS.

Two years ago, 37% of black sophomores in MPS were rated proficient or advanced in reading, based on their performance on the statewide standardized tests. This year, it was 31%. In math, the figure is 18%, down from 20% in each of the prior two years.

The gaps and scores between white and Hispanic sophomores are not quite as bad, but are still large.

In none of five subject areas tested did at least 40% of MPS 10th-graders as a whole rate as proficient this year.

. . . . But the message is clear: When it comes to high school in MPS, raising the achievement levels and closing the huge ethnic gaps in success remains a severe challenge, and overall answers have been elusive. For all the focus on improvement locally and nationally in recent years - it's the driving idea behind the federal No Child Left Behind law and has spawned innumerable reforms in Milwaukee - the results are just plain weak. Flat. Troubling.

. . . .

MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said Monday that the signs of success at lower grades are evidence that the education plans now in place are beginning to work. It is important to stay the course, he has often said in recent months.

. . . .

So what else might be the answer?

More money? Per pupil spending is actually up, but staffing is down at most high schools, which means class sizes are larger in many cases and there are fewer adult figures around. A pinch on what is actually being provided for kids is visible in many schools.

Better safety? Efforts have increased in that area, with some signs that fresh steps are helping. But the problem of student behavior is huge, and the violence of the community keeps seeping into the schools.

Better-prepared kids? The dysfunctional and often just plain awful circumstances of many students' lives are a huge problem for schools. But if the solution starts at home and starts at the earliest ages, what do we do now about all these apathetic and/or angry teenagers who are reading far below grade level when they hit ninth grade?

Better teaching? That's the subject Andrekopoulos is stressing. As a visit to most any high school in MPS shows, the quality of teaching varies widely, from terrific to terrible, and overall efforts, local and national, to raise the quality have been mostly talk and not much action.

More concern? From low turnout at parent conferences to the almost total absence of audiences and speakers at three public hearings on the $1.2 billion MPS budget for next year, people every day are sending messages that they don't care, don't know what to do or don't think the education situation is worth their time. Yet it is hard to dismiss the observation that almost every successful education situation in the country, from suburbs to central cities, is one where there is an energized community around kids and schools.

So many questions. What a mystery this school failure remains!! What, oh what, is to be done!!

Now here are a few selected quotes from UW-M's New Indicators of Neighborhood Need in Zipcode 53206 on the problems that are ignored while we continue to blame the schools for not getting done what the schools can never do alone.

As New Indicators . . . points out in the introduction, "the 53206 ZIP code neighborhood serves as a bellwether for poverty changes in Milwaukee and nationally:"

Income and Poverty

The poverty guidelines provide the federal government’s estimate of the income level families require to meet their basic needs and are used to determine eligibility for federal support programs.

In 2005, the federal government set these guidelines at $12,830 for a two-person family, $16,060 for three persons, and $3,260 for each additional person in the family. These standards were used to determine the number of family tax filers showing income below the poverty line.

Over half of working families have incomes below poverty.

For the 4,824 single parent families with dependents, in zipcode 53206 in tax year 2005 about 48% of single tax filers with one dependent showed adjusted gross income (AGI) below the poverty level ($12,830 for two persons).

Over half (58%) of single filers with 2 dependents showed AGI below ($16,090 for three persons) and 63% (or more) of filers with three or more dependents had income below poverty.

When the number of filers claiming the state and federal earned income credit (EIC) was considered, the percentage of single parent families living in poverty was reduced to about 41% of filers with one dependent and 42% (or more) of filers with three or more dependents.

About 18% of married tax filers with one dependent showed adjusted gross income below the poverty level. About 24% of married filers with two dependents reported AGI below the poverty level, as did 37% (or more) of married filers with 3 or more dependents.
When inflation is considered, the real income earnings of residents in zipcode 53206 dropped by 18.5% over the 5-year period.

