Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Supplemental Educational Services = Complementary Corporate Income

Madison Avenue would never launch a new product line without extensive research to stand on, and the Dept. of Ed would never consider a federal grant request with no data on effectiveness or ANY PLAN to collect data on effectiveness. Such pragmatic considerations, however, have never stopped the reckless and wasteful practices of this Department of Education--they simply don't care for the niceties of protocol, or even law.

When the school voucher provisions were extracted the final time from the NCLB bill in the Spring of 2001, the corporate tutoring giveaway was quickly offered up as the big greasy sop to the right wing. Now billions of diverted dollars later, it is another prime example of BushCo. squandering of the public trust.

From the Civil Rights Project:
THE CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT/PROYECTO DERECHOS CIVILES, UCLA releases a policy brief on NCLB’s Supplemental Educational Services.

Los Angeles, CA—October 30, 2007—The supplemental educational services (SES) provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act promise to expand educational opportunities by providing low-income families access to the private tutoring market. In this policy brief, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA reviewed data on participation in the program and found that demand for SES has either declined or leveled off after five years. This comes as the number of students eligible for services has increased.

This brief examines trends in the implementation of the NCLB supplemental educational services program over five years (2002-03 to 2006-07) in eleven districts located in six states.

These data show that demand for supplemental educational services has either declined or leveled off after five years. This has come as federal funds allocated for SES increased and as more students have become eligible to receive services. The increase in the absolute
number of students enrolled in SES is related to more schools identified for improvement, and thus, more students eligible to receive services. What is striking is that the increase in the number of eligible students has not translated into an increased demand for SES.

According to Civil Right Project researcher, Gail Sunderman, these findings suggest that the SES market may not work for low-income and minority families as envisioned. “This program was adopted without any prior research on how it might work or whether the intended beneficiaries would participate.” She added that research on supplemental programs suggests that programs that work best are part of a comprehensive approach to school reform rather than an add-on such as SES.

This brief will also be useful to anyone seeking to understand how the SES program is designed and implemented. It providers answers to questions about the SES requirements and examines both the supply and demand side of the SES market.

The policy brief can be found at www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu.

The College Caste System

For the past few years, there has been a bigger and bigger squeeze on state colleges to hold down costs. Conservative think tanks point out that state university tuition costs have increased faster than family incomes. What these pols don't mention, of course, is that they are shipping away American jobs while American family incomes have actually gone down in recent years. The state-run colleges, nonetheless, become a new source for the old reliable political strategy of ignoring the real problem and blaming someone else for a problem they did not create.

The resulting political pressure to trim state college costs and costs in tuition-driven private colleges has added to the impetus for solidifying a streamlined college caste system, one that offers a marginal education to the middling and poor folk, and a top notch education for the ruling 10-20 percent who can still afford the best. Whereas the latter will have the best professors, luxurious campuses, and the best libraries, the former will look more like isolating online or "hybrid" degree factories for those determined to make the most of their bronze futures.

Here is a clip from the NY Times today on the brave new world of college for the poor in their pjs (if they can afford them):

. . . .Welcome to the brave burgeoning world of online education. It’s a world most of us, whether we like it or not, will have to grapple with, as students, tuition-paying parents or employees. Nearly 3.5 million college or graduate students, one of every five, took at least one online course last fall, double the figures of five years earlier, according to a survey of 2,500 campuses published last week in a collaboration among the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the College Board and a Babson College research group.

Taken at face value, the study was chilling. This writer’s first impulse was to recall a college course taught by Irving Howe, who read Robert Frost’s poems with tenderness and an edge of menace that conveyed the poet’s respect for the sinister beauty of nature. Those poems would not be as richly appreciated online.

Yet for now such fears would be misplaced. The study’s fine print makes clear that growth is not across the board. Selective private four-year colleges that are the subject of so much angst this season are barely dipping their toes, typically providing online courses for students studying abroad or slackers who needed that 8 a.m. math course to graduate. Some, though, have taken note; for example, Columbia for several years has offered online master’s degrees in some engineering fields.

Still, the surge is mostly among community colleges, professional programs like business and education, specialized online schools like the University of Phoenix, and public universities like Penn State and Illinois that feel obligated to accommodate far-flung residents. And the numbers are expected to grow partly because Congress last year dropped a requirement that colleges deliver half their courses on actual campuses in order to qualify for federal aid, a move critics saw as an enticement for diploma mills. Just as newspaper and television professionals are fumbling to figure out how to survive in an Internet world they did not grow up in, professors and students are realizing that they will have to learn, as one wag once said, to play the violin while performing at Carnegie Hall. QUESTIONS persist. What kind of content works best online, and what gets lost in translation? Which instructors and students function best in the virtual classroom? What happens to all those brick-and-mortar dormitories? How do you calculate the price of tuition?

Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers wonders what will happen, should campuses go exuberantly online, to the intangibles — the late-night bull sessions, the serendipitous strolls with professors, the chance to feel one’s oats in student government? And what will one more switch to electronic conversation do to our need for intimate human connections, he asks? . . . .


Followership Skills and the Great Withering Away

Just as John Dewey knew that real education is the key to creating the inclusive, participatory democracy that he envisioned, all of those (both the Mass. Brahmin and the Texas cowpoke) who prefer rule by the technocratic elite know how to stop any potential realization of the Deweyean ideal: just eliminate the possibility of real education, and replace it with the followership skills that the corporate experts require.

The ed reformers, then, who would save our industrial consumer society from the requirements of thinking will be glad to know that their preferred brand of anti-thought education for high schools has already come to Long Branch, NJ. Desperate to help high schoolers pass the high school proficiency test (HSPA), educators have crafted a test-prep blitzkrieg that will be incorporated throughout the curriculum--or what is left of it.

In a show of support that offered students a chance to be tested before they forgot everything they had just "learned," New Jersey's Ed Commissioner, Lucille Davy, even gave Long Branch permission to administer the HSPA immediately following the test-exploring "seminar" first offered at Long Branch last summer as the "Summer Scholars" program. Thus, we create a model for the rest of the state, yes?

Supporters of the program were simply ebullient, claiming that this cramfest actually offered these urban children the skills (to pass tests?) they will need beyond high school. Oh yes, I forgot, they will be going on to state colleges, and we know that the corporate bean counters have plans for mass testing ("accountability") there, too. Pour it in, pump it out. Work hard, be nice.

Here is a clip from the Atlanticviille:

. . . .As part of the program, Ferraina had reached out to the state commissioner of education and received permission to administer the HSPA test at the end of the program.

Of the 55 students who attended the summer program, 35 passed the HSPA after completing course.

"It is pretty amazing," said Salvatore. "These kids had failed the test before and with six weeks of intense instruction they were able to pass."

The classes concentrated on students and teachers working side by side to not only cover the necessary content of mathematic and English, but to also develop test-taking strategies, according to Salvatore.

"It is very intense," Salvatore said. "It focused on strategy and it wasn't just a focus on the content.

"It wasn't that these students didn't know the math, it was that when they saw it on a test, they did not know how to answer it."

The class also instructed the students on how to analyze tests, using the HSPA test as an example.

The students learned how many points were assigned to each question on the test, how many questions they needed to answer correctly in order to pass and which questions needed additional focus, according to Salvatore.

"We interviewed the kids [who passed] after they got their results and it was so great to hear what they had to say," Salvatore said. "One kid told us he believes in himself now, and as an educator, after hearing that, you know that you are doing the right thing."

Ferraina called the program "a rewarding experience."

He added, "Did you look at the faces of the students? This is one of my favorite moments as an educator.

"We were able to provide them with skills and strategies they need to be successful beyond high school.

"It shows that changing a few things here and there really makes a big difference," he said.

Although the program was a success, Salvatore said the district's hope is that it will not be needed anymore.

"We have taken this program and incorporated it into everyday classes at the high school," Salvatore said. "We find that kids, who even passed the test, need the strategies taught during the programs to apply in everyday testing.

"We have taken the elements and infused them into the classroom," he said. "We were alarmed at the number of kids that failed the test.

"This is going to help those kids."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Zuckerbrod, Spellings, and the Bullseye on the High School

For TV news, the Bush White House has Fox. For print, the AP owns the story. I don't know what happened to Ben Feller, but Nancy Zuckerbrod has not missed a beat in getting out the Spellings talking points on all things NCLB. The latest is on the unmentioned planned privatization of the urban high school, now that the K-8 charters and vouchers have been seeded and set in motion by ED. Green Dot waits in the wings.

If you liked the way that elementary schools were blamed for the poverty that they have no power to correct, there is more in store for the American high school if Spellings and the "no excuses" sorority sisters at Ed Trust get their way. And like the previous NCLB cover-up story, this round of blaming the public schools is brought to you by the same heartfelt conservative moral indignation that sets in when black teenagers drop out of school. After 150 years of ignoring the problem, the pain must be deep.

