Thursday, November 29, 2007

International Reading Results of Test and Punish Policy

In international comparisons, reading ability of 4th grade American children has gone down since NCLB. In Great Britain, whose test-til-you-puke policy inspired the U. S. to get on the make-children-hate-reading bandwagon, their reading abilities have now dropped below the U. S. Give us time, give us time.

As Bracey notes in a post at Huffington, "these days, kids get to read real books only after the tests are given in the spring. The rest of "reading instruction" too often looks to me like a great method for insuring that kids never, ever, again pick up a book."

Perhaps the Crackpot Code Busters of reading, Reid Lyon, and his chums with the Oregon Mafia, have another grand solution they can market to American politicians of ed reform. Oh, I forgot, Lyon is busy redoing teacher education to better align with his "scientific" reading strategies.

From Bloomberg News:

Russia, Hong Kong and Singapore shot to the top of 45 countries and provinces participating in a fourth-grade reading test, while England fell below the United States, according to results released yesterday.

Researchers attributed the gains of the top three on the 2006 test to changes in curriculum and teacher training, and to adding years of schooling. No. 1 Russia, which was bested by 13 countries and provinces in 2001, had the biggest increase in its score.

In England, which had the third-largest score decline on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, a top education official called on the public to "kick-start a new national debate about the value of reading," and said the government would spend $10 million distributing free books.

"This study shows that our highest-achieving children are reading less, with children's busy days leaving less time for books at home," the official, Ed Balls, the U.K.'s secretary of state for children, schools and families, said in a statement.

U.S. student scores dropped two points during the same period, which test coordinators said was not statistically significant. The performance of U.S. students came four years after enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, which imposed new requirements on schools for reading improvement.

"Clearly, as the world becomes flatter, it's becoming more competitive," said U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings in a statement. "We need to do better than simply keep pace."

England dropped to one notch below the U.S. Both countries were outscored by 13 others, including Luxembourg, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria and Latvia. . . .

Here's the only politician who really gets it:

When I'm President, I will get rid of "No Child Left Behind". We need to stop punishing our schools.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Putting DIBELS in the Dustbin of Junk Science

If common sense could not bring a halt to the Good/Kaminski snake oil treatment of DIBELS, maybe real empirical research will. A clip from Science Daily:
ScienceDaily (Nov. 25, 2007) — Screening tests widely used to identify children with reading problems are being misapplied, landing students in the wrong instructional level and delaying treatment for their true difficulties, says new research from National-Louis University and the University of Maryland. . . .

Op Ed on Exit Exams and SC Teacher Response

By Neill/Guisbond from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Across the nation, tens of thousands of students are denied diplomas each year simply because they did not pass a standardized state test. After 12 years of playing by the rules, working hard, and completing all other graduation requirements, students can find that their future hinges on just one or two points.

Misguided exit-exam mandates have increased dropout rates, especially among minority groups, and have focused classroom teaching on test preparation rather than 21st century skills. The full record in states like Texas and Massachusetts shows that high-stakes tests are the wrong prescription for what ails public education. That's why Pennsylvania civil rights and disability advocates, teachers, administrators, school board members, public school parents, and others have expressed serious concerns about Gov. Rendell's high-stakes testing plan.

A poll from the respected Susquehanna Institute shows they are not alone. By a landslide 62 percent to 31 percent, Pennsylvanians responding to a recent survey opposed denying diplomas to students if they fail a statewide test but have passed all their classes.

The problems exit exams are meant to solve are certainly real. Pennsylvania, like most states, has gaps in educational access, quality and outcomes. But exit exams won't cure these ills. For too many students, the cure is worse than the disease. Rather than provide better education and expanded opportunities, graduation tests add punishment - denial of a diploma - to those who most need help.

Proponents incorrectly claim that exit exams will narrow achievement gaps. The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports no narrowing of achievement gaps at the high school level among racial groups. Nor have average high school scores increased.

Real progress has been elusive because high-stakes testing, including No Child Left Behind, undermines rather than improves education. Untested subjects are ignored, while tested topics narrow to test-coaching programs. Test prep is like holding a match to a thermostat and believing the room is warmer: Scores rise on that test; real learning does not.

The most thorough independent national research also confirms a link between graduation tests and higher dropout rates. Texas introduced exit exams in 1992. Fifteen years later, Texas used test results to deny diplomas to a record 40,200 students in the Class of 2007. In 2006, Boston's annual dropout rate rose sharply, from 7.7 percent to 9.9 percent. At the same time, the city suffered a wave of youth violence. Boston City Council issued a report stating, "Students . . . expressed massive frustration and boredom with the endless drilling and practice of the MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, a statewide standardized test] . . . and test preparation. . . . Far too many students describe their school experience as an MCAS-centric environment. . . . [As a result,] the incentive for students to remain in school is tenuous."

Tests have "measurement error," which means some children will fail even though they know the subject. Being able to take the test more than once helps, but does not solve this problem. There is also the well-documented problem of test anxiety: An accomplished student may freeze, not do well on the test, and be denied a diploma.

No one wants to see youth leave school without the skills needed for success. Exam supporters say students shouldn't get meaningless diplomas if they can't pass the tests. But it's a student's overall transcript that makes a diploma truly meaningful. For example, high school grades are better predictors of college success than the SAT. A standardized test is not a solid foundation for establishing meaning.

The individual and societal costs of denying a diploma based on a state test score are high. Students without diplomas earn much less, are far less likely to maintain stable families, and are far more likely to end up in prison.