In 2005, income up 10% [for single filers] from the average of $15,902 in the 2000 tax year. After controlling for inflation the incomes remained nearly flat (with only an 0.5% improvement).

In 2005, income up 2% [for married filers] from an average of $40,447 in the 2000 tax year. After controlling for inflation, the average income for married tax filers showed a 6% decline.

When inflation is considered, the real income earnings of residents in zipcode 53206 dropped by 18.5% over the 5-year period.


78% of recent housing loans to owner-occupants are subprime or high interest.

Housing prices jumped 50% and more in last 3 years.
60 subprime lenders operating in Zipcode 53206.


90% of Jobs in the Zipcode Are Held by Non-Residents

Majority of Workers at 53206 Jobsites Are White, Resident Workforce Is Black

Public Assistance

The number of families receiving income support (AFDC or “W-2”) in July 2006 was the lowest seen since the W-2 program began and 87% below the 1994 levels.

The number of families receiving food stamp/Food Share benefits dropped from 4,612 in March 1994 to 2,934 in April 2000, or a 36% decline.


Since 1993, the number of individuals being released from state adult correctional facilities in zipcode 53206 has grown dramatically from 201 in 1993 to 879 in 2005, a 336% increase. Many [53%] subsequently return to prison. For most major crime areas, the numbers released each year in 53206 have tripled, although for individuals charged with “drug offenses only” the numbers have increased at an even higher rate (a 493% increase from 1993 to 2005).

For the 30 to 34 year old age group, 21% of the men from 53206 are reported in a state DOC facility, another 42% were previously incarcerated in a state correctional facility, and only 38% were never in an adult state correctional facility.

4% of ex-offenders have a valid driver’s license.

63% are not high school grads.

Jeb's Legacy: Testing Parlor Tricks and Fraudulent Test Scores

Palm Beach Post Staff Columnist

Friday, May 25, 2007

To: All believers

From: The Jeb Bush Legacy Disaster Response Team

Subject: FCAT under attack!

Bad news, disciples. The FCAT's out of the bag on last year's third-grade reading scores.

In case you haven't heard the news, our historic success in third-grade literacy has been exposed as a testing parlor trick.

What an outrage - that somebody would make this unscripted public disclosure. How dare they attempt to tarnish an education plan that has already been self-graded as an A-plus-plus!

Why do they hate education so much?

This would have never happened if Jeb's team was left in place for legacy protection. But the purpose of this memo isn't to lament about the past. It's to spring into action, so we can protect the future.

The first order of business is to distance Jeb from those fraudulent reading scores from last year.

This won't be easy, because he made a point of citing the bogus results as evidence that standardized testing works. So we'll be busy erasing his tracks on this.

Start by shredding. If we can get rid of all the evidence, it may be possible to pretend that Jeb was never very impressed at all with the inflated results that three-quarters of the state's third-graders were reading at or above grade level.

Begin by rounding up copies of the May 1 press release Florida's Department of Education issued last year. It features Jeb and his Education Commissioner John Winn crowing about the reading gains as "the largest number in state history."

Jeb is quoted: "What an outstanding year of progress for our third-grade students and teachers. They deserve five gold stars."

If we're unsuccessful in destroying evidence of that news release, our fallback position will be spin control.

We can say that Jeb quoted himself out of context. And that what he meant to say was: "They deserve five gold stars if it turns out they actually took a fair test and not one engineered with so many simple questions that satisfactory performance in reading among third-graders jumped up by more than the three previous years combined."

Jeb also credited the dramatic gains in test scores to his statewide reading program, Just Read, Florida!, which began in 2001.

"We're shattering myths again," he said. "I think we're proving we're a state where all kids can learn."

In your revision of the historical record, please amend that last sentence to read "where all kids can learn, or at least be given the appearance of learning through the application of a carefully designed test to show incremental progress."

We also have a photo problem on our hands. Unfortunately, Jeb posed for photos highlighting the fake reading gains.