Washington hasn't focused much attention on the problem [dropouts]. The No Child Left Behind Act, for example, pays much more attention to educating younger students. But that appears to be changing.

House and Senate proposals to renew the 5-year-old No Child law would give high schools more federal money and put more pressure on them to improve on graduation performance, and the Bush administration supports that idea.

The current NCLB law imposes serious consequences on schools that report low scores on math and reading tests, and this fallout can include replacement of teachers or principals or both. But the law doesn't have the same kind of enforcement teeth when it comes to graduation rates.

Nationally, about 70 percent of U.S. students graduate on time with a regular diploma. For Hispanic and black students, the proportion drops to about half.

The legislative proposals circulating in Congress would:

Make sure schools report their graduation rates by racial, ethnic, and other subgroups and are judged on those results. That's to ensure that schools aren't just graduating white students in high numbers, but also are working to ensure that minority students get diplomas.

Get states to build data systems to keep track of students throughout their school years and more accurately measure graduation and dropout rates.

Ensure that states count graduation rates in a uniform way. States have used a variety of formulas, including counting the percentage of entering seniors who get a diploma. That measurement ignores the obvious fact that kids who drop out typically do so before their senior year.

Create strong progress goals for graduation rates and impose sanctions on schools that miss those benchmarks. Most states currently lack meaningful goals, according to The Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for poor and minority children.

The current law requires testing in reading and math once in high school, and those tests take on added importance because of the serious consequences for a school of failure. Critics say that creates a perverse incentive for schools to encourage kids to drop out before they bring down a school's score. . . .

"the TAKS Nazis we have morphed into"

When speaking truth to power falls on deaf ears, civil disobedience becomes the inheritor of moral outrage.

From the Houston Chronicle, commentary by teacher, Paula Whiteley:

TAKS has to go, and here's why. TAKS is not measuring student performance. It measures how much money yourstudents' parents have in their bank accounts. Year after year, test performance predictably peaks in affluent areas across the state. The Suburban enclaves post great test scores. Then the uUrban schools — with children whose vocabularies and experiences cannot begin to compete with children whose parents have advanced degrees and six-figure salaries — then play catch up. There will be a vast difference in test scores between children with educated parents with expansive vocabularies, and students whose parents are struggling to put food on the table and hold down menial jobs.

So, after years of unfair competition and high-stakes testing, the inner-city schools, in a word, cheat. Of course, they don't all do it, and but for the ones that do, I don't blame them a whole lot. Last year, there was a list of some about 800 possible instances of cheating in Texas. It was just the tip of the iceberg. The reason I say that is because I have had personal experiences where students have asked, "Ms. Whiteley, are you going to hold up one finger for "A," 2 two fingers for "B," etc., as we take the test, like the last teacher did?" That was many years ago. Today, there are multiple versions of the test within the same classroom.

But, don't kid yourself, with high-stakes testing costing administrative jobs in affluent and urban schools, you're naïve readers would be naive if you don'tthey didn't believe there will be cheating. From the subtle approach of a teacher whispering, "Check that answer once more," to full-fledged erasures at the campus level in a private office, cheating happens, and will continue to occur as long as TAKS remains an educational martinet.

TAKS is driving our classrooms in Texas. It is what we teach, often to the detriment of social studies and science, which are not part of the TAKS test until fifth grade. Just ask an elementary teacher in third- or fourth grade how much time is actually spent on science or social studies. Those two disciplines go by the wayside in order to have more reinforcement of math and reading, to shore up those vocabularies that haven't been nurtured at home. Minutes earmarked for social studies are actually used to drill math skills that were neglected for one reason or another.

Let's use a nautical analogy: Imagine that you havethere are twenty 20 students. They are either safely on the deck of the TAKS ship, with no danger of failing, or they are flailing in the water, reading in the third grade onat a kindergarten level. (Don't gasp — every teacher in Texas has Children Left Behind that don't read on grade level. They're not widgets, they're kids, and despite all of Berkeley'ssome research, they develop at different rates.)

There are a finite amount of minutes in the classroom. Five students are very bright and need challenging and extensions. Six students, however, do not read anywhere near grade level and will definitely not pass TAKS without daily intervention. A lack of attention to the flailers in the water might cost the school's principal a job. Those are our choices in Texas. Now, which do you think a teacher would choose?

There are established tests that measure a child's yearly progress to hold teachers accountable. For instance, student growth from a first-grade to a third-grade performance level can easily be measured. TAKS won't measure that growth, however. All the teacher and district know is that the student, who made two years' gain in one, failed third-grade TAKS.

We are jumping through flaming hoops in Texas, losing good teachers. Most now leave teaching after less than five years. Texas teachers are sick to death of this test being crammed down our throats. There's a better way than the TAKS Nazis we have morphed into. It's time to draw a line in the educational sand and take our state back.

Whiteley has been a teacher for more than 30 years and currently is a bilingual third-grade teacher at Rosehill Elementary in Tomball. Her Web site on teaching and education can be found at noteacherleftinsane.com.

Cracking Down on Stress Before Cracking Up America

In a few short years, corporate America has reshaped the educational ethos of America into a climbing-up-your-neighbor's-back rat race of achievement worship. High test scores translate into high SATs, which beget private college educations, which beget big corporate jobs, which beget the disposable walking alcoholic heart attacks that reach ripeness right about the time life should be savored. And the process starts all over again by using the testing factories to infect a new generation with child stress disorder (CSD).

Well, thank God for principals like Paul Richards, who is working to restore some sanity in the lives of high school humans before they are swept into the all-comsuming vortex of unhealthy competition. From the NY Times:

NEEDHAM, Mass. — It was 6:30 p.m. The lights were still on at Needham High School, here in the affluent Boston suburbs. Paul Richards, the principal, was meeting with the Stress Reduction Committee.

On the agenda: finding the right time to bring in experts to train students in relaxation techniques.

Don’t try to have them teach relaxation in study hall, said Olivia Boyd, a senior. Students, she explained, won’t want to interrupt their work. They were already too busy before or after school for the training.

No one is busier than Josh Goldman. Captain of varsity tennis, president of the Spanish club and a member of the student council and the Stress Reduction Committee, Josh was not able to squeeze in the meeting at all.

Mr. Richards noted his absence wryly. “Josh is a perfect example,” he said. “He’s got a hundred things going on.”

Here is the high-powered culture that Mr. Richards is trying to change, even if only a little.

But cultural change does not come smoothly. When Mr. Richards stopped publishing the honor roll in the local newspaper last winter, a move aimed at some parents who had turned the lists into a public accounting, Rush Limbaugh accused him of politically correct coddling of students, and Jay Leno mocked the school on national television. He received hate mail from all over the country.

Mr. Richards is undeterred. “It’s not that I’m trying to turn the culture upside down,” he said.

“It’s very important to protect the part of the culture that leads to all the achievement,” he said. “It’s more about bringing the culture to a healthier place.”

His new stress committee is starting to come up with recommendations, like the relaxation consultants, and is surveying students about unhealthy stress. This term, Mr. Richards is talking up the yoga classes that are required of all seniors. He has asked teachers to schedule homework-free weekends and holidays.

“The irony,” he said, referring to the homework breaks, “is that students tell us they appreciate the time because it allows them to catch up on other schoolwork.”

Mr. Richards is just one principal in the vanguard of a movement to push back against an ethos of super-achievement at affluent suburban high schools amid the extreme competition over college admissions. He has joined like-minded administrators from 44 other high schools and middle schools — most in the San Francisco Bay Area but others scattered from Texas to New York — to form a group known as S.O.S., for Stressed Out Students.

The group was formed four years ago by Denise Pope, a lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education and author of the book, “Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic and Miseducated Students” (Yale University Press, 2001).

High schools in other Boston suburbs — Wellesley, Lexington, Wayland — have taken steps similar to Needham’s, organizing stress committees and yoga classes. Some high schools are requiring students to get parental permission before enrolling in Advanced Placement classes. Others are experimenting with later start times so students can get more sleep.

Dr. Pope advises schools to end the tradition of student newspapers publishing end-of-the-year lists of seniors and their colleges. “We found that there are kids who are lying,” she said, “because they’re embarrassed to say they’re going to a state school.” . . . .


Sunday, October 28, 2007

More reading for Bill Gates on the coming "tidal wave of dumb"

As From the SF Chronicle (ht to A. G. Rud):

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I have this ongoing discussion with a longtime reader who also just so happens to be a longtime Oakland high school teacher, a wonderful guy who's seen generations of teens come and generations go and who has a delightful poetic sensibility and quirky outlook on his life and his family and his beloved teaching career.

