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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Another Year Older and Deeper in Death

Today's NY Times editorial, Looking for America:

There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. Sunday was one of them, as we read the account in The Times of how men in some of the most trusted posts in the nation plotted to cover up the torture of prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators by destroying videotapes of their sickening behavior. It was impossible to see the founding principles of the greatest democracy in the contempt these men and their bosses showed for the Constitution, the rule of law and human decency.

It was not the first time in recent years we’ve felt this horror, this sorrowful sense of estrangement, not nearly. This sort of lawless behavior has become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001.

The country and much of the world was rightly and profoundly frightened by the single-minded hatred and ingenuity displayed by this new enemy. But there is no excuse for how President Bush and his advisers panicked — how they forgot that it is their responsibility to protect American lives and American ideals, that there really is no safety for Americans or their country when those ideals are sacrificed.

Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.

In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.

We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review.

Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force doctors to abdicate their professional oaths and responsibilities to prepare prisoners for abuse, and then to monitor the torment to make sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually kill them.

The White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national unity to ram laws through Congress that gave law-enforcement agencies far more power than they truly needed to respond to the threat — and at the same time fulfilled the imperial fantasies of Vice President Dick Cheney and others determined to use the tragedy of 9/11 to arrogate as much power as they could.

Hundreds of men, swept up on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, were thrown into a prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, so that the White House could claim they were beyond the reach of American laws. Prisoners are held there with no hope of real justice, only the chance to face a kangaroo court where evidence and the names of their accusers are kept secret, and where they are not permitted to talk about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of American jailers.

In other foreign lands, the C.I.A. set up secret jails where “high-value detainees” were subjected to ever more barbaric acts, including simulated drowning. These crimes were videotaped, so that “experts” could watch them, and then the videotapes were destroyed, after consultation with the White House, in the hope that Americans would never know.

The C.I.A. contracted out its inhumanity to nations with no respect for life or law, sending prisoners — some of them innocents kidnapped on street corners and in airports — to be tortured into making false confessions, or until it was clear they had nothing to say and so were let go without any apology or hope of redress.

These are not the only shocking abuses of President Bush’s two terms in office, made in the name of fighting terrorism. There is much more — so much that the next president will have a full agenda simply discovering all the wrongs that have been done and then righting them.

We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably. Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see, once again, the reflection of the United States of America.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Edwards Surges Ahead

Latest Iowa poll from McClatchy. Click graphic to enlarge.

Flash! BLOOMBERG ENDS [the meaning of] POVERTY

If you are in the market to become the Republocrat Savior of the Poor, here's one way to do it: Just redefine what "poor" means so that your interventions can show the desired effect. From the NY Times:

The Bloomberg administration, frustrated by the federal government’s Great Society method of determining who is poor, is developing its own measure, which city officials say will offer a more modern and accurate picture of poverty.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wants to adopt the new measure in part so he can better assess whether the tens of millions of dollars the city plans to spend on new anti-poverty programs will improve poor people’s standard of living. . . .

. . . .Though city officials insist they are approaching this undertaking without bias, it is almost impossible to separate the process from politics. . . .

You think? If this doesn't work, how about some poverty report cards? I hear that Attorney Liebman has some ideas on that.

NY Times Letters on NCLB Testing

From a parent and a professor, to the NY Times:

To the Editor:

Teachers are not the only ones pushing for changes to the No Child Left Behind Act (“Democrats Make Bush School Act an Election Issue,” front page, Dec. 23).

The National School Boards Association and National PTA have worked for years to reform this law. As a mother of three and local school board member, I am strongly opposed to President Bush’s underfinanced mandate, which labels schools as “failing” and entices students to transfer out.

The highest-income and most mobile students tend to leave, putting schools and children left behind into a tailspin, with fewer resources for the students who need the most.

The labels are highly misleading. Is a school truly failing if a few students do not take a test?

Yes, we must remain accountable for the achievement of all students. But endless standardized testing and destructive measures disguised as support are undermining efforts in every community to provide a quality public education for all children.

Ruth Adkins
Portland, Ore., Dec. 23, 2007

To the Editor:

No debate: the No Child Left Behind Act has not worked.

“Democrats Make Bush School Act an Election Issue” (front page, Dec. 23) notes that “policy makers debate whether the law has raised student achievement.”

There is no debate among those who have looked at the data. The law has not produced improvements on state or national reading tests, nor have achievement gaps been narrowed. There has also been no change on American fourth graders’ scores on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study tests from 2001 to 2006. (No Child Left Behind was introduced in the 2002-3 school year.)

Despite huge increases in instructional time and billions of dollars spent, there have been no improvements.

Stephen Krashen
Los Angeles, Dec. 23, 2007
The writer is professor emeritus of education at the University of Southern California.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fenty-Rhee's Divide and Conquer Strategy

There is nothing that the Washington education voucher zealots and charterizers fear more than the unified voice of DC parents and concerned citizens. The people of DC have the power to say NO to the abandonment of their schools, and Fenty-Rhee know it.

So instead of having a city-wide meeting to discuss the closing of 23 schools on this year's Fenty-Rhee cut list, the privatizers are planning 23 meetings to be held simultaneously.

Will parents boycott and picket all meetings? Will parents keep their children home until a commitment is made to save public education in D. C., rather than destroy it? Will parents demand that Fenty be recalled and Rhee sacked? Stay tuned.

John Edwards and America Rising from the Misled

While corporate commentators like Chris Mathews squirm at the new poll showing Edwards surging to share the lead in Iowa, it is entirely predictable to hear him demean John Edwards supporters as hard-ankled clods in pickup trucks. That kind of corporate media editorializing, however, does not stop the hard clear message against corporate greed and the corporate welfare state that is being heard in Iowa and beyond.

Just as corporate greed was behind the effort to privatize Social Security, it, too, is bankrolling the education privatization effort in K-12 and in higher education. Turning education as a civic commitment to our citizens into a half-trillion dollar a year private commodity controlled by Wall Street is just another part of the Grover Whitehurst nightmare vision of the corporate welfare state.

If civic virtue and a democratic republic are to survive against greed, self-aggrandizing corruption, and corporate socialism, the political choice could not be clearer. To save America, it will take one America, one Coalition of the Unwilling, composed of working and middle class families, professionals and production workers, technologists and theoreticians, all intent upon America Rising from the Misled. And that is what the manipulative insider beltway hacks like Mathews and the mercenaries of K Street fear most because it represents a unified America whose goals and aims challenge the privileges of wealth, race, or religion.

From ABC:

. . . . ABC News spoke to Edwards on his way to his "closing argument" speech in Dubuque in which the candidate argued that his aggressive populism is necessary for the country, a message that he summed up as: "We have to stop the corporate greed that's killing the middle class in America."

Edwards told a friendly crowd at the Colt Drum & Bugle Corps Center in downtown Dubuque that "if we elect another president appointed by the status quo -- from either party -- the middle-class will fall further behind and our children will pay the price. ... Real change is going to take a real fight. It always does."

Implicit in his speech were criticisms of Clinton and Obama, with whom Edwards is locked in a three-way fight, according to local polls. Edwards' crowds seem to be growing, and anecdotally other campaigns say they see an uptick in his support in their internal campaign-tracking polls.

"To get real change, we need a president who will stand up against the big corporations and powerful interests that control Washington. Nobody who takes their money and defends the broken system is going to bring change," Edwards said, in a shot at the former first lady.