You'll want to wipe out all those staged photos of Jeb and Winn standing in front of a big poster board that shows the number "46,000" in big red letters, which allegedly was the number of third-graders readers who had been brought up to speed by the magic of the FCAT.

And you'll also want to wipe out that reference to the dramatic gains in third-grade reading in the press release that announces the passage of his most recent education plan. Both houses in the Florida Legislature voted on that plan just three days after Jeb held the news conference to announce the bogus gains in third-grade reading.

Not that there is any connection to the bogus FCAT results being praised three days before Jeb's education bill came up for a vote. That's merely a coincidence.

Now, get to work. And hurry. Because of this mess, there's going to be a first-ever audit of the FCAT. So there's no telling how busy we may be.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Queen of "Cheery Vagueness"

The only problem with this Dan Brown piece is that, in the end, he seems to suggest there is some reason to only mistrust Republicans on NCLB:

I watched Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings's interview with Jon Stewart on Tuesday night's Daily Show with my jaw on the table. Her cheery vagueness and then double-talk backpedaling when Jon Stewart asked direct and important questions struck me as weird and frightening for someone with so much power over American children's lives.

Stewart cut to the heart of the No Child Left Behind crisis by asking if she observed the problem that the law was "moving the schools just for the [standardized] tests?"

Spellings nodded as if she really understood what he was saying and then recited a non-sequitur talking point: "There is some of that, people saying that we're narrowing the curriculum, but I know that if we're not teaching kids how to read they can't do social studies or history or any of that other stuff."

Earth to Secretary Spellings: teaching to the test and teaching reading are not even close to the same thing! Under NCLB, schools live and die based on test scores, causing administrators and teachers to fixate on test preparation. Kids get force-fed a stultifying litany of test-taking-strategies packets, and many understandably detach from school. Indeed, the content of their school days has no relevance for preparing them for life, only for preparing for a test. This is not a successful formula to teach kids to read, keep them attending school, or "any of that other stuff."

Stewart asked what is the most vexing part of the education puzzle, and if given a magic wand, what would Spellings change with a wave.

The Education Secretary instantly went for the company line: "Low expectations, what the president calls the soft bigotry of low expectations...Seriously, we have to expect more from our kids."


Spellings seemed uncomfortable with Stewart's question and replied, "I think a lot of times the system does, especially for kids that have been left behind already... poor kids... and that's what we have to be about!"

What a hollow promise to make to a generation of struggling, at-risk students and their families. The White House clearly sent Spellings on a PR mission to plug No Child Left Behind as it nears renewal, but she either wasn't ready or wasn't willing to actually break down the serious debates on the core of the legislation.

A cursory background sketch on Spellings reveals her never to have earned a degree in education or been a classroom teacher. Her official government bio begins, "As the first mother of school-aged children to serve as Education Secretary, Spellings has a special appreciation for the hopes and concerns of American families." Forget qualifications on how to educate a nation; she's a mom!

The most important detail about Secretary Spellings is that she was the political director for George W. Bush's first gubernatorial run in Texas, and then served as a senior political adviser for him from 1995 to 2000. Get past the charming Texas drawl and you reveal an inner-circle Bush loyalist/ideologue.

America needs to make a racket on fixing No Child Left Behind and demanding a rigorous discourse from our presidential candidates. The government people at the podium right now don't deserve our trust. Imagine the movie preview guy's voice booming: "From the creators of the War in Iraq...From the people who ardently support such American heroes as Alberto Gonzales, Paul Wolfowitz, and Scooter Libby... Comes a bighearted policy that will leave...no...child...behind!"

Watch the Daily Show interview here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ohio Charter Founder Gets the Orange Jumpsuit

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The Rev. Mark Olds, who gained a national reputation for helping ex-cons, is headed back to prison himself after a jury found him guilty Wednesday of stealing $1.4 million from the state.

The jury in U.S. District Court needed less than four hours to convict Olds on all 62 counts, including mail fraud, money laundering and tax charges.