And he often writes to me in response to something I might've written about the youth of today, anything where I comment on the various nefarious factors shaping their minds and their perspectives and whether or not, say, EMFs and junk food and cell phones are melting their brains and what can be done and just how bad it might all be.

His response: It is not bad at all. It's absolutely horrifying.

My friend often summarizes for me what he sees, firsthand, every day and every month, year in and year out, in his classroom. He speaks not merely of the sad decline in overall intellectual acumen among students over the years, not merely of the astonishing spread of lazy slackerhood, or the fact that cell phones and iPods and excess TV exposure are, absolutely and without reservation, short-circuiting the minds of the upcoming generations. Of this, he says, there is zero doubt.

Nor does he speak merely of the notion that kids these days are overprotected and wussified and don't spend enough time outdoors and don't get any real exercise and therefore can't, say, identify basic plants, or handle a tool, or build, well, anything at all. Again, these things are a given. Widely reported, tragically ignored, nothing new.

No, my friend takes it all a full step — or rather, leap — further. It is not merely a sad slide. It is not just a general dumbing down. It is far uglier than that.

We are, as far as urban public education is concerned, essentially at rock bottom. We are now at a point where we are essentially churning out ignorant teens who are becoming ignorant adults and society as a whole will pay dearly, very soon, and if you think the hordes of easily terrified, mindless fundamentalist evangelical Christian lemmings have been bad for the soul of this country, just wait.

It's gotten so bad that, as my friend nears retirement, he says he is very seriously considering moving out of the country so as to escape what he sees will be the surefire collapse of functioning American society in the next handful of years due to the absolutely irrefutable destruction, the shocking — and nearly hopeless — dumb-ification of the American brain. It is just that bad.

Now, you may think he's merely a curmudgeon, a tired old teacher who stopped caring long ago. Not true. Teaching is his life. He says he loves his students, loves education and learning and watching young minds awaken. Problem is, he is seeing much less of it. It's a bit like the melting of the polar ice caps. Sure, there's been alarmist data about it for years, but until you see it for yourself, the deep visceral dread doesn't really hit home.

He cites studies, reports, hard data, from the appalling effects of television on child brain development (i.e.; any TV exposure before 6 years old and your kid's basic cognitive wiring and spatial perceptions are pretty much scrambled for life), to the fact that, because of all the insidious mandatory testing teachers are now forced to incorporate into the curriculum, of the 182 school days in a year, there are 110 when such testing is going on somewhere at Oakland High. As one of his colleagues put it, "It's like weighing a calf twice a day, but never feeding it."

But most of all, he simply observes his students, year to year, noting all the obvious evidence of teens' decreasing abilities when confronted with even the most basic intellectual tasks, from understanding simple history to working through moderately complex ideas to even (in a couple recent examples that particularly distressed him) being able to define the words "agriculture," or even "democracy." Not a single student could do it.

It gets worse. My friend cites the fact that, of the 6,000 high school students he estimates he's taught over the span of his career, only a small fraction now make it to his grade with a functioning understanding of written English. They do not know how to form a sentence. They cannot write an intelligible paragraph. Recently, after giving an assignment that required drawing lines, he realized that not a single student actually knew how to use a ruler.

It is, in short, nothing less than a tidal wave of dumb, with once-passionate, increasingly exasperated teachers like my friend nearly powerless to stop it. The worst part: It's not the kids' fault. They're merely the victims of a horribly failed educational system.

Then our discussion often turns to the meat of it, the bigger picture, the ugly and unavoidable truism about the lack of need among the government and the power elite in this nation to create a truly effective educational system, one that actually generates intelligent, thoughtful, articulate citizens.

Hell, why should they? After all, the dumber the populace, the easier it is to rule and control and launch unwinnable wars and pass laws telling them that sex is bad and TV is good and God knows all, so just pipe down and eat your Taco Bell Double-Supremo Burrito and be glad we don't arrest you for posting dirty pictures on your cute little blog.

This is about when I try to offer counterevidence, a bit of optimism. For one thing, I've argued generational relativity in this space before, suggesting maybe kids are no scarier or dumber or more dangerous than they've ever been, and that maybe some of the problem is merely the same old awkward generation gap, with every current generation absolutely convinced the subsequent one is terrifically stupid and malicious and will be the end of society as a whole. Just the way it always seems.

I also point out how, despite all the evidence of total public-education meltdown, I keep being surprised, keep hearing from/about teens and youth movements and actions that impress the hell out of me. Damn kids made the Internet what it is today, fer chrissakes. Revolutionized media. Broke all the rules. Still are.

Hell, some of the best designers, writers, artists, poets, chefs, and so on that I meet are in their early to mid-20s. And the nation's top universities are still managing, despite a factory-churning mentality, to crank out young minds of astonishing ability and acumen. How did these kids do it? How did they escape the horrible public school system? How did they avoid the great dumbing down of America? Did they never see a TV show until they hit puberty? Were they all born and raised elsewhere, in India and Asia and Russia? Did they all go to Waldorf or Montessori and eat whole-grain breads and play with firecrackers and take long walks in wild nature? Are these kids flukes? Exceptions? Just lucky?

My friend would say, well, yes, that's precisely what most of them are. Lucky, wealthy, foreign-born, private-schooled ... and increasingly rare. Most affluent parents in America — and many more who aren't — now put their kids in private schools from day one, and the smart ones give their kids no TV and minimal junk food and no video games. (Of course, this in no way guarantees a smart, attuned kid, but compared to the odds of success in the public school system, it sure seems to help). This covers about, what, 3 percent of the populace?

As for the rest, well, the dystopian evidence seems overwhelming indeed, to the point where it might be no stretch at all to say the biggest threat facing America is perhaps not global warming, not perpetual warmongering, not garbage food or low-level radiation or way too much Lindsay Lohan, but a populace far too ignorant to know how to properly manage any of it, much less change it all for the better.

What, too fatalistic? Don't worry. Soon enough, no one will know what the word even means.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Does Bill Gates Read Business Week?

In case he doesn't, will someone email him the link to this article, another in a long line of articles that debunks Gates's, Broad's, and the Business Roundtable's propaganda campaign aimed at generating an oversupply of cheap engineers and scientists, while simultaneously taking over the American high school curriculum.

by Vivek Wadhwa
Political leaders, tech executives, and academics often claim that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science education. They cite poor test results, declining international rankings, and decreasing enrollment in the hard sciences. They urge us to improve our education system and to graduate more engineers and scientists to keep pace with countries such as India and China. Yet a new report by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, tells a different story. The report disproves many confident pronouncements about the alleged weaknesses and failures of the U.S. education system. This data will certainly be examined by both sides in the debate over highly skilled workers and immigration (BusinessWeek.com, 10/10/07).
The argument by Microsoft (MSFT), Google (GOOG), Intel (INTC), and others is that there are not enough tech workers in the U.S. The authors of the report, the Urban Institute's Hal Salzman and Georgetown University professor Lindsay Lowell, show that math, science, and reading test scores at the primary and secondary level have increased over the past two decades, and U.S. students are now close to the top of international rankings. Perhaps just as surprising, the report finds that our education system actually produces more science and engineering graduates than the market demands.


Junior Scientists on the Rise
These findings go against what has been the dominant position about our education system and our science and engineering workforce. Consider reports on national competitiveness that policymakers often turn to, such reports as the 2005 "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" by the National Academy of Sciences. This report says the U.S. is in dire straits because of poor math and science preparation. The report points to declining test scores, fewer students taking math and science courses, and low-quality curriculums and teacher preparation in K-12 education compared to other countries. The call has been taken up by some of the most prominent people in business and politics. Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, said at an education summit in 2005, "In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind." President George W. Bush addressed the issue in his 2006 State of the Union address. "We need to encourage children to take more math and science, and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations," he said.

Salzman and Lowell found the reverse was true. Their report shows U.S. student performance has steadily improved over time in math, science, and reading. It also found enrollment in math and science courses is actually up. For example, in 1982 high school graduates earned 2.6 math credits and 2.2 science credits on average. By 1998, the average number of credits increased to 3.5 math and 3.2 science credits. The percent of students taking chemistry increased from 45% in 1990 to 55% in 1996 and 60% in 2004. Scores in national tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the SAT, and the ACT have also shown increases in math scores over the past two decades.


And the new report again went against the grain when it compared the U.S. to other countries. It found that over the past decade the U.S. has ranked a consistent second place in science. It also was far ahead of other nations in reading and literacy and other academic areas. In fact, the report found that the U.S. is one of only a few nations that has consistently shown improvement over time.