"And unfortunately," Edwards continued in his speech, turning his sights to Obama, "nobody who thinks we can just sit down and talk them into compromise is going to bring change either."

Edwards acknowledged in the interview that he was projecting a sunnier demeanor in these closing weeks of the campaign than previously when it came to criticism of his rivals. But he insisted his language against "the entrenched interests" is just "as aggressive and passionate." . . . .

Friday, December 28, 2007

NYC 3rd Graders Take 12 Tests Per Year

From Newsday:
NEW YORK (AP) _ The city's public school students are facing too many standardized tests, many of which are mandated by the city but not required by law, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said Thursday in releasing an analysis of the tests.

"Our schools have turned somewhat into testing factories," Gotbaum said, emphasizing that her concern was that teachers were focusing on the tests at the expense of subjects not covered by the exams.

In her analysis, Gotbaum said city third-graders were taking 12 tests an academic year, including nine city assessment tests. Fourth-graders and eighth-graders had six city tests a year, she said.

Gotbaum said she wasn't against standardized testing, but "we don't need to go overboard" and she urged the city Department of Education to scale back. . . . .

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Military Followership in Chicago Schools

From RawStory by Muriel Kane and David Edwards:
In a controversial new program, the city of Chicago has opened five public schools since 1999 based on a military academy model. Over 10,000 students attend the schools, which offer college preparatory courses combined with a military curriculum.

According to the Chicago Tribune, "military personnel work at the schools as teachers and administrators, and all academy students must enlist in the Junior ROTC, wear a military uniform and take a daily ROTC course that includes lessons on leadership, character development, drug prevention and military history."

Former army officer Paul Stroh, now principal of the Marine Military Academy, told PBS that the school's aim is to produce graduates who will become leaders of their communities. Parents interviewed by PBS agreed that the school gives their children special opportunities to succeed, while the students described the chance to take on leadership roles as "really cool."

However, Pauline Lipman, a professor at the University of Illinois, is disturbed by the almost exclusively minority and inner-city focus of the program. "Why are they good schools for low-income, African-American and Latino students and not good school for affluent white kids?" she asks. "Are we saying that those students need a different kind of discipline?"

Lipman and Darlene Gramigna of the American Friends Service Committee are both concerned about the militarization of the school system and suspect that the program is intended as a tool for military recruitment. "It would be really naive to think that the military would, in fact, be expanding these schools and these programs if the schools were not about recruiting students," said Lipman.

However, those running the program insist that its focus is on college prep, not on recruitment, and students agree that they feel absolutely no pressure to enlist. Statistics at a Junior ROTC website indicate that in 2007, only 4% of graduates went into the military, while 78% went on to college.

Academic performance is also an issue, with critics noting that students at the military academies still perform below average on state-wide tests, but supporters of the program say that scores are rising.

Perhaps most important, the level of violence in these schools is dramatically down, and demand among students to attend is far outstripping the number of places available.

A transcript of the PBS Newshour report is here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Hope for the Holidays and Far Beyond

Out of crisis we are often forced to do what we could have done long before had such a crisis earlier made it necessary. Usually the big crises bring men together to kill one another in the brotherhood of wicked convergence we call war.

Now we are coming together hopefully to fully engage in another kind of war, for which there is none in human history so important to win. It is a war to save ourselves and one another and the creation we have abused, rather than to kill and maim our brothers and sisters. Perhaps, in saving our own asses, then, we will learn learn together and learn to live together (as Justice T. Marshall would have it). Probably not, but, god, what possibility!

From Claudia Deutsch for the New York Times:

It is a basic tenet of university research: Economists conduct joint studies, chemists join forces in the laboratory, political scientists share ideas about other cultures — but rarely do the researchers cross disciplinary lines.

The political landscape of academia, combined with the fight for grant money, has always fostered competition far more than collaboration.

But the threat of global warming may just change all that.

Take what’s happening at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In September the school established the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, aimed at getting students and professors from different disciplines to collaborate in studying the environmental ramifications of production and consumption.

“The academic tradition is to let one discipline dominate new programs,” said Nabil Nasr, the institute’s director. “But the problem of sustainability cuts across economics, social elements, engineering, everything. It simply cannot be solved by one discipline, or even by coupling two disciplines.”

Neil Hawkins, Dow Chemical’s vice president for sustainability, sees it that way, too. Thus, Dow is giving $10 million, spread over five years, to the University of California, Berkeley, to set up a sustainability center.

“Berkeley has one of the strongest chemical engineering schools in the world, but it will be the M.B.A.’s who understand areas like microfinance solutions to drinking water problems,” Mr. Hawkins said.

That realization is spreading throughout academia. So more universities are setting up stand-alone centers that offer neutral ground on which engineering students can work on alternative fuels while business students calculate the economics of those fuels and political science majors figure how to make the fuels palatable to governments in both developing nations and America’s states.

“We give professors a chance to step beyond their usual areas of expertise, and we give students exposure to the worlds of science and business,” said Daniel C. Esty, director of the year-old Yale Center for Business and the Environment, a joint effort between the School of Management and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. . . .

Monday, December 24, 2007

Why the Wall Street Journal Loves to Hate Public Education

A few newspapers (more foreign than domestic) carried stories this week on the record bonuses being carted off by Wall Street execs this Xmas season, just days after the Fed fed the quaking and corrupted banks fresh bundle of dough to make their holidays brighter and their complicity in the mortgage pyramid scheme seem a little less prominent. If they won't loan to each other, just let the Fed feed all of them, right?

Such good will toward corporate CEOs points up the reality of modern-day capitalism, where all the benefits are absorbed by insiders and all the risks are taken by outsiders: that is we, the outsider people, who function as the liability insurance policies for every failed scam that our MBA loan sharks can devise in order to rob from the working and the poor. That is how this Xmas season 2 million people are faced with losing their homes, while CEOs are receiving record bonuses despite the worst year in decades for shareholders:
(Long Island, N.Y.) Wall Street had its worst year in a decade but that didn’t effect bonus checks which rose 14 percent on average. You would have thought that the worst year in decades may have warrented no bonuses this year, but that just wasn’t the case at all.

Approximately 60 percent of the $49.6 billion in compensation the four biggest US investment banks will pay this year is for bonuses. That relates to approximately $30 billion in bonuses and that is only from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Bear Stearns Cos., and Morgan Stanley.

Interesting enough, investors that held these banks’ stocks this year saw them spiral down by practically 45 percent. And, the stocks have not quit falling. Investors surely can’t be happy with losing on their stocks while bank executives rake in their portion of $30 billion in bonuses. . . .

None of this is of interest to the Editorial Board of the once-great Wall Street Journal. In fact, they are focused this season, not on accountability for Wall Street scamming and outright thievery, but, rather, on making poor children and public employees accountable in the neglected and crumbling public schools of the Nation's Capitol.

In a fawning tribute to the new DC Schools Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, the WSJ did what it does best through its editorial pages: 1) divert attention from the excesses of a tornadic and rampaging consumer capitalism, 2) advance the interests of the Oligarchs of the corporate welfare state, and, 3) promote the virtues of selfishness at the expense of democratic institutions. And Michelle Rhee is a perfect acolyte. She is smart, ruthless, and blinded by her own naive zeal and iron ambition, qualities that recommended her in the first place to head up the destruction of public education in Washington, DC.