The minister at Second Ebeneezer Baptist Church lied about the number of students enrolled at the Cleveland Academy of Math, Science and Technology, a charter school he started in 2002.

Olds claimed he had up to 650 students when he never had more than 150, Assistant U.S. Attorney Arturo Hernandez said. That resulted in an overpayment of $1.4 million from the state. . . .

Another FCAT Blooper and A New "Panel of Experts"

How corrupt and incompetent does it have to get before parents say, Hell NO? Last year's staggering gains would have never been challenged without this year's staggering losses:

State education officials said Wednesday they botched one of last year's FCAT tests, potentially affecting everything from school grades and student retention to whether Florida schools passed federal standards under the No Child Left Behind Act.

As a remedy, they promised that from now on, an independent panel of experts would audit every FCAT each year to make sure there are no future glitches.

"This is going to be a new practice from this point forward, " Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg said in a press conference this morning. "We feel like this is one more step in terms of best practices."

Wednesday's announcement overshadowed the release of FCAT scores in reading, math and science and promised to put the FCAT - already unpopular with parents and teachers - even more under the microscope.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Give Sen. Kennedy and the Dems an Earful on NCLB

I got this personalized letter today from my good friend, Senator Kennedy, who is asking my opinion on the important issues of the day. Believe it or not, when you go to the survey, there is a question (and comment box) on "Education Reform." Please take the time to let Senator Kennedy hear from you on NCLB by clicking on the survey link in the letter:

Dear Jim,

One of the most important goals of the Committee for a Democratic Majority is to create on online community that can work together to build on our victories last November.

I also wanted the Committee to give you -- the Democratic Majority across our country -- an opportunity to speak out on the issues that you believe are the most important.

I want to make sure we're doing all we can to achieve our shared goals. To do so, it would also be very helpful to know a little more about you.

Will you let us know what you think we should be doing, and a little more about yourself?


The Committee for a Democratic Majority should not just represent my views -- but the views of millions of Americans who stood up last year and insisted that our country change direction. From fighting to end the war to reforming our broken student loan system, I think we've made a good start, but I know we can do more.

This survey is meant to help us learn who you are and what you want us to do as we move closer to the 2008 election cycle. I need your frank views as you answer these questions. The more accurate the results are, the better we will be able to focus our efforts.

Please take a minute to answer the Committee for a Democratic Majority survey:


Thank you for your help in putting America back on track. I look forward very much to your responses.


Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Boys' Rights and the Gender Segregation Movement

With re-subordination of women one of the chief planks of the right-wing socio-political agenda, it is not surprising to see the use of pop psychologists and huckster-theorists to justify the spread of schools segregated by gender. Take this one line from a long piece in The Detroit Free Press as an example of non-scientific mush that provides the rationale for turning back the gender clock to the 19th Century:
. . . The research Strean cites shows that boys tend to be right-brain dominant, making them better able to deal with spatial thinking and more mechanically inclined. Testosterone tends to make them more aggressive and competitive.

In girls, the left brain, which deals with verbal skills, tends to be dominant. Physiological differences, research shows, also make girls' brains more inclined to regulate anger and aggression and more involved with emotion and memory.. . .

If your crap detector hasn't gone off yet, you'd better check your batteries. According to the emerging orthodoxy, girls are perfectly suited to the testing factories and the intellectual and behavioral chain gangs that we have converted schools into, but boys need environments where their juiced cerebellums can put them into action, rather than passivity.

For an antidote to this stupidity, have a look here at Jaana Goodrich's short piece from American Prospect 10/22/06:

REMEMBER TITLE IX, THE FEDERAL LEGISLATION that guarantees equality by sex in education? It was passed in 1972, on the heels of racial integration, and with a rather similar rationale: Separate was not deemed to be equal either in law or in educational outcomes. By 1995, only three sex-segregated public schools remained.