Why the sharp discrepancy? Salzman says that reports citing low U.S. international rankings often misinterpret the data. Review of the international rankings, which he says are all based on one of two tests, the Trends in International Mathematics & Science Study (TIMMS) or the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), show the U.S. is in a second-ranked group, not trailing the leading economies of the world as is commonly reported. In fact, the few countries that place higher than the U.S. are generally small nations, and few of these rank consistently high across all grades, subjects, and years tested. Moreover, he says, serious methodological flaws, such as different test populations, and other limitations preclude drawing any meaningful comparison of school systems between countries.


Enough Jobs for the Grads?
As far as our workforce is concerned, the new report showed that from 1985 to 2000 about 435,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents a year graduated with bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in science and engineering. Over the same period, there were about 150,000 jobs added annually to the science and engineering workforce. These numbers don't include those retiring or leaving a profession but do indicate the size of the available talent pool. It seems that nearly two-thirds of bachelor's graduates and about a third of master's graduates take jobs in fields other than science and engineering.


Michael Teitelbaum, vice-president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which, among other things, works to improve science education, says this research highlights the troubling weaknesses in many conventional policy prescriptions. Proposals to increase the supply of scientists and engineers rapidly, without any objective evidence of comparably rapid growth in attractive career opportunities for such professionals, might actually be doing harm.


Shortages in Specific Skills
In previous columns, I have written about research my team at Duke University completed that shattered common myths (BusinessWeek.com, 7/10/06) about India and China graduating 12 times as many engineers as the U.S. We found that the U.S. graduated comparable numbers and was far ahead in quality. Our research also showed there were no engineer shortages (BusinessWeek.com, 11/7/06) in the U.S., and companies weren't going offshore because of any deficiencies in U.S. workers.
So, there isn't a lack of interest in science and engineering in the U.S., or a
deficiency in the supply of engineers. However, there may sometimes be short-term shortages of engineers with specific technical skills in certain industry segments or in various parts of the country. The National Science Foundation data show that of the students who graduated from 1993 to 2001, 20% of the bachelor's holders went on to complete master's degrees in fields other than science and engineering and an additional 45% were working in other fields. Of those who completed master's degrees, 7% continued their education and 31% were working in fields other than science and engineering.


There isn't a problem with the capability of U.S. children. Even if there were a deficiency in math and science education, there are so many graduates today that there would be enough who are above average and fully qualified for the relatively small number of science and engineering jobs. Science and engineering graduates just don't see enough opportunity in these professions to continue further study or to take employment.


Creating Wider-Ranging Demand
With U.S. competitiveness at stake, we need to get our priorities straight. Education is really important, and a well-educated workforce is what will help the U.S. keep
its global edge. But emphasizing math and science education over humanities and social sciences may not be the best prescription for the U.S. We need our
children to receive a balanced and broad education. Perhaps we should focus
on creating demand for the many scientists and engineers we graduate. There are
many problems, from global warming to the development of alternative fuels to
cures for infectious diseases, that need to be solved. Rather than blaming our
schools, let's create exciting national programs that motivate our children to
help solve these problems.


Wadhwa is Wertheim Fellow at the Harvard Law School and executive in residence at Duke University. He is a tech entrepreneur who founded two technology companies. His research can be found at www.globalizationresearch.com .

Thursday, October 25, 2007

NCATE's Appeasement of Anti-Social Justice Mob

Capitulation complete on the teacher education front. Social justice language and dispositions disappear from NCATE standards. Another marker on the road to fascism. From the Chronicle's Blog:

The board of the nation’s largest organization accrediting teacher-education programs has formally voted to drop controversial language about social justice from its standards for evaluating teacher-education programs.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education had been criticized by some students — and by conservative activists — for suggesting that teacher-preparation programs evaluate students’ professional “dispositions” by considering students’ “beliefs and attitudes such as caring, fairness, honesty and responsibility, and social justice.”

The concept of social justice, opponents said, had been used by institutions to weed out would-be teachers based on their social and political beliefs. Several teacher candidates had complained about education professors who seemed more interested in students’ political views than in their classroom performance (The Chronicle, December 16, 2005).

The accreditor first announced in the summer of 2006 that it would eliminate social justice from its recommendation for how teacher-education programs could evaluate students (The Chronicle, June 16, 2006). Now its board has formally voted to do so, said Jane Liebrand, a spokeswoman for the organization.

Under a new definition in the glossary of its standards, the accreditor says it expects institutions to assess students’ “professional dispositions” by considering students’ sense of “fairness and the belief that all students can learn.” —Robin Wilson

The Op-Ed NYT Doesn't Want

This piece by Lois Meyer was posted to ARN by George Sheridan.
Hungering for Educational Justice
Lois M. Meyer
University of New Mexico
lsmeyer@unm.edu

National Book Award-winning author and educator Jonathan Kozol recently explained to an almost overflow audience at the University of New Mexico (UNM) why he appeared thin and weak. For three months he has been on a hunger fast for educational justice. Why? Because he can no longer stomach the gross injustices he witnesses in classrooms and schools across the nation. Last July 1, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Brown vs. Board of Education, the historic 1954 decision that outlawed segregated schools and mandated school integration, Kozol began his hunger fast against “the racist agenda inherent in the federal education reform act [No Child Left Behind} signed into law by President Bush in 2001”. His hunger strike is partial – he supplements a liquid diet with some solid nourishment at his doctor’s request to sustain life. But, he added, “I'm old now so I'm not afraid to do or say what I believe is right.”

We don't hear much about hunger strikes these days. Obesity, sure, bulimia, maybe, but not hunger strikes. Our appetite for the likes of American Idol and Desperate Housewives seems insatiable, while the idea of self-inflicted hunger as a principled act of political protest and personal conviction causes us intellectual if not gastric distress. Fasting for justice seems way more extreme than Extreme Makeover. Non-violent hunger fasts may have helped Gandhi and Cesar Chavez tumble colonial empires and unionize California lettuce fields, but that was decades ago. Today both nonviolence and hunger fasting seem to have been deleted from our consciousness and from our menu of possible political actions.

And fasting for educational justice? How would that improve the test scores of low achieving children, or help failing schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)? In this age of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), even our concept of educational justice is so shrunken and deformed by government spin that we act as though test scores - rather than children’s creativity and excitement about learning, or the priorities and cultural rights of parents and communities - are what matter.

Many in the UNM crowd of new and experienced teachers, school administrators, university students and professors, and concerned parents, were familiar with what Kozol has said and done in the past. He has worked in inner-city schools for more than 40 years, giving voice to children’s experiences of public schooling in disturbing books such as Death at an Early Age, The Shame of the Nation, and Savage Inequalities. His newest book, Letters to a Young Teacher, recounts his year-long dialogue with an inexperienced first-grade teacher in a segregated Black school in his home town, Boston. In it he promises to describe “the joys and challenges and passionate rewards of a beautiful profession” – teaching.

Kozol made good on his promise, and in doing so, he fed a deep hunger in the audience that night. Public school teachers are hungry to hear a public figure of Kozol’s stature commend them with awe and pride and gratitude for their skills and commitment to teaching. NCLB lays the blame for children’s poor test scores on teachers and schools, and by implication, on parents and communities, especially poor communities of color. It ignores mounds of data that document the increasing inequalities among communities and social classes in family income, health supports, even basics like adequate food and housing, all factors that influence performance on achievement tests and students’ opportunities to learn. Instead, NCLB’s single-minded and simplistic solution to educational inequalities is to hold educators, children and parents “accountable”. In other words, they are blamed and shamed as the “cause” of the educational “failure” of the very children our society refuses to insure and opts instead to segregate, underfund, push out of school, and ignore.

In stark contrast, Kozol celebrated the contributions of education professionals as the strength and soul of public education. He encouraged especially young teachers and those who are preparing to teach: “Teachers I meet today are some of the most gifted and enthusiastic I have ever seen. Especially those who teach young children should not permit themselves to be drill sergeants of the State or trainers for corporate global capitalism.”

Children command most of Kozol’s attention, real children with names like Pineapple and Ariel and Shaniqua who populate the classrooms where he visits and volunteers time. He denounced the educational injustices these children endure in the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth – resegregated schools; overcrowded classrooms; narrow, test-driven curricula; rote, drill-and-kill teaching methods. Though labeled by NCLB as “failures”, the spirit of these children is inspiring – most still hunger to learn.

The federal law’s misplaced, child-damaging priorities are masked in deceptive rhetoric about “standards” and “excellence” and “global competitiveness”. NCLB pretends to address quality education for children but its real concerns are different. “Why should kindergartners care about the global marketplace?” Kozol demands. “They care about bellybuttons and elbows and furry caterpillars.” Curiosity about their world and joy in discovery, not test scores or world markets, are what propel young children to learn.