So while Michelle Rhee, egged on by a Mayor who is in the pocket of the plutocrats, finalizes plans for firing whomever she wishes and closing whatever schools she chooses, the WSJ Editorial Board celebrates accountability in action, individual choice in practice, and social justice on the move in DC. What they do not focus on (besides the corporate sewer that feeds them) is the dictatorial and anti-democratic seizing of power by the Mayor, the cheap charter chain gang schools that are offered as the only "choices" to crumbling and neglected public schools for poor children, or the marginal private schools or religious schools that are the only other "choices" for the children who have been handed annual vouchers that would buy 9 weeks of tuition in a top notch private school. And what does Rhee have to say?:
"For way too long in this country, choice in education was something that was reserved for rich people in the suburbs"

One has to wonder if she said that with a straight face. The WSJ editorial closing with this fawning flourish:

People have tried to get her to commit to a ratio of public schools to charter schools. Ms. Rhee won't play that game. "I don't enter this with defensiveness, about protecting [D.C. public schools'] share of the market. I believe we should proliferate what's working and close down what's not. Period."

She says she keeps hearing from worried city council members that some teachers and administrators are frightened of her. They are feeling pressure and that's a problem. Her answer? Get used to it. "I'm going to hold people accountable and I'm going to hold their feet to the fire. If they're feeling pressure--good! I feel pressure every day because I have the education of 49,000 kids in my hands."

And if she fails to deliver the pre-approved solution of disbanding the public schools, she might find herself teaching school again, who knows. Michelle Rhee could, indeed, become the new model public administrator, offering an exemplar on how to cross the unsteady moat into the protected castle of private privilege. She may, indeed, become the new poster girl for how to crush what is in your hand and below your boot in order to power your way to the Top.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mr. Big, WordGirl, and Imagineering

Last evening Benjamin Barber was on with Bill Moyers talking about the imminent suicide in the works for American capitalism. While some capitalists work to create products that people actually need to make their lives more livable, the American model is based on using advertising to manufacture a need that no one has until they view the ad. See Elmo and IPhone.

WordGirl, the PBS cartoon superhero actually has a great children's explanation of the phenomenon, but unfortunately, the villainous businessman, Mr. Big, is the only villain we cannot view on any of the clips from the PBS site. I guess we wouldn't want children to start questioning buying practices right around Xmas. So here is Bill Moyers's summary:

On this weekend before Christmas, I'm struck by a paradox. The news is not so joyous. Housing prices and home sales down…more foreclosures predicted…oil near $100 a barrel…the dollar's sinking food prices rising recession looming and yet, on television, and just about everywhere we look, people squeezed to the breaking point are constantly being told to buy buy buy.

AD: Why not let your kids decide?

BILL MOYERS: And if necessary, to go into hock to do it.

AD: Its easy! Even if you've been turned down before, you could be driving."

BILL MOYERS: Commercials even go out of their way to make adults into children and children into consumers.

AD: Make sure you get the right highlighter.


BILL MOYERS: There is some resistance to this constant commercializing. Watching early morning cartoons with my grandchildren the other day, I discovered word girl the PBS series of a fifth grade superhero fighting evil with her amazing vocabulary

WORLDGIRL: Listen for the words vague and specific

BILL MOYERS: In this episode, the villain, Mr. Big, has flooded the market with a brand new product called 'the thing' which everyone has to have

WORLDGIRL EXCERPT: "THE THING" can do all sorts of stuff! Get one today at a low, low price.

BILL MOYERS: What is it? No one knows or seems to care but as commercials for the thing hit the airwaves, citizens everywhere are seduced into believing they can't live without it, so they descend in droves to buy as many as they can get. Enter: Word Girl!

WORDGIRL: Everyone stop, you're being tricked! The Thing doesn't do anything!

PERSON 1: Yes it does! It does so much stuff!

PERSON 2: The commercial says I needed one for my boat!

WORDGIRL: You don't have a boat!

PERSON 2: Hon, we need a boat for our THING!

WORDGIRL: You don't need a THING!

PERSON 2: But the commercial says !

BILL MOYERS: Watching all this, it seemed a good time to put in a call to Benjamin Barber. Like WordGirl, he's standing athwart history and shouting stop.

You may remember Benjamin Barber from his international best seller, JIHAD VERSUS MCWORLD. Among other things, he's a renowned political theorist and a distinguished senior fellow at Demos — a public policy think tank here in New York City.

His latest book is CONSUMED, about how the global economy produces too many goods we don't need, too few of those we do need, and, to keep the racket going, targets children as consumers in a market where shopping is a twenty-four hour business. Capitalism, he says, "seems quite literally to be consuming itself, leaving democracy in peril and the fate of citizens uncertain." Benjamin Barber answered my call - and he's with me now.

The same kind of consumer capitalism and marketeering has struck our civic establishments, including our educational institutions. Choice is first, the customer is always right, and control of market share is based on convincing the customer you have a better deal for him than the next guy. In K-12 education, such thinking is quickly eroding the civic responsibility for educating the nation's children toward perpetuation of the moral and political values of the Republic. Never mind that the charter choices and the voucher choices never get close to offering the pickings of the wealthy who can afford real choices. Charters and vouchers are choices for the poor and are made attractive by advertisers and media and the New York Times, all intent upon keeping the poor quiet and invisible. How else to explain the NY Times headline, "Charter Schools Outshine Others as They Receive Their First Report Cards," when the story goes on to tell how the City cherry-picked 13 charters to get the superior results they need to justify their charterizing.

The marketeering has struck the American university as well, and the advertising battle for students will undoubtedly continue to yield "new and improved" program configurations that can be completed by consumer students in less time with less sacrifice and with more convenience for the consumer/student. Never mind that the adjuncts hired to teach these "technology-rich" courses are choking on the keyboarded and semi-literate "dialogue" that students churn out while lounging in their jammies on the sofa. If the time were actually counted for these overworked adjuncts and instructors in these techno courses, it would probably be less than minimum wage at most universities.

Of course, the Top Tier universities do not have to clamor for customers and, therefore, are not forced to compete in the great unwashed marketplace of compressed credentials. So while the less endowed colleges and universities actively battle with their compression algorithms in the enrollment wars, the Top Tier benefit from a national marketing strategy that has convinced a public, now bulging, yet hungry for more stuff, that a college degree is the THING that everyone needs, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The degree THING does stuff and gets you stuff, right? But we all know the REAL THING only exists in those colleges and universities that don't have to compete for customers, where, in fact, the customers are competing to get enrolled so that they can get the REAL THING.

In the meantime, those who don't have a chance to get the THING, and certainly not the REAL THING, become acquiescent to their fate, and thus, quite convinced to take anything offered them as a way to survive the American dream that no one will wake them from. And those who do get their THING? They find out that everyone they know already has one, too, and it really doesn't do most of the stuff that it was supposed to do. And all those expensive texts and books that haven't been sold back yet? They will go into rental storage or portable storage with all the other THINGS that we have traded the best parts of our souls to obtain. Did you hear that Britney's sister is pregnant?

So our brand of capitalism is entirely bankrupt, and it is only a matter of time until the final death rattle sets in unless things change. But being the avid and ever-optimistic educator, I know change is possible. One small example provided by Benjamin Barber last evening: Life Straws.