Pennsylvania must take strong action to address the problems of unequal schools and inadequate outcomes, from providing funding equity among rich and poor towns to stronger staff development and high-quality assessments. That means ensuring all children experience a well-rounded education and avoiding the magic-bullet false solution of a high-stakes graduation test.


Monty Neill is co-executive director of FairTest, and Lisa Guisbond is testing reform analyst. E-mail Neill at monty@fairtest.org.

And here is a response to Monty Neill that the author gave permission to print:
Monty Neill,

I read your article in the Inquirer and couldn't agree more. I went to St. Joe's Prep (a long time ago) and now teach 9th graders in a public high school in South Carolina. Needless to say, I speak as a veteran teacher.

The End-of-Course tests in this state--as in others--are beyond merely a negative factor in the ways you mention, they are outright MADNESS. I refuse to let EOC pressure wear on my mind like other teachers, but then again, I'm 56 and will be out of this madness soon. I feel sympathy for young teachers walking into the horror of having this millstone of politically-mandated crap hanging over them, and that is why I'm writing to you.

For, here's the biggest reason against exit testing that's left out of these discussions: good, new, dedicated teachers will leave the profession instantly when they go through even one year of this insanity. I know of two examples right off the top of my head, who would have been excellent teachers. I was in a "curriculum standards" teacher's meeting Tuesday of this week, and thinking exactly that.

The politicians drive administrators to walk into these meetings and say, "Now, we don't want you to teach to the tests, but . . ." And teachers are sitting there knowing full well that's a load of nonsense. OF COURSE, they want us not only to teach to the test, they want us to gear the entire curriculum in lockstep to it. No new teacher worth a grain of salt will want to kiss up to that kind of phony approach. Good luck to schools of education finding the saps who want to go through the robotic, insipid teaching routine embodied in that concept. In the meantime, the politicians are not "accountable"--their favorite word--and are on their merry way making up another soundbite about their deep concern with education. Spare me. It's absolute madness.

Bob Strauss, Jr.
Greenwood, SC

Florida Charter School Corruption

Probably later than sooner the American public will come to learn of the great waste of tax dollars for the unproven experiment of unmonitored charter schools, which are more often than not worse than the public schools they were intended to replace. In the meantime, how many billions will be soaked up by crooks of all political and religious persuasions? And when school boards are giving it away, why should the thieves bother to call it stealing?

From the Sun-Sentinel:
Charter-school teachers have been banking bonuses while also collecting other bonus checks under the criticized Merit Award Program, School Board members learned Monday.

Conversion-charter schools have spent more than $1 million of the Lake County School District's general funds since 2005 to award bonuses that other district employees can't receive, district chief financial officer Carol MacLeod told School Board members at a workshop.

They've also been reaping the benefits as the district pays for new computers and chips in for the schools' transportation costs. All these things as the schools maintain "significant" unrestricted fund balances, MacLeod said.

"We sit between 4 to 6 percent on a really, really good year," MacLeod said of the district's typical fund balances.

But Lake's conversion charters -- which include Lake Technical Center, Mascotte Elementary, Minneola Elementary, Round Lake Elementary and Spring Creek Elementary -- have unrestricted fund balances of up to almost 30 percent, MacLeod said.

"There are a lot of additional costs to this district in providing conversion charter schools," MacLeod told board members.

For example, the school district spent almost $1.2 million for the schools' participation in districtwide computer-lease programs from 2004 and 2007, MacLeod said, all without asking for reimbursement from the conversion charters.

The district also paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to help pay for Spring Creek's transportation costs.

"We're just eating this," MacLeod said.

The observations were part of a follow-up report of a recent charter-school audit and a presentation on charter-school inequities.

According to the May 2007 audit prepared by RSM McGladrey, the monthly financial reports from charter schools were not formally tracked or monitored properly. District officials have since worked to fix the problem, but they don't have any authority to make sure charter schools turn in their reports on time, MacLeod said. . . .

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Houston's Miracle School Libraries, Not

Part of the collateral damage from the test-scores-at-any-price school deformation movement can be seen in the neglect of school library programs, where children have historically developed the love for books and reading. From the Houston Chronicle:

Seventy percent of the Houston Independent School District's libraries have collections that are so small or so old, the state considers them below standard.

And HISD isn't the only local district struggling to meet state guidelines. Others, including fast-growing Cypress-Fairbanks, also are missing the mark, sometimes because they can't stock their shelves fast enough to keep up with the influx of students.

While HISD has made significant improvements in the past decade, its library collections still are an average of 14 years old, with 17 items per student, according to a report compiling data for 232 of the district's almost 300 campuses.

Thirty-four more schools have no libraries and at least 18 others, including Holland and Ryan middle schools, didn't provide data, according to the report.

And the district employs only 163 certified librarians, leaving other facilities in the hands of teachers, clerks, or, in several cases, unstaffed, officials said. . . .

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Militarization of Chicago Schools and Beyond

George Schmidt has been writing in his brave tabloid, Substance, for some time about the growing influence of the military in the public schools of Chicago. Now the mainstream media is starting to notice, and with Congress lifting the cap on such programs, the urban military school offers an unprecedented opportunity for Washington to develop a steady stream of trained recruitment targets for continuing war plans and other follies of empire.

These new military schools are mostly black and brown, and poor, you understand. Who needs a draft when you can starve potential recruits into the Army? Last week 6,000 people showed up in Cleveland to apply for 300 Walmart jobs. And in