Some words never appear in NCLB at all, “words like curiosity, creativity, laughter, and delight.” Some parents and communities, and undoubtedly legislators, can demand for their children the best education money can buy, an education that still challenges and delights. But too many Black and Hispanic andNative American kids, and those with special needs or those who are still learning English, are force-fed a stripped down, debased and test-driven curriculum. Kozol’s conclusion was unflinching: “It is deeply hypocritical to hold 8 or 9 year olds accountable for their academic achievement but not hold Congressional delegates and the president accountable for not providing poor kids with the same education they themselves insist on giving to their own kids.”

Syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrete Jr.’s recent column (“Dismantle No Child Left Behind and Watch us Fail”, Oct. 1) is a stark example of the deceptive education talk fueled by NCLB. Navarrete claimed to speak in defense of the needs and wants of children “who don't vote, or give money, or twist arms, or pay union dues”. Yet Navarrete never talked about children at all, not about their feelings, their interests, their dreams, or their reaction to being labeled as “failures”. Instead, Navarette’s column berates teachers' unions, the Democratic-controlled Congress, and “certain Republicans” for seeking to eliminate the most punitive NCLB requirements. Navarrete applauded U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings as a “ferocious defender” of NCLB.

Ferociously defending NCLB is a far cry from defending children and quality instruction and educational justice for all. Kozol understands, as did Gandhi and Chavez before him, that hunger for educational justice demands principled political action if we are to dismantle federal education legislation that intellectually starves our neediest children.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stereotype Threat, NCLB, and the Half-Way Solution

From Ed Week:

Stanford University psychologist Claude M. Steele made headlines in 1995 with a study that introduced the phrase “stereotype threat” into the national lexicon. Put simply, it’s the idea that people tend to underperform when confronted with situations that might confirm negative stereotypes about their social group.

Could there ever be devised a more consistent, hammering confirmation of stereotype for minority children and parents living economically disadvantaged lives: the more you struggle, the steeper the hill gets over time, and the more likely you are to fail the high stakes tests on which NCLB is built?

It is sadly interesting to note, too, that now as we finally start talking about interventions to address stereotypes and the achievement gap, there is a focus almost entirely on psychological interventions--as if the poverty that drives the achievement gap can be fixed by tinkering inside the heads of students and teachers. While surely the psychological space is critical in terms of shaping learning and education, fixation on the psychological can lead to a debilitating blindness to the equally-strong sociological realities that shape children's lives. All the tinkering inside the head can only go so far in getting to a full solution to the educational achievement gap, as John Dewey knew over a hundred years ago. Focusing on they psychological, alone, can bring more negative consequences, in fact:
--this educational process has two sides--one psychological and the one sociological--and that neither can be subordianted to the other , or neglected, without evil results following (My Pedagogic Creed, Article I).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Charters and Vouchers Minus Accountability

The charter school privatizers, the ed industry, and the voucher supporters all share a strong belief that the public schools should be held accountable, but their support for accountability suddenly disappears when their preferred "choice" options are brought into the accountability discussion. In short, they are for oversight as long someone else is being overseen. Otherwise, avoiding oversight becomes a freedom issue that is used to provide a rhetorical camouflage for the accountability escape hatch.

Florida's charter school movement, fueled by untold millions from the oligarchies of Gates, Broad, and Walton, presents a perfect case study on how the accountability gestalt gets flipped when schools are converted from public to charter. From the Palm Beach Post:

Florida's educational double standard lives on. The state already exempts voucher programs from the academic and financial oversight required of regular public schools. Now, charter schools can exploit the same lack of accountability.

Last week, the state Board of Education, whose members the governor appoints, ruled that the elected school boards in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties can't be trusted to oversee charter schools. Instead, a panel appointed by the statewide board will exercise that power. In fact, the state board ruled, only three counties - Orange, Polk and Sarasota - can retain full power over charter schools, which operate with public money.


The Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach districts all have seen charters killed by financial trouble. But none is hostile to charters. Martin County has two. St. Lucie has none but is considering viable proposals. The much larger Palm Beach district has 36 charters. An audit at the beginning of the year showed that half of them were operating in the red. The district has been aggressive when it suspected financial mismanagement - as when one charter principal couldn't account for $29,000 in ATM withdrawals - but that's a good thing.

Of course, badly run charter schools don't see it that way. Taking their side, in 2006 the Legislature created the scheme to thwart local control. But bypassing local boards probably violates the Florida Constitution, which says the locally elected school board "shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district."

In December, nine school districts, including Martin and Palm Beach, joined the Florida School Boards Association in a lawsuit to overturn the law that took away their exclusive authority over charter schools. The circuit court in Tallahassee set the lawsuit aside because the state Board of Education had not yet ruled on requests by 29 districts to retain local control. Now that the state has turned down the majority of those requests, the districts should revive the lawsuit.

Unsupervised voucher programs produced numerous financial scandals. Until now, local oversight has provided a check on charter operators inclined to behave the same way. For the sake of regular public schools and responsible charter operators, the courts should restore local authority over charter schools.

Monday, October 22, 2007

CTA Says No to Pelosi and Miller's NCLB Sequel

From YouTube (ht to Susan Ohanian):

LIHEAP Exposes Part of the Lie Underpinning SCHIP Veto

Dan Brown exposes Bush's new effort to help the poor: cut off their heat this winter:

George W. Bush explained his recent veto of the bipartisan-supported Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, because he says he wants to put "poor kids first."

The president's (and his supporters') logic here is that expanding funding for the popular State Child Health Insurance Plan would mean that more people than those living in rock-bottom poverty might get access to government-subsidized healthcare, and that would be a grievous wrong. He contends that only kids born into the most desperate poverty should get help outside of private, market-priced insurance--whether they can afford it or not.

And now he wants to cut government-subsidized heat to low-income households.

Bush took less than a week to prove through his actions that he could not care less about poor kids at any level of poverty, and is in fact, actively working to keep them sick, freezing, and unable to elevate themselves. "Poor kids first" is hogwash.

Using the pathetic trick of releasing the mean-spirited announcement on a Friday evening, the week's lowest-buzzing moment of news coverage, the Bush Administration wants to cut the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a move which will literally leave 30 million low-income households in the cold this winter.

Oil costs are rising, and the Bush Administration's response is to pull the plug on homes that can't afford the market-priced heat.

Reuters reports, "LIHEAP has an interim annual budget of $2.16 billion, but the White House wants to cut the program to $1.78 billion for the 2008 spending year that began on October 1."

LIHEAP was founded in 1981, but its funding has not kept up with inflation or energy costs. If it did, its budget would be $4.2 billion. Rather than expanding the program to meet the needs of struggling Americans, Bush wants to contract it.

The president's fears of middle-class freeloaders getting government help do not apply here. The households using LIHEAP are poor by any American standard. About two-thirds of the households that receive LIHEAP assistance have annual incomes of less than $20,000. One day Bush says "poor kids first," and then the next, moves to shut off their heaters. And you can be sure that no one who supports Bush's cutback has ever himself spent an icy winter without access to heat.

In a stirring Boston Globe editorial, Deborah A. Frank and Joseph P. Kennedy II point out a devastating statistic:

"Young children in poor families who receive energy assistance through the federal LIHEAP are 32 percent less likely to require admission to the hospital on the day of their visit to the emergency room than eligible families who do not receive LIHEAP."

This program lets people live. How can the Bush Administration propose to cut it by 44% from its 2005 funding level? Don't they have money for this vital program? . . . .

KIPP Brings Its Extreme Education to British Ghettos

When white philanthropists of the 19th Century supported the Hampton Institute as the solution to the "negro problem," they had good reason. The 20 percent of students who made it through the industrial labor/teacher prep program came to understand, through their indoctrination, that all problems of the newly freed were solvable through hard work. And if problems persisted, then it was a sign that they were just not working hard enough. The four out of five students who did not make it through the program were kicked out for rules infractions and for an unwillingness to accept the Hampton Ideology that taught these students the tripartite roles of moral inferiority, social subservience, and the acceptability of any labor at any price.

The 21st Century Hampton equivalent is the KIPP Academy solution, with its mantra of "No Excuses" and "Work Hard, Be Nice." In these elementary work camps aimed at creating a new generation of Booker T. Washingtons ready to promulgate the philosophy of Uncle Tom, the effects of poverty are over-written with non-stop indoctrination, and if parents or children break any element of their contracts, they are out.