Fast forward to September 2006, and what do you find? More than 40 totally sex-segregated public schools and another 200 with sex-segregated classes in topics other than sex education or sports. What happened? Have we backpedaled on gender equality in education?

Conservatives would say that we have gone too far in the other direction. Christine Hoff-Sommers regards the coeducational classrooms as battlefields and boys as the losers of these battles. A new movement advocating more single-sex schools explains why: biological determinism. According to pop psychologists Michael Gurian and Leonard Sax, prophets of this movement, girls and boys have such inherently different brains that they must be educated separately. Boys, from Mars, thrive on hierarchical structure, abstract thought, and stress. Girls, from Venus, thrive in relaxed situations (take off those shoes), do best with very concrete examples, and can't take stress. Sax wants teachers to yell at boys and to provide sofas for girls. Because of the blue and pink brains, you know.

Too bad that the scientific evidence underlying these recommendations is unclear at best and nonexistent at worst. Mark Liberman, on the Web site Language Log, takes apart some of the bad science Sax uses in his popular book Why Gender Matters. He also points out that any average sex differences in learning styles are small and swamped by individual variations within each sex. Likewise, Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin reviewed 46 meta-analyses of sex differences in cognition and found the two sexes more similar than different, and a recent international study of single-sex schools failed to show them outperforming coed schools for either boys or girls. A study by Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank, found that on average, boys are doing just fine, with increasing test scores and more college degrees, though low-income boys deserve more help.

If this is true, where did the idea of a boy crisis come from? From sloppy research and our discomfort with the idea of girls doing even better, the study answers. Those supporting single-sex schools these days have modeled their campaign on the Title IX effort of three decades ago: They claim that the coeducational school system is discriminatory--but this time the victims are male. Just consider the list of Gurian's recent publications: The Minds of Boys, The Wonder of Boys, The Wonder of Girls, The Good Son, and What Stories Does My Son Need. Sax's new book, to be published in 2007, is Boys Adrift: What's Really Behind the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys. Single-sex schools are expected to solve this so-called boy crisis in education.

So far, the Bush administration has been all too eager to apply itself to this conservative crisis. Thus, in 2004, it proposed changes to the way Title IX can be interpreted within the No Child Left Behind program, and it is also offering funds for school districts wishing to experiment with single-sex education. (States from Louisiana to Michigan have expressed interest.) We are soon to hear more about these new interpretations. If they become funding guidelines, it would be perfectly OK for a school district to offer a single-sex option as long as the other sex is offered something "substantially" equal. As far as I know, nobody knows what "substantially" means here, and that is the worry. Would it be "substantially" equal to offer one gender smaller class sizes and more teachers than the other sex? What about offering the two genders different content in their classes, perhaps based on unscientific stereotypes about boys and girls?

None of this probably bothers the Republican Party's socially conservative base. Social conservatives already view gender roles as innately determined and single-sex schools fit admirably into their sexual abstinence agenda. Neither are conservative anti-feminists likely to be upset over these developments: Anything that pokes a finger in the eye of second-wave feminists with their claims of equal treatment for girls and boys is fun for this group.

No, it's for the rest of us to worry whether separate can ever mean equal. Poor Title IX. How low you have fallen.

For a more extensive smackdown of the "imperiled male theory," see Michael Kimmel's excellent piece in Dissent, who points out that, where education really counts (the Ivys), males still dominate. Here is the heart of Kimmel's argument:

. . . .If boys are doing worse, whose fault is it? To many of the current critics, it's women's fault, either as feminists, as mothers, or as both. Feminists, we read, have been so successful that the earlier "chilly classroom climate" has now become overheated to the detriment of boys. Feminist-inspired programs have enabled a whole generation of girls to enter the sciences, medicine, law, and the professions; to continue their education; to imagine careers outside the home. But in so doing, these same feminists have pathologized boyhood. Elementary schools are, we read, "anti-boy"-emphasizing reading and restricting the movements of young boys. They "feminize" boys, forcing active, healthy, and naturally exuberant boys to conform to a regime of obedience, "pathologizing what is simply normal for boys," as one psychologist puts it. Schools are an "inhospitable" environment for boys, writes Christina Hoff Sommers, where their natural propensities for rough-and-tumble play, competition, aggression, and rambunctious violence are cast as social problems in the making. Michael Gurian argues in The Wonder of Boys, that, with testosterone surging through their little limbs, we demand that they sit still, raise their hands, and take naps. We're giving them the message, he says, that "boyhood is defective." By the time they get to college, they've been steeped in anti-male propaganda. "Why would any self-respecting boy want to attend one of America's increasingly feminized universities?" asks George Gilder in National Review. The American university is now a "fluffy pink playpen of feminist studies and agitprop 'herstory,' taught amid a green goo of eco-motherism ..."

Such claims sound tinnily familiar. At the turn of the last century, cultural critics were concerned that the rise of white-collar businesses meant increasing indolence for men, whose sons were being feminized by mothers and female teachers. Then, as now, the solutions were to find arenas in which boys could simply be boys, and where men could be men as well. So fraternal lodges offered men a homo-social sanctuary, and dude ranches and sports provided a place where these sedentary men could experience what Theodore Roosevelt called the strenuous life. Boys could troop off with the Boy Scouts, designed as a fin-de-si├Ęcle "boys' liberation movement." Modern society was turning hardy, robust boys, as Boy Scouts' founder Ernest Thompson Selon put it, into "a lot of flat chested cigarette smokers with shaky nerves and doubtful vitality." Today, women teachers are once again to blame for boys' feminization. "It's the teacher's job to create a classroom environment that accommodates both male and female energy, not just mainly female energy," explains Gurian.

WHAT'S WRONG with this picture? Well, for one thing, it creates a false opposition between girls and boys, assuming that educational reforms undertaken to enable girls to perform better hinder boys' educational development. But these reforms-new classroom arrangements, teacher training, increased attentiveness to individual learning styles-actually enable larger numbers of boys to get a better education. Though the current boy advocates claim that schools used to be more "boy friendly" before all these "feminist" reforms, they obviously didn't go to school in those halcyon days, the 1950s, say, when the classroom was far more regimented, corporal punishment common, and teachers far more authoritarian; they even gave grades for "deportment." Rambunctious boys were simply not tolerated; they dropped out.

Gender stereotyping hurts both boys and girls. If there is a zero-sum game, it's not because of some putative feminization of the classroom. The net effect of the No Child Left Behind Act has been zero-sum competition, as school districts scramble to stretch inadequate funding, leaving them little choice but to cut noncurricular programs so as to ensure that curricular mandates are followed. This disadvantages "rambunctious" boys, because many of these programs are after-school athletics, gym, and recess. And cutting "unnecessary" school counselors and other remedial programs also disadvantages boys, who compose the majority of children in behavioral and remedial educational programs. The problem of inadequate school funding lies not at feminists' door, but in the halls of Congress. This is further compounded by changes in the insurance industry, which often pressure therapists to put children on medication for ADHD rather than pay for expensive therapy.

Another problem is that the frequently cited numbers are misleading. More people-that is, males and females-are going to college than ever before. In 1960, 54 percent of boys and 38 percent of girls went directly to college; today the numbers are 64 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls. It is true that the rate of increase among girls is higher than the rate of increase among boys, but the numbers are increasing for both.

The gender imbalance does not obtain at the nation's most elite colleges and universities, where percentages for men and women are, and have remained, similar. Of the top colleges and universities in the nation, only Stanford sports a fifty-fifty gender balance. Harvard and Amherst enroll 56 percent men, Princeton and Chicago 54 percent men, Duke and Berkeley 52 percent, and Yale 51 percent. In science and engineering, the gender imbalance still tilts decidedly toward men: Cal Tech is 65 percent male and 35 percent female; MIT is 62 percent male, 38 percent female. . . .