Remember that capitalism used to be about creating and providing products the people actually need? What do most people need now for which there is a great shortage that is likely to get worse? Water. One small Danish company is getting very, very rich on products that people need that can solve a problem, rather than create another one. They call it IMAGINEERING. I love it. Now here is a real holiday gift idea:
There are gadgets that make life more fun, and then there are gadgets that make life possible. The LifeStraw from Denmark's Vestergaard Frandsen Group has the potential to fall into the latter category. A device about the size of a large pen or drinking straw, the LifeStraw is a complete water purification kit that draws its power from the person sucking down the water. The LifeStraw is the product of ten years of development work, based on the goal of creating an efficient, affordable water-purification system for the developing world, where water-borne illnesses are a major killer. When produced in quantity, each LifeStraw — which uses a combination of mesh filters, iodine-impregnated beads and active carbon to remove particulate matter and bacteria — is expected to cost under $2 and be able to provide a year's worth of pure drinking water. . . .

Friday, December 21, 2007

Giuliani: Bush Ed Policy on Steroids

From the Chronicle of Higher Ed (ht to Peter Campbell):

Giuliani Names Education-Policy Panel

Several familiar faces will be advising the Republican candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani on education policy, including former U.S. Secretary of Education Roderick R. Paige and a Stanford University professor who is leading advocate of private-school vouchers.

The former New York mayor announced his education advisory board last week. Members include Benno C. Schmidt Jr., a former Yale University president who is now now chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York and vice chairman of Edison Schools, a for-profit company that manages public schools; Brian Jones, executive vice president and general counsel of College Loan Corporation, one of the nation’s largest providers of student loans; and Abraham M. Lackman, president of New York’s Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities.

The panel’s chairman is Terry Moe, a professor of political science at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute there.

The Unholy Mike Hucksterbee

Are you tired and weary of trying to defend your country against theocratic rule? I was, too, until I gave up and decided to go with it. I can show you how to surrender, too. That's why I say bring your tired and weary family and friends and offer them to me, Mike Hucksterbee, who will bear your anger, pain, and disdain, who will turn it all into the benefit of the Creation State, who will save you from the unholy trinity of John, Mitt, and Rudolph, the red-vested schlump--all three represented here in my ad by the three big balls on the cross, sometimes mistaken for a bookshelf, that disappears into my head as the camera pans left. And if you are fresh out of gold, frankincense, and myrhh on this most holy of campaign days, remember that, for me, Reverend Mike, Visa, Mastercard, or American Express will do just fine.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

M.C.S. (Masters in Creation Science)

That's right--down in Texas, where they fire science curriculum directors for their support for science.

Is Texas preparing for the second coming of W., or what? From the NYTimes:

HOUSTON — A Texas higher education panel has recommended allowing a Bible-based group called the Institute for Creation Research to offer online master’s degrees in science education.

The action comes weeks after the Texas Education Agency’s director of science, Christine Castillo Comer, lost her job after superiors accused her of displaying bias against creationism and failing to be “neutral” over the teaching of evolution.

The state’s commissioner of higher education, Raymund A. Paredes, said late Monday that he was aware of the institute’s opposition to evolution but was withholding judgment until the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board meets Jan. 24 to rule on the recommendation, made last Friday, by the board’s certification advisory council.

Henry Morris III, the chief executive of the Institute for Creation Research, said Tuesday that the proposed curriculum, taught in California, used faculty and textbooks “from all the top schools” along with, he said, the “value added” of challenges to standard teachings of evolution.

“Where the difference is, we provide both sides of the story,” Mr. Morris said. On its Web site, the institute declares, “All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week” and says it “equips believers with evidences of the Bible’s accuracy and authority through scientific research, educational programs, and media presentations, all conducted within a thoroughly biblical framework.”

It also says “the harmful consequences of evolutionary thinking on families and society (abortion, promiscuity, drug abuse, homosexuality and many others) are evident all around us.” . . . .

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rothstein on the End of NCLB

A clip from the American Prospect (ht to Monty Neill):
The next president has a unique opportunity to start from scratch in education policy, without the deadweight of a failed, inherited No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The new president and Congress can recapture the "small d" democratic mantle by restoring local control of education, while initiating policies for which the federal government is uniquely suited -- providing better achievement data and equalizing the states' fiscal capacity to provide for all children.

This opportunity exists because NCLB is dead. It will not be reauthorized -- not this year, not ever. The coalition that promoted the 2001 bipartisan law has hopelessly splintered, although NCLB's advocates in the administration and the Congress continue to imagine (at least publicly) that tinkering can put it back together.

NCLB, requiring annual reading and math tests in grades 3 through 8 (and one such test in high school), represents an unprecedented federal takeover of education. It punishes schools not making "adequate yearly progress" toward having all students proficient at "challenging" standards by 2014, regardless of students' socioeconomic disadvantages or even of their cognitive disabilities.

Many Republicans supported NCLB out of loyalty to President Bush and because Karl Rove assured them that their vow to improve minority achievement would entice African Americans away from the Democrats. But now, with Democratic congressional majorities and a possible presidency, Republicans have rediscovered their belief in local control of education. Few now support reauthorization. . . .

News Flash

HB 2014: No Corporate Fat Cat Left Behind

It is proposed that in keeping with the 99.9% pure, bright line principles of NCLB accountability and transparency, the nation's primary beneficiaries of NCLB and high-stakes testing be administered the newly-crafted, teacher-constructed FCATT (Fat Cat Test). All items on the FCATT have been designed to be able to detect disingenuous responses, deception and/or incompetence by measuring individual responses against results of the NAEP-E, National Assessment of Ethical Practices in Education, to arrive at the test-taker's UMI, or Ulterior Motives Index. Preliminary estimates are that at least 90% of test-takers will fail to demonstrate AEP, Adequate Ethical Practices, in the arena of public education reform.

Sister assessments to the FCATT are under construction for politicians as well as the leading members of a highly networked web of corporate funded propaganda machines, also known as foundations and think tanks. It is anticipated that the POTTY, Politicians and Opportunists Tempted by Testing Yardstick, will be ready for administration by the 2008/2009 school year. The T-TIA, Tinkle Tank Incontinence Assessment, is being developed to diagnose an irresistible urge to eliminate public education through ideology masquerading as educational research.

Test-takers can relax since no sanctions will be imposed for failure to make AEP. The test results will be reward enough for our nation's public school teachers.

Source: SusanOhanian.Org

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why John Edwards Will Be Elected

It won't happen because I say he will be elected or even because I will vote for him. It will not be a few votes close. Edwards will be the nominee because voters are smart enough to know that the historically-rooted racism and chauvinism that is part of the cultural DNA of America's power elite will allow neither an African-American nor a woman to be elected President at this point in our history. Does anyone really believe we are going to go directly from Dick Cheney to Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? For those white liberals who love Obama because he doesn't remind them that he is black, I am wondering how many of them will find that lever or touch screen as color blind or gender blind?

In the privacy of their own hearts on caucus or primary day, will they, will we, all patriots so desperate to hope that the Republic can be salvaged after eight years of battering, will we pick someone we know that the Republican Slime Machine is laying in wait for? If they could derail a moderate white man like Michael Dukakis with a Willy Horton scare ad, how many nooses do they have prepared and how many good ole boy media tricks and slime balls do they have stored up for either Obama or Clinton?

And why are Clinton and Obama soaking up the corporate media coverage, vapid though it may be? Both Hillary and Barack are Wall Street Democrats who can be trusted to lose in a close, angry, dirty, scandalous race--or in media terms, a campaign made in heaven. And if all dirty tricks somehow fail, a Hillary or a Barack will deliver to the corporations what they require, along with the anchorwoman checks in much the same way that the Wall Street Republicans can be counted on to do the same.