So the survivors of this self-selected process are put through ongoing obstacle courses of academic and emotional hazing, and Voila--at the end we have students with higher test scores who are ready to smile, nod, and introduce the world the Wonderful World of KIPP, where there are no excuses (except yourself) for your failure, even if you have to dodge bullets to get to home from the miraculous KIPP Academies. Thus, all the children who grow up and don't make the goals set up for them can then accept their own failure as something that their own miserable lack of initiative was responsible for. Work hard, be nice. No excuses. Perfect.

Here is a story about KIPP's export to Britain, funded largely by the hedge fund thieves, er, philanthropists who have not yet been exposed. From the Guardian:

Some call it extreme education: 10-hour days, parental contracts and zero tolerance behaviour policies in small, 200-pupil academies. The result, seen in an evolving breed of US school, is 100% college acceptance, test scores to rival private schools, and south Bronx teenagers who play the viola like their Manhattan neighbours.

The small school movement has been accused of undoing decades of progressive education. But its greatest proponents claim to be part of a new civil rights movement working to free America's urban underclass from a cycle of under-achievement.

James Verrilli, principal of the North Star Academy in Newark, America's second poorest city, said: "These kids know drugs, these kids know crime and violence. Fathers are absent through incarceration. We have established a school culture which is very distinct from the attitude they walk in the door with. It's a college-bound culture."

In the UK the political debate about the achievement gap between rich and poor in schools is gathering pace. Ofsted last week highlighted the "stark divide" in achievement linked to social class and the government has set itself tough new targets on reducing the gap. Three London academies are experimenting with small school principles and last week a group of British teachers in training to run inner city schools visited the US looking for methods to tackle the dire state of "complex urban education".

At the North Star Academy children called Charism and Queen-Ama smile politely as they shake your hand and welcome you in. Some 85% of pupils are African American and 90% get free school meals. Last year 80% were graded "proficient or advanced" in maths, compared with 28% in the local neighbourhood school, and exceeding state averages. Pupils work in silence with a professionalism learned during a three-day process. From the beginning pupils are taught to speak clearly, answer questions in full sentences and look the teacher in the eye.

Parents have to sign a three-way contract with their child and the principal, promising to pull their weight.

When a child's homework isn't handed in by 8am there is a phone call home. When the parent doesn't turn up for a meeting, their child is not allowed back into school until they turn up. Signs telling them "No excuses" line the walls.

"I was working until 11 last night. I'm tired, but I know I've got to [work]," says one 11-year-old, as she finishes up a "brain food" worksheet over breakfast. "Even my mother's gone back to school since I've been here."

Pupils are tested every six weeks and their results scrutinised.

"As a principal of a small school I know what every child is up to in terms of their academic achievement and their behaviour," says Mr Verrilli. It's an accountability that is extended to teachers: Mr Verrilli will sit in on classes with a Blackberry emailing the instructor his notes as they teach.

North Star and its small school peers have evolved out of the 3,500-strong charter school movement in the US. Like academies in Britain, charter schools are independent schools, funded by the state, and allowed more freedom to set policies, including their admissions procedures. It runs a lottery for admissions and has 1,800 children on the waiting list. Parents have to put their child's name into the lottery and there are discrepancies in who does so; they get three girls who apply to every boy.

Mr Verrilli vehemently denies any suggestion that his students might not be the most needy. "It's a prejudice to say that parents from disadvantaged backgrounds don't care about their kids' education. Ninety-five per cent of parents just want a better education for their children.

"We're not creaming. I'm defensive about that. It's something we're accused of a lot. How hard is it to put your child's name down on a piece of paper?" he said.

Every child who attends the Kipp (Knowledge is Power Programme) academy in south Bronx, New York, plays in its orchestra, the best school ensemble in the city. Every child can read music.

Shirley Lee, a director of the Kipp academy in the Bronx, says it works because there is a consistent approach across every part of the school.

"The truth and reality is that kids like structure," she said. "It's about telling them what's appropriate and them learning when to use it. I wouldn't talk to you like I am now if I was out in some of these areas. But if we teach them to look in my eyes when I'm speaking to them, they will use that if they get stopped by the police and that will protect them."

Ark, an academy sponsor in the UK funded by hedge fund millionaires, is taking key planks of the small school model into London academies.

Lucy Heller, managing director of Ark, says: "There's something in the air: it's small schools, tough behaviour management and an adamant belief that inner city children can do just as well."

The schools minister, Lord Adonis, says small schools can teach disadvantaged children the skills that their middle class peers take for granted: "High ambition, zero tolerance of failure, an expectation that children will go to university and that schools will give them the education to do so."

Ark is also part-funding the 30 "Future Leaders" on the school leadership training scheme visiting the US. They are expected to take some of the ideas they witnessed home. There are high hopes the two-year-old programme will help to fill the leadership deficit in the UK. Its chief executive is Heath Monk, a former top schools civil servant. Among the Future Leaders is Peter Hyman, onetime spin doctor to Tony Blair, turned classroom assistant, turned teacher. They are being mentored by two respected "superheads", Sir Iain Hall and Dame Sharon Hollows.

Many of the trainees see limits in how translatable the model is to the UK. They talk about the fact that most of the US schools are middle schools, for 10-14-year-olds. The model has been tested less in the secondary school age group (11-18). They also ask how smaller schools can be afforded, though others point out the fact that in the US facilities are basic. Unlike English academies there are no award-winning architectural designs. Just classrooms.

"They don't even have interactive whiteboards," says Sir Ian. "They just teach. Small schools might not be practical in the UK, but what I really want these new school leaders to take back is the sense of culture in these schools."

At North Star a teacher asks Mr Verrilli about work-life balance, and how teachers are expected to put in 12-hour days on top of weekends and holidays - and give their numbers for parents and pupils to contact them out of hours. There is no need for work-life balance, he says. "This is a civil rights movement, as if to say Martin Luther King didn't need work-life balance, why should they?"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Spellings Will Not Pursue A Full Accounting

No, no, I am not talking about the poor, black, and brown children--their accountability is absolutely necessary for public schools to be painted as failures. I am talking about absent accountability for the hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments paid out to corporations for continuing to farm old student loans.

Despite a call from her own Inspector General, Spellings has no intention of trying to collect the $268 million from Nelnet, or the recently-discovered $300 million paid out to other corporations. From WaPo:

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has acknowledged that the federal government "had some responsibility" for "confusion" over subsidy rules that helped student loan companies reap hundreds of millions of dollars in potentially excessive payments at taxpayer expense.

But Spellings said in a recent interview that she has no plans to pursue a full accounting of the cost of what the Education Department's inspector general termed "improper" payments in a program that guarantees lenders a 9.5 percent interest rate for certain loans even when market rates are much lower. Nor does the department plan to seek reimbursement.

The inspector general concluded last year that the government had overpaid one lender, Nebraska-based Nelnet, $278 million from 2003 to 2005 -- a finding the lender disputes. In addition, a Washington Post analysis of data obtained recently through the Freedom of Information Act suggests that potential overpayments to other lenders from 2003 to 2006 could total roughly $300 million.

Two lenders, the New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corp. and the Arkansas Student Loan Authority, said they returned millions of dollars in subsidy payments voluntarily after they discovered errors themselves.

"It seemed like they would just pay subsidies to almost anyone without checking at all," said Tara Payne, a vice president of the New Hampshire lender.

The existence and approximate magnitude of the questionable payments has been known for some time, but until now there has not been an estimate of a total. The Government Accountability Office warned three years ago that a failure to shut down legal loopholes could lead the government to pay billions of dollars in unnecessary subsidies.

Although some subsidy payments in the 9.5 percent program are broadly accepted as legitimate, critics have questioned aggressive financing techniques that lenders used in recent years to expand the volume of loans that qualify for the lucrative subsidy. Auditors for Education Department Inspector General John P. Higgins Jr. concluded that some of those techniques failed to meet criteria that would qualify the lenders for payments.

In 2004 and 2006, Congress enacted legislation meant to phase out the subsidy. Spellings went a step further in January, shutting down any future payments of the sort the inspector general had questioned.

But Spellings said she would not pursue reimbursement of any previous payments because rules had not been made clear to the lenders. "The department, I believe, had some responsibility with respect to that confusion," she said in a recent interview with The Post.

Indeed, the subsidy's 27-year history shows that the government at some points sought to restrict the subsidy and at other points stood by while lenders used aggressive financial techniques to maximize profits during years of low market rates.

The program began in 1980 as an effort to help ensure student access to low-cost loans at a time of double-digit interest rates. The government guaranteed lenders a 9.5 percent return on loans financed by tax-exempt bonds.

When interest rates fell, the guarantee became a boon for lenders. Congress pared back the program in 1993 but retained the 9.5 percent guarantee for loans financed with previously issued tax-exempt bonds. It was assumed the subsidies would dwindle and eventually disappear.

But some officials within the department realized as early as 2002 that the opposite was occurring: Lenders were taking steps to inflate the volume of loans that qualified for the subsidies. They did that by shifting the financing of loans among bonds that qualified for the special subsidies and bonds that did not. Lenders then claimed that the larger pool of loans financed by both types of bonds qualified for the subsidies.

Some inside the department sounded alarms.

"I have come across what appears to be significant federal waste," department researcher Jon H. Oberg wrote in a 2003 memo to agency officials. "I estimate it amounts to about $30,000 per day, perhaps more."

Oberg urged the department, without success, to clarify the rules on subsidy payments through a letter to lenders or new regulations.

"We tried hard in 2002 to modify" federal guidance to lenders "but had to back off," Mirek Halaska, director of a Texas field office, wrote in a 2004 e-mail to department officials.

In 2003, Nelnet devised a plan, known internally as Project 950, according to the inspector general's report, that shuffled loan financing quickly from one bond to another to increase the volume of loans that qualified for the subsidies. Nelnet wrote the department in May 2003 to ask for confirmation that its plan was legal. The department, then led by Rod Paige, did not respond for 13 months. In that time, Nelnet inflated the volume of loans qualifying for the subsidies from $551 million to about $3.66 billion, the inspector general found. In June 2004, the department sent Nelnet a three-paragraph reply that offered no conclusion on whether the plan was legal.

In May 2005, the inspector general reported that the New Mexico Educational Assistance Foundation had collected as much as $35 million in excessive payments and urged the department to recover the money. The nonprofit lender disagreed with the findings. So did Spellings, who took office in January. She decided not to seek to recoup the funds.

But Spellings took action after the inspector general's September 2006 report on Nelnet found that the lender stood to collect an estimated $882 million in future years if the problem wasn't fixed. In a January settlement between the government and Nelnet, the lender denied wrongdoing and was allowed to keep all subsidies as long as it stopped collecting the disputed subsidies in the future. Spellings extended the policy to every lender in the country.

"We had legal risk, in my view, and the prudent course of action was to, once and for all, end this practice and provide certainty in the industry that that was not allowable," Spellings told The Post. "While it cost us $278 million to make that final call, it also saved us potentially a billion dollars had we lost the litigation."

The government's total cost, however, is undoubtedly higher than $278 million because Nelnet did not act alone. Spellings said the agency has no plans to conduct audits to calculate a total. "I don't know if it's a knowable number," she said. "I guess it's knowable by somebody. But my inspector general doesn't know it, to my knowledge. And I don't. We haven't found out."

Nelnet spokesman Ben Kiser reiterated that Nelnet did nothing wrong and followed the law as the department had articulated it.

In July, the department responded to a Post request for data on the 9.5 percent loan subsidies. The Post analyzed payments from 2001 to 2006 to lenders from across the country, attempting to use criteria applied in the inspector general's report on Nelnet. The analysis found as much as $330 million in potential overpayments to 10 other lenders.

Department officials contend that only comprehensive audits can determine the amount overpaid to lenders. Diane Auer Jones, assistant secretary for postsecondary education, called The Post's analysis flawed. "We don't believe meaningful inferences can be made" from the data the department provided, Jones said in a statement. But four experts in higher education finance who reviewed the analysis at The Post's request -- Christopher Avery, a Harvard University professor; Laura W. Perna, a University of Pennsylvania professor; Robert B. Archibald, a College of William & Mary professor; and Robert Shireman, president of the Institute for College Access and Success -- said it would provide a rough estimate of the potential cost to taxpayers.

Ellis E. Tredway, an executive vice president for Brazos Higher Education Authority, said the lender was not to blame for receiving what the Post analysis found may have been $20 million in overpayments. The Education Department, he said, was responsible.

"I think there is fault with the department," Tredway said. "They came out with a new interpretation of what history had been."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Jay Mathews For Cheap Standardized Tests--So Where's the Headline?

It is good to see Jay Mathews come out from behind his desk at the Washington Post so that we get a full view of his inside-the-tiny-box thinking.

Writing for a new blog by the Business Roundtable cheerleaders of the Education Writers Association, he no longer has to carry on the pretense of unbiased reporter, but can simply let his hair? down so that all the world may see what he is really about. Here he is writing about Edwards' position on educational assessments:
My main complaint with his NCLB position is his stand on testing, which I think betrays a lack of understanding of what good teachers do. He is not alone in this. I have yet to find a presidential candidate who understands, or is willing to discuss, this point, so I can't see this as a major Edwards flaw. None of us is perfect.
Has Mathews really come to believe that his own vast experience of standing at the back of the classroom watching translates to understanding what teaching is about? Wonder if 20-year Yankees season ticket holders feel qualified to apply for Joe Torre's old job as manager?

Jay's true colors show through, though, when he talks about educational assessments--letting us see someone who has obviously not considered the possibility that all those fine teachers he knows so much about might, actually, be capable of designing their own assessments to measure the effectiveness of their own fine teaching:

Here is what his Web site says about his view on tests under NCLB: "Rather than requiring students to take cheap standardized tests, Edwards believes that we must invest in the development of higher-quality assessments that measure higher-order thinking skills, including open-ended essays, oral examinations, and projects and experiments."

Sounds great, doesn't it? So why have so many states shied away from such tests? Why has the state of Maryland just decided to end its use of written answers to questions---the brief constructed responses?

The answer is that such tests are very expensive, very slow to grade and don't give you any important information that you cannot get from multiple choice exams. In addition, attempts to write such exams for ALL children---as opposed to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams written for high schoolers who choose to take a challenging course--usually fail, because the test makers find they have to dumb down the process or graders will go made, and they will be reporting May's scores the following February. Such tests also cost millions of extra dollars that would be better spent raising teacher salaries.

That is what happened with Maryland's BCRs---they came out slow and stupid and expensive and led to bad teaching. Maryland was smart to get rid of them.

It may sound odd, but it is much better to make do with short, cheap standardized tests. They give you enough to know how a student, and a school, are doing in general, and can provide some quick clues to a kid's weaknesses. All that fine teaching on critical thinking will come if the student has a good teacher, and the cheap tests can show which teachers are good at raising achievement levels and which are not. . . .

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Weingarten Betrayal

That Randi is really a bargainer. Here is how she gave teachers the power to determine who gets the money for the higher test scores:
Four-member “compensation committees” at each school, consisting of two teachers, the principal and a principal’s appointee, will decide how to divide the money. They can reward everyone equally or give more money to the teachers whose students’ scores rise the most.
Wonder what happens in a tie? Right.

Armstrong Williams, Rod Paige, and Sinclair Broadcasting

The FCC issued fines on Thursday for the payola scandal involving the Department of Education and Armstrong Williams, "the premier Black political whore in America." No mention of his pimp, Rod Paige. For those with short memories, ED paid Williams $240,000 for undisclosed infomercials promoting NCLB to the black community as a civil rights initiative. From the AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government on Thursday proposed fines totaling $76,000 against two broadcast companies for failing to tell viewers that programs featuring columnist Armstrong Williams were sponsored by the Education Department.

In 2003, Williams signed a contract with the department for $240,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind Act. Williams did not reveal the existence of the contract even as he expressed his support for it on the air.

The revelation about Williams led to widespread criticism by lawmakers who said the payments to Armstrong and other contractors amounted to covert propaganda and were an improper use of taxpayer dollars. Williams is a syndicated conservative columnist and TV personality.

The Federal Communications Commission says the stations violated sponsorship identification rules by not revealing Williams' financial relationship.

Williams could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

According to an FCC document filed Thursday, Sonshine Family Television Inc., licensee of WBPH-TV in Bethlehem, Pa., is liable for a fine of $40,000 for airing five episodes of "The Right Side with Armstrong Williams."

The shows aired on 10 occasions in the first half of 2004 and included Williams speaking about the education law.

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. of Baltimore was hit with a proposed fine of $36,000 for airing an episode of "America's Black Forum" in September of 2004, which also included Williams talking about the legislation.

The Sinclair stations involved are WABM-TV in Birmingham, Ala.; KSMO-TV in Kansas City, Mo.; WVTV-TV in Milwaukee, Wis.; WUXP-TV in Nashville, Tenn.; KOCB-TV and WEAR-TV in Pensacola, Fla; WPMY-TV in Pittsburgh; KABB-TV in San Antonio; and WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, Fla.

Sonshine told the FCC its agreement with Williams "called for payment of a nominal fee of $100" for each broadcast, and therefore shouldn't be considered sponsorship. While the fee may have been small, it did not excuse the broadcaster from informing viewers the program was sponsored, the FCC said.

In Sinclair's case, Armstrong appeared on an episode entitled "2004 Election Countdown." While the company was not paid to air the program, the FCC said the fact that the program was political in nature meant it required sponsorship identification.