The power elite, neoliberal or neoconservative, are scared shirtless that John Edwards will become the candidate, because they know that when he gets the nomination, America will, indeed, rise up like it hasn't done since the Depression to establish once more some semblance of fairness and equity in all things social and economic. With Edwards the nominee, it won't even be close. Edwards, 52, McCain (or anyone else), 48.

John Edwards is the dormant hope that regular people cannot hope for yet. But Iowa is going to change all that in a little over two weeks. And there is nothing the corporate media or the slime machine can do about it once that hope is born. After all, he is a white Protestant man, remember?

Charter School Weekly Corruption Roundup

From San Diego:
An audit of a San Diego charter school that was rated one of the 10 best in the country revealed widespread grade tampering and only 26 percent of students passing advanced placement tests, it was reported Thursday.

The Preuss School at UC San Diego, which was heralded for turning poor and minority students into college candidates, has come under fire after an audit revealed that teachers awarded credit for classes students never took and padded grades. . . .
From Philadelphia:
A former dean of students at Mastery Charter School's Thomas campus in South Philadelphia is facing multiple charges alleging that he stole nearly $6,000 cash and student SEPTA tokens and TransPasses from the school over the weekend.

Antonio Dandridge, 35, who reportedly resigned from his charter school position last week, was arrested by police at his home in West Philadelphia on Monday night and charged with burglary, theft by unlawful taking, and receiving stolen property, a police spokeswoman said. . . .

And what would be corruption update without news from Florida, where Brighton Collegiate High has fielded another child molester--the third in two years. Highly qualified, no doubt:

BRIGHTON – There’s a new name, a new building and a new administrative team on board.

But last week’s news about another sex-assault case was old news at Brighton Collegiate High School.

Brighton police arrested one of the school’s teachers on suspicion of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust.

. . . .

The board president of the Brighton Charter School, David Mundy Sr. resigned his position amid allegations of tampering with a witness and failure to report abuse in connection to the McCandless case. He pleaded guilty to failure to report child abuse on July 13 and received a $500 fine.

And former substitute teacher, David Mundy Jr., son of the past president at the school, drew a 60-day jail sentence and 10 years probation as a sex offender after pleading guilty to charges of sexual assault on a child and contributing to the delinquency of a minor stemming from his part in a New Year’s Eve party that involved students and alcohol.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Spellings Offers NCLB Attack Package

During the final days of World War II as the Allies were closing in on Berlin, Hitler ranted around his bunker, ordering decimated German divisions and captured battalions into action to save the Reich. Some of those German citizens listening to the heroin-huffing Goebbels on the radio were relieved to hear that their Fuhrer, whom they deeply suspected was a lunatic bent on their destruction, had things under control.

Now how did I get off onto WW II? Oh yes yes, I was thinking about Margaret Spellings and her secret weapon to save NCLB. Actually, her new weapon has already been in limited use in the field. It is, essentially, a more malleable explosive agent inside the same crude device that has been used so effectively to blow up urban public schools over the past five years. The new more flexible explosive has the same graduated trip wires and the same annihilation date of 2014 on its doomsday counter. And like the old bomb, no one will be spared, regardless of their innocence, lack of understanding, or poverty level.

From the ED website, December 7 (remember Pearl Harbor):

The Department will conduct an initial review of each proposal to ensure that the growth model meets the seven core principles and that the state is making progress in the required areas.

  • Ensure that all students are proficient by 2014 and set annual state goals to ensure that the achievement gap is closing for all groups of students identified in the law;

  • Set expectations for annual achievement based upon meeting grade-level proficiency, not based on student background or characteristics;

  • Hold schools accountable for student achievement in reading/language arts and mathematics separately;

  • Ensure that all students in tested grades are included in the assessment and accountability system, hold schools and districts accountable for the performance of each student subgroup, and include all schools and districts;

  • Include assessments that produce comparable results from grade to grade and year to year in grades three through eight and high school, in both reading/language arts and mathematics; that have been operational for more than one year and have received Full Approval or Full Approval with Recommendations before the state determines AYP based on 2007-2008 assessment results

  • Track student progress as part of the state data system; and

  • Include student participation rates and student achievement on a separate academic indicator in the state accountability system.

In California teacher Anthony Cody reminds us that the ticking you hear is not your Grandma's wind-up clock:

A few years ago some people warned about the trouble we were headed for in the home mortgage industry, but we ended up waiting until millions began facing foreclosure to act. California schools are heading for a similar fate, and once again, we seem to be waiting for calamity rather than looking ahead to avert it.

This calamity is the full impact of the federal No Child Left Behind law on our schools. Up until now, the brunt of the accountability law has been felt largely by schools attended by poor folks and immigrants, so few have objected to them being labeled "failing schools."

But we're on the verge of a big shift. NCLB demands that all students be proficient in English and mathematics by 2014. Only 43 percent of the state's 6 million students are scoring proficient in reading and 41 percent proficient or better in math.

Student performance has improved slightly over the past six years, according to state test data, but most schools are about to start hitting a wall. That's because California's NCLB targets require proficiency levels to increase substantially in each of the next six years, so that all students reach proficiency.

The label "failure" is soon going to be attached to schools previously considered successful. Before every school in the state is condemned, perhaps it is time to raise some questions.

First, does it promote growth to label schools as failing and threaten to remove funding? In Oakland, we are in the second generation of reconstituted schools. The first round of schools that opened to replace those closed five years ago has hit the fourth year of missing achievement targets, and a number of them have closed. Some of the new schools are innovative and meeting the needs of their students, but even they are likely to crash into the NCLB wall soon.

As a teacher, I know my students respond when they are encouraged, but when told they are failing and threatened with dire consequences, they tend to shut down, rather than improve. We teachers are no different. We entered this profession to make a difference. We would be far better off if we tapped that passion in a positive direction, instead of operating as if teachers need to be threatened in order to improve. . . . . . .

Friday, December 14, 2007

That's Tasting, Not Testing

From yesterday's Santa Barbara Independent by David Hodges:

The Failure of Testing to Address Actual Proficiency

My wife had a group of elementary school kids do a scavenger hunt at the Farmers Market to gather fruits and vegetables for a “tasting day” at school. On the morning of the tasting, big banners hung from the cafeteria ceiling for all to see — Tasting Day. A child walked into the cafeteria and visibly slumped, his smile vanished, and his eyes clouded. When my wife approached him, he said, “I thought we were done with testing.”

Welcome to the post-accountability No Child Left Behind (NCLB) world, where no child is left untested. Are today’s students better readers and mathematicians than 10 or 20 years ago? Has all this emphasis on content standards, annual testing, and exit exams worked? No. It is time to recognize that the standards-based, test-driven, school-accountability movement has failed. After 10 years, these measures have not improved education.

NCLB is based on the idea that after 12 years of testing and punishment for under-achieving students and schools, 100 percent of the nation’s students will be English and math proficient. For the last six years of NCLB, national reading proficiency has remained nearly flat. Math proficiency has improved, but at the same pace as before NCLB. Now we face a balloon payment of proficiency. For the next six years, students climb the Everest of proficiency, during which all students — regardless of language, ethnicity, economic status, or disability — must rise to 100 percent proficiency.

Given that only 24-34 percent of the nation’s students have been proficient readers for the last 20 to 30 years, it would take a miracle to achieve a national policy of Only Half Our Children Left Behind. On this preposterous road to universal proficiency, we abandoned the idea that education is about more than annual test performance. Millions of tax dollars were given to private test companies like ETS and McGraw-Hill. Art, music, and shop classes vanished. Average class size grew. More kids dropped out.

In 2005, Harvard’s Civil Rights Project conducted a study that tracked California 9th graders during four years to gauge how many received their diploma by the end of 12th grade. Only 71 percent of these 9th graders graduated with their peers. Twenty-nine percent — nearly a third — had disappeared from public school four years later. Minorities fared worst: 42 percent of African Americans, 40 percent of Latinos, and 48 percent of Native Americans did not graduate high school.

No one noticed that the blind academics-only routine was driving fragile, disadvantaged teens out onto the streets. Consider the schedule of a below-proficient high school student: two English classes, two math classes, a science, a history, maybe physical education, and no electives, sports, art, shop, or music. Or consider the teacher — required to teach only specific standards at a mechanical pace. The pace dictated by the “if it’s October, this must be Standard 5” calendar. No adaptation was made for the learning needs of individuals. Teachers were told to teach the test, not students.

Decoupling what is taught from what students know is the single greatest flaw in the accountability movement. Having a common set of standards for every subject makes some sense. It is easy, however, to list everything we’d like kids to know. The hard part is getting them to care about learning it.

High schools cannot give a standardized test lower than Algebra 1 or they get a penalty.

The classic standards catch-22 is Algebra 1. If a student is not ready for Algebra 1, they still have to take it because it is a state requirement. No Algebra 1 means no graduation. Teachers have to teach Algebra 1 to students regardless of math ability — even if a student can’t multiply. If a student is in special education, he/she must take Algebra 1. High schools cannot give a standardized test lower than Algebra 1 or they get a penalty. The result? Of the 140,090 California 9th graders taking the Algebra 1 test in 2007, only eight percent were proficient. Sophomores did worse, with 5 percent proficiency.

With all this emphasis on academics, more students should be going on to college than ever before. After all, being competitive in a technological world economy was the principal justification for school accountability in the first place. According to John Aubrey Douglass’s new book, The Conditions for Admission: Access, Equity, and the Social Contract of Public University, a greater percentage of students went directly to college after high school in 1970 than today. In 1970, 55 percent of high school graduates went to college. By 2000, it had fallen to 48 percent, and the numbers are still declining. There are more part-time students, and the skyrocketing costs of a university education have made access prohibitive to all but the rich. In 30 years, the United States has fallen from first to 14th among developed nations in college participation. We have an entire country of students left behind.

It is time to hold accountability accountable. Where is the improvement, where is the proficiency, where is the equity, where is the opportunity in this misguided emphasis?

In sum, the program of school accountability has failed in three significant areas:

• Unachievable academic expectations that undermine the dignity and worth of schools, teachers, and students.

• Disenfranchisement and alienation of the most vulnerable poor and minority students.

• Diminishment of the American dream of equal educational opportunity, by making access to post-high school education more expensive and exclusive.

But in the ashes of this failed policy lay the seeds of the solution:

• Reasonable and relevant academic goals generated of, by, and for the individual needs and aspirations of communities, schools, and students.

• Development and acknowledgement of the assets that every student brings; when we lift the struggling student, we lift ourselves.

• Renewal of the American dream of equal educational opportunity, by increasing access to college and post-high school career opportunities.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Life is one test," he muttered once more as he snuck out the back door.

Check out the footage of the Bloomberg's testing czar in full coward mode two days ago.

The Pope and the President vs. The World

While climate scientists and those who have not been blinded by greed remain sleepless and angry over the global cataclysm that awaits the Planet unless action is taken now to tame greenhouse gases, the Pope is squandering his moral and educational authority by towing the Exxon-Mobil rhetorical line for short-term profits and assured global catastrophe. How else could we end up with this Fox News headline: "Global Warming Skeptics Have Friend in the Vatican."

For sure, it is in keeping with the type of moral depravity that the Vatican has exhibited in protecting and even promoting kingpins within the pedophile ring that the Church unofficially sanctioned by years of neglect, denial, and obfuscation.

It seems entirely fitting that the dangerous lame duck, George Bush, would host the Pope for a Texas-style barbeque next April to further develop propaganda plans for the Coalition of the Deniers, which includes the 14.4 acre Vatican territory and the 1,600-acre kingdom on the outskirts of Crawford, TX.

Meanwhile in Bali:

BALI, Indonesia — Al Gore said Thursday the United States is "principally responsible" for blocking progress at the U.N. climate conference, and European nations threatened to boycott U.S.-led climate talks next month unless Washington compromises on emissions reductions.

The former vice president urged delegates to take urgent action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

"My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali," said Gore, who flew to Bali from Oslo, Norway, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize for helping alert the world to the danger of climate change.

Earlier, the United Nations warned that time was running out for an agreement aimed at launching negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol and the talks in Bali were in danger of "falling to pieces." . . . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

John Edwards on NCLB: ". . . pathway to privatizing the public schools"

Finally a Presidential candidate aware and unafraid of the truth:

Bloomberg, Klein, and the Little Man Who Ran in Circles

I suppose it was entirely appropriate that Bloomberg/Klein would hire a lawyer who is a death penalty expert to devise an accountability scheme to justify its killing off of the NY Public Schools. The diminutive Mr. Liebman was obviously not prepared, however, for the petition and cross-examination that parents had prepared for him yesterday. From the Times:

. . . . For three hours, council members sharply questioned the official who designed the system, James Liebman. His testimony was repeatedly interrupted by boos and hisses from dozens of parents in the packed room. Many of them held up fliers with the letter F printed in thick black ink, a sign of their displeasure that they aimed at the television cameras.

Some council members said the grades relied too much on standardized tests and did more to harm schools than to help them. . . .

And the Daily News has this on the big chase after the meeting:

After insisting at a hearing that the Department of Education is responsive to parents, a high-ranking DOE official Monday fled City Hall through a side door with parents in hot pursuit.

As a brawny aide and the department's top lobbyist flanked him like ad hoc bodyguards, Jim Liebman dashed down three flights of stairs and into a courtyard, where parents and reporters followed him in a meandering circle for several minutes.

The issue, which was the focus of the City Council hearing, was the controversial new letter grades that have labeled some schools A's and others F's.

A group called Time out From Testing says it collected 6,652 signatures from parents upset about the grades and wanted to present the petition to Liebman, DOE's top grading official. . . .

Cuomo Nails Student Financial Services

In the vacuum created by a universal lack of oversight from Bush Co. and CEO of ED, M. Spellings, Andrew Cuomo has rushed in to fill the void. Cuomo's latest target for student loan scams: Student Financial Services of Clearwater, Florida. And, of course, the universities named below. The NY Times has this:

. . . . The company paid athletic departments at institutions for the right to print their logos and other insignia on marketing material used to sell loans to students, Mr. Cuomo’s inquiry found. A typical payment might have been $15,000, according to Mr. Cuomo’s office. In some cases, the company paid an additional fee to colleges for each loan application received, it found.

The company also used lists of students provided by universities to solicit business, and sent its sales representatives to push loans at university events, the investigation found. In an effort to build business, the inquiry found, Student Financial took university employees on golf outings and out for meals.

The universities whose names and logos the company used included Central Michigan University, St. John’s University, the University of Kansas, the University of Oregon, the University of Washington and Wake Forest University, according to Mr. Cuomo’s office. Of the 63 universities, 17 have already suspended their arrangements with Student Financial, including Florida Atlantic University, Georgetown University and the University of New Orleans.

But in some cases, an intermediary company held the right to use a university’s name, logo or other insignia, and Student Financial had its arrangement with that intermediary rather than with the university itself. This was the case at the University of Kansas, said Jim Marchiony, the university’s associate athletics director. He said the university had not received a fee based on loan volume. . . .

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Grand Theft Voucher

From the St. Petersburg Times:

ST. PETERSBURG - In 2001, Marva Dennard became director of a private school in Childs Park, saying she wanted to help African-American children. A large percentage of her students, disabled and poor, qualified for state scholarships.

"My purpose is to keep them out of prison," said Dennard, a prominent community activist.

But now, it is Dennard who is in trouble with the law.

On Thursday, she was arrested on charges that she stole more than $250,000 from state voucher programs intended to help low-income and disabled students. Charged with grand theft and aggravated white collar crime, Dennard, 68, was held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $200,000 bail. . . .

Greenland Melts, Washington Mumbles

Ice sheets in Greenland are melting at record rates:
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 (Reuters) - The Greenland ice sheet melted at a record rate this year, the largest ever since satellite measurements began in 1979, a top climate scientist reported on Monday. "The amount of ice lost by Greenland over the last year is the equivalent of two times all the ice in the Alps, or a layer of water more than one-half mile (800 meters) deep covering Washington DC," said Konrad Steffen of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Using data from military and weather satellites to see where the ice is melting, Steffen and his colleagues were able to monitor the rapid thinning and acceleration of ice as it moved into the ocean at the edge of the big arctic island. The extent of the melt area was 10 percent greater than the last record year, 2005, the scientists found. . . .
Meanwhile across the globe in Bali:
NUSA DUA, INDONESIA -- As delegates from nearly 200 countries began their final week of meetings here in Bali on global warming, U.S. representatives Monday insisted on removing firm targets for reducing carbon dioxide from draft guidelines for negotiating a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, set to expire in 2012. . . .

North Carolina Primed to Uncap Charter Schools

Following a couple of cursory meetings that allowed no research or substantive dialog on the subject to be considered, a blue ribbon commission appointed by the State Board of Education of North Carolina concluded that the State should remove its cap on charter schools. Of course, the chairman of the commission had tipped his hand at the first meeting, where he kicked things off by recommending, you guessed it, the expansion of charter schools.

State legislators are keen on the idea of charter schools to solve the overcrowding problem in NC's public schools. It's much cheaper to open a charter in, let's say, an old Comp USA than to actually build a school for students. And of course, those pesky teachers can be hired and fired at will for less money in these new educational sweatshops.

Watch this interview with Chris Fitzsimon on why the North Carolina Board of Education should slow down in their haste to do the business of the Business Roundtable. And notice, too, the slant of the little dumbed down news piece within which the interview clips are placed.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Headline That Says It All: "New testing standards devised for severely mentally impaired students"

The U. S. Department of Education has given "cognitively challenged" a whole new meaning, if you get my drift. The Spellings School Failure Enforcement Squad has come up with new demands in Florida to have children with IQs under 40 FCAT-ed each year and to have their scores figured into the failure rates:
Scores from this special assessment — designed for children classified by the state as profoundly mentally handicapped, among other disabilities — will likely count toward school grades in the 2009-10 school year.
So in fact these children, many of whom can't attend to their own bodily functions, will be tested in math and reading--and their scores will be added in to determine if the school is making AYP. Retardation, obviously, has no bounds--and I am not talking about these vicitimized children. From the Sun-Sentinel:
. . . federal authorities forced Florida education officials to develop the new alternate assessment this year for the students deemed unable to take the FCAT under any circumstance.

The U.S. Department of Education determined that the state's old measure was not sufficient for assessing students with severe cognitive disabilities at the lowest level of test taking, called participatory.

Participatory means that the student answers a question by gazing or pointing in the direction of a picture card, and the teacher records the answer. For example, a teacher holds up a picture of an American flag. Next, the teacher holds up picture cards of a tree, a star and a dog and asks the students to indicate which one is in the upper left corner of the flag.

State officials say the new assessment ensures that the performance of all students with disabilities will be included in whether a school meets the standard of Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. If any students are left out of the assessment, schools face penalties. . . .
The only good part of this story is that, by 2009-2010, this abusive madness will be in the history books. If it is not, there is surely no way back.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

More British Reports on the "tyranny of testing"

"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!" --Thomas Gradgrind in Hard Times, by Charles Dickens

From the London Telegraph:

Tests and league tables are "deeply damaging" the quality of schoolchildren's lives and their education, a major report by head teachers will warn this week.

The obsession with national assessment that has seen pupils in England become the world's most tested is putting huge pressure on children, stigmatising them as failures and forcing teachers to narrow the curriculum, according to the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

The report, to be published this week following a 10-month inquiry by the NAHT, calls for the "examinations factory" in England's schools to be scrapped and radically redesigned. It adds to concerns about the National Curriculum tests, known as key stage tests or "Sats", and their effect on millions of children.

Just last month, two reports revealed widespread disquiet about the regime. In a review of primary school education, Prof Robin Alexander, from Cambridge University, concluded that the tests heaped stress on children and produced inaccurate results. This was followed by a report from the influential Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, which listed a series of "damaging side effects", including teachers drilling children to pass tests and the "unreasonable pressure" of continual testing.

Mick Brookes, the NAHT general secretary, said: "Teaching to the test is having a disastrous effect on the curriculum and on children." He added that the report had uncovered "overwhelming evidence" of the "tyranny of the testing regime". . . .

George Will Blames Lyndon Johnson for NCLB

With the colossal wreckage that NCLB has wrought in America's schools now apparent to anyone not in a coma, it is fun to watch the old cons and the neocons cutting and running on Bush Co.'s grand domestic disaster, while at the same time revising history to blame someone else for setting fire to the public schools.

In looking for someone to blame for Bush's NCLB mess, Will goes all the way back past Bill Clinton, through Jimmy Carter, to Lyndon Johnson, whose support for the original ESEA in 1965 made it possible, obviously, for George Bush to totally screw it up 40 years later:
NCLB was passed in 2001 as an extension of the original mistake, President Lyndon Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which became law in the year of liberals living exuberantly -- 1965, when Great Society excesses sowed the seeds of conservatism's subsequent ascendancy. ESEA was the first large Washington intrusion into education K through 12.
Actually, George, it was President Eisenhower (R) who got the federal "intrusion" rolling in 1958 with the National Defense Education Act. And yes, 1965 was an exuberant time for anyone concerned with civil rights, human rights, and gender equality. And yes, it was the "excesses" of ESEA's dollars that enticed many a racist governor to finally desegregate public schools and to abide by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As for conservatism's subsequent ascendancy, Lyndon Johnson knew that his actions on civil rights would mean a political sea change in the South and everywhere else that racism trumped common sense. By 1980, most of the Southern Democrats who had not already had a political conversion, became Reagan Democrats for life. How do you think we ended up with an ever-poorer-and-oppressed white working class that votes consistently to those whose primary social agenda is based on tax cuts for the wealthy? Johnson knew his decision would cost him the South, but that did not stop him from doing the right thing. Such an act of courage could never happen among today's covey of political cowards.

And, of course, George Will is intent to reverse the responsibility of the Republican Congress for NCLB in 2001:
NCLB was supported by Republicans reluctant to vastly expand that intrusion but even more reluctant to oppose a new president's signature issue.
The fact is that the the Republican Congress was ecstatic when Bush came to town with his testing plan that would offer school vouchers to children in schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress, as well as a plan to redirect Title I money intended for the poor into block grants that governors could carve up as they saw fit. When these two components were struck from NCLB for the last time in 2001, it did take take some cheerleading by Bush water carriers like Sen. Judd Gregg to revive the disappointed Republicans, but in the end the corporate tutoring provision and the charter school sanction that would result from impossible performance targets were enough to assure victory for Bush. From Elizabeth Debray's book, quoting Judd Gregg:
“Well, the supplemental services [tutoring] are a foot under the door for vouchers. They’re going to show that these schools aren’t working properly, and we’ll finally be able to show that the schools aren’t doing well. The assessments are going to prove the same thing” (Debray, 2006, p. 96).
So where is George Will wanting Federal policy to go now? Backwards, of course. Now that a Blue national tidal wave is predicted for '08, George Will and the other protectors of privilege are eager once more to argue for the unassailable virtues of federalism and to get the the federal government out of the business of education reform. More block grants and tax cuts, please. As Will would seem to have it for federal policy, if you can't do anything bad, don't do anything at all.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Chris Whittle and Schooling for the Future Oligarchs

For those who have followed the career path of Chris Whittle, you know that he has made his fortune from failure, managing to walk away unscathed from each subsequent example of burning corporate wreckage. From his failed media/advertising empire in Knoxville, to his Channel One flameout and ditching, to his Edison, Inc. corporate welfare venture, Whittle has shown a consistent capacity to generate, through savvy marketing, enough excitement to corner a few million for himself before the blush on each new business model is spoiled by a rotting from within.

Now as the enthusiasm for giving corporations tax dollars to run our public schools has begun to track the same trajectory as Bush approval ratings, Whittle has been one of the first to notice and the first to take a sagging idea, repackage it to appeal to investors with more money than good sense, generate a great deal of free publicity, corner a few more million for himself, and then watch the fun unfold. Market savvy as always, Whittle is now keen to develop a new kind of chain store school, but this one is based more on the easy extravagance of an educational Neiman-Marcus than the penny-pinching Target model of Edison, Inc.

Whittle wants to educate the children born from money without boundaries, from wealth of international corporations unrestrained by the parochialism of national borders or the low pedestrian loyalties of the non-wealthy. He is marketing the idea of a school to ensure a future Praetorian Guard for civilized world empire, a crown jewel of schooling unsullied by economic restriction. Wow, Chris--I'm getting cold chills!

From WaPo:

The prospective buyers of the former Grosvenor Estate in Bethesda, who had declined to identify themselves as rumors of the deal swirled in recent months, announced a plan yesterday to turn the 35-acre site into an internationally oriented private school with 14 grades and more than 1,600 students.

Two educational entrepreneurs, Channel One founder Christopher Whittle and former Yale University president Benno Schmidt, were in Bethesda to lay out plans for the school, which they hope will be the flagship for 60 similar campuses around the world.

Nations Academy will offer an International Baccalaureate-style curriculum from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade to the children of expatriates, diplomats, international businesspeople and others. A student admitted to any of the schools could enroll at another Nations Academy if the family is transferred, Whittle said.

"Every time these families move, they go through all the stress and trauma of finding new schools, and their children go through the trauma as well," Whittle said during an interview at the Bethesda Marriott, where he and Schmidt were holding meetings to announce the project. "We see it as the first truly global school."

Whittle said his company, also called Nations Academy, has an agreement to buy the property from the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation, which maintains an office park of environmental groups on the land. Whittle would not reveal the selling price or say whether the deal was contingent on the buyers' ability to secure the required county approval to open the school.

"Let's just say that we have an agreement and that some money has changed hands," Whittle said.

He described the costs of the Bethesda school as "a nine-figure project." Whittle and Schmidt, who together founded Edison Schools, an educational management company, said they hope to open the Bethesda school by fall 2010 along with a second campus being planned in Manhattan. Those would be followed by four others in 2011 and six in 2012 in cities including London, Shanghai, Paris, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. . . .

Unfortunately, Whittle's new focus on private equity says everything about the exhaustion of the public treasuries.

Friday, December 07, 2007

KIPP Staffers to Caribbean for $70,000 Inservice

KIPP teachers have no academic freedom, no job security, and lots of longer hours, but the "Work Hard, Be Nice" brainwashers get a few perks, thanks to the taxpayers and the swim-suited KIPP co-founder and 1999 Robin Hood Hero, David Levin.

NYC Educator has this take:
Imagine you run a charter school. Now, you've got the teachers and kids working six days a week, and longer days and years than public school teachers. Though you boast about how you pay your teachers more, for the time they work, you actually pay them less. The health insurance you offer is not equal to that which public school teachers have.

And of course, if anyone looks at you the wrong way, you fire them. Some NYC charters have fired the entire staff in the same school year. That's because the teachers were terrible, and had nothing whatsoever to do with administration making poor choices, of course. In any case, every time you get rid of one teacher, you hire another at minimum salary. No one ever makes it to maximum salary, except maybe one teacher who you trot out for press conferences.

. . . .

So by the end of the year, you've saved a bundle. What do you do with the extra money? You're on salary, technically, so you can't just keep it (you could do that more efficiently with vouchers).

Whopee! Let's spend five days in the Bahamas on the taxpayers' dime! That's what they do over at KIPP! Forget about vacationing with your family. First, you don't have time, and second, you can't afford it. It's go with your slavedrivers or don't go at all. . . .

Pass a Test, Get a Happy Meal

Today's all-consuming consumer capitalism has found its way all the way down to our children's report cards in Seminole County, Florida. If a single A gets you a Happy Meal, will three of them earn a Triple Bypass Burger? Hey boys and girls, you'd better supersize that study time!

As escalating the manufactured demand for more consumables through advertising is the only strategy to keep consumer capitalism growing, is there any reason to doubt why Americans are getting as big as heifers and steers, or that the oversized casket companies are doing a booming business?

From the NYTimes:

FAST-FOOD chains often post nutritional report cards about their product ingredients on restaurant walls. Now one is using children’s report cards to help stimulate sales.

The McDonald’s restaurants in Seminole County, Fla., and the Seminole County School Board have agreed to reward students for good grades and attendance during the 2007-8 school year with Happy Meals.

The program replaces one that for the last 10 school years had been sponsored by local Pizza Hut restaurants, according to the school district.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade can now receive a Happy Meal from a local McDonald’s restaurant as a “food prize,” as it is described, for achievements like all A’s and B’s in academic subjects or two or fewer absences from school.

The “report card incentive,” as the program is called, is a business partnership between the owners of the McDonald’s restaurants in Seminole County and the school board, according to information published on the jackets in which the children receive their report cards.

The jackets are used throughout the school year. Teachers put report cards in them, and students take them home for their parents to sign to let the teachers know the report cards have been read.

The jackets also bear a cartoon of Ronald McDonald, the chain’s brand mascot for children, and its Golden Arches logo.

The jackets also feature photographs of Happy Meal menu items like Chicken McNuggets.

“Turning report cards into ads for McDonald’s undermines parents’ efforts to encourage healthy eating,” said Susan Linn, director of an advocacy organization in Boston, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“It’s a terribly troubling trend,” Ms. Linn said, because “it really, clearly links doing well in school with getting a Happy Meal.” . . . .