Sinclair argued that "it simply did not know, and had no reason to know, that the program required any identification."

The investigation took place following a complaint from Free Press, a public interest media watchdog group, and "several thousand other complainants" according to the FCC.

In a joint statement, FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein said the action shows broadcasters have a legal obligation to "alert the public to any payola punditry and places the industry on notice that the commission will act to ensure the public is protected from special interest groups who attempt to trick the public."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Introducing Nobel-Winning Racist, Dr. James Watson

Remember Crick and Watson, yes, of DNA fame. That Watson, now head of Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory, which, by the way, was ground zero for the eugenics movement in the early 20th Century. Dr. Watson is spouting off in Britain about the inferiority of black people. What is scary is that Watson feels it now safe to speak so brazenly about his racist views at this point in history, views he has held for many years but was not so open about sharing them.

From Raw Story:

A leading scientific organization Thursday condemned as "racist" and "vicious" remarks by a Nobel Prize-winning US scientist who reportedly said black people are less intelligent than whites.

The Washington-based Federation of American Scientists (FAS) said it was "outraged" by the remarks attributed to James Watson that appeared in Britain's Sunday Times Magazine at the weekend.

"It is tragic that one of the icons of modern science has cast such dishonor on the profession," said FAS president Henry Kelly.

"Dr. Watson chose to use his unique stature to promote personal prejudices that are racist, vicious and unsupported by science," he added, saying it was "a sad and revolting way to end a remarkable career."

Watson won the Nobel prize for medicine in 1962 for his part in discovering the structure of DNA.

The 79-year-old chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York state is in Britain to promote his new book "Avoid Boring People: Lessons From A Life In Science."

Watson told the Sunday Times he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours -- whereas all the testing says not really."

The British Museum in London revoked a invitation to Watson in the firestorm that followed the remarks, saying through a spokesman that his comments had "gone beyond the point of acceptable debate."

Weingarten Sells Out NYC Teachers and Students

In her agreement with Bloomberg to base merit pay on test scores, Weingarten places her own political ambitions ahead of the education of NYC students. Here is the key phrase from the NY Times piece:
The plan would not only give Mr. Bloomberg a policy change he has long sought, but also allow Ms. Weingarten, a potential candidate to lead the national American Federation of Teachers, to cast herself as a reform-minded union leader.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

TAKS the Ruination of Education in Texas

An important piece from the Brownsville Herald:
Forum: High-stakes testing must change
October 16, 2007 - 11:43PM

If Andreu Sutterby could change anything about standardized testing, it might be the way that it’s drilled and administered — or he’d do away with it all together.

“Teachers teach to the TAKS and that can get pretty boring,” Sutterby said of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, required of third through 11th grade students.

The 13-year-old suggested a more relaxed preparation and testing schedule consuming only one semester of the school year, “then you can teach whatever you want,” he said to applause Saturday at a public forum on the No Child Left Behind Act.

Sitting at the end of an eight-person panel of experts, educators and parents, the Vela Middle School student shared his observations on standardized testing.

Schools “see students as scores,” Sutterby said. “It considers them a liability if they don’t do as well.”

The group was assembled at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College for a public forum on NCLB legislation, which is being considered for reauthorization in Congress. The discussion focused largely on “negative effects” of high-stakes testing.

President Bush signed the NCLB Act into law in 2002, requiring standardized testing for all children and to “promote school reform.”

The act enables public schools to receive federal funding and creates accountability standards meant to ensure that those funds are producing “real results” and quality education, according to research on the Latino Education Policy in Texas, conducted at UT in Austin.

The act ties funds for public education to states’ performance on standardized tests for students as early as the third grade and effectively heightens the movement of high-stakes testing, UT graduate student researchers concluded.

Teachers are required to prepare students for the rigors of the exam that determines whether they are promoted to the next grade. The 11th grade exam determines if a student graduates, regardless of their academic standing.

The complaint among educators and test takers has been that the classroom curriculum becomes mandated by the test, leaving room for little else. When a student does not pass, they are removed from extracurricular activities and drilled on the subject.

“They’re killing everything we want to do because they want us to take the TAKS,” Sutterby said and drew laughs by playfully declaring that “TAKS kills brain cells.”

The test does not kill brain cells but according to panelists at Saturday’s forum, it does squash creativity, individuality and a teacher’s freedom to incorporate students’ strengths and evaluate with multiple measures.

Sharon Nichols, an assistant professor of educational psychology at UTSA and co-author of “Collateral Damage: How High Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools,” was the featured speaker at Saturday’s event.

“My work has shown that high-stakes testing is not working,” Nichols said. “In fact, it’s doing a lot of damage.”

Though she recognizes tests are “important,” they should not be the only measure of accountability.

“We are not anti-testing by any means,” she said in an April 25 interview with PILOTed magazine. “We are against testing if the only use of the test is to determine consequences; that is inappropriate.”

At Saturday’s forum, Nichols compared schools to factories in which teachers are “factory workers” and students are “products” in a high-stakes testing environment.

“Compassion is being undermined — our teachers’ ability to care about students,” she said.

Kathy Gomez, a first grade teacher in Brownsville, said our youngest students are being neglected in favor of those in higher, TAKS-testing grades. “I have first graders who come to my classroom not knowing how to read in English,” Gomez said.

“We want our children to learn how to read,” she said. “We want the supplies and the funding to do so.”

A first-year teacher at Rivera High School also complained of the constraints testing places on classroom learning, especially for math and science.

“Not one day goes by that we don’t hear the word ‘TAKS’,” she said from her audience seat. “We have oversized classrooms, sometimes up to 45 students. We don’t have enough desks and we just got enough chairs. We can’t conduct class, much less labs. These students can’t practice what they’re learning,” she said.

Nichols said she hears stories like this “over and over again.”

“Administrators need to hear as many of our stories, of what’s happening, as possible,” she said.

Nichols met with a group of BISD administrators and educators Friday, including area superintendents and deputy superintendent Beto Gonzales who she described as “open” to her research.

“It was wonderful to have been invited to the table,” she said. “We didn’t always agree but we had an open dialogue … about what’s working and what’s not working.”

UTB-TSC and the Center for Civic Engagement helped facilitate the meeting. The Center is a partner in the Brownsville 2020 project, which identified the quality of public school education (K-12), as a top concern among respondents to a community survey.

Brownsville students have historically scored higher in reading and writing than math or science portions of the exam, according to the Texas Education Agency’s data. The district’s accountability rating for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years was “Academically Acceptable.”

Texas uses accountability ratings to indicate the overall performance of each school and district, according to TEA. The ratings are based on TAKS and SDAA II (State Developed Alternative Assessment) test results, dropout rates for seventh and eighth grade and school completion rates for grades nine through 12.

Districts were rated Academically Acceptable in 2006 if 60 percent of students passed the reading, writing and social studies portions of the TAKS; at least 40 percent passed in math and at least 35 percent passed in science. In 2007, the standards increase by 5 points in all subjects and will incrementally increase through 2010.

Meanwhile, standardized testing is “driving good teachers out of the system,” according to Peter Farruggio, an assistant professor of bilingual education at UT-Pan American in Edinburg.

Farruggio says NCLB institutes a system of “test and punish … with no additional resources for low income schools — that means the kids that you and I teach.”

Farruggio has helped organize parent groups and parent-led protests against standardized testing in California’s public school system. “People have had it up to here with the testing,” he said.

“Yes, the battle is fought on many fronts, but it’s going to require grassroots organizing … That’s the foundation of this country.”

The Association of Brownsville Educators is taking a more formal approach, drafting a detailed recommendation to improve NCLB legislation that regulates testing standards.

Alberto Alegria, president of the Association and a teacher at Besteiro Middle School said simply that, “it’s time for change.”

The group is asking that the law reduce class size requirement, use more than test scores to measure students’ learning and invest in highly qualified teachers.

“All children have a basic right to a great public school,” Alegria said.

Near the end of the meeting, Reba Cardenas-McNair, a local developer, joined the discussion with an observation on the quality of job applicants produced by local public schools.

“I can’t hire Brownsville graduates” even for clerical positions, she said, because their resumes often have grammar and spelling errors.

“I’ve had to hire Los Fresnos graduates,” Cardenas-McNair said and complained especially about the confusion between the words “their” and “there” among applicants.

“Because of an overemphasis on standardized testing, there’s been a lower focus placed on teaching writing,” Farruggio said, explaining the common error.

Panelists encouraged Cardenas-McNair to consider job candidates on other merits. “They need to know how to be professional, speak to clients,” one offered as an example.

“Yes,” Cardenas-McNair replied. “But they also need to know how to spell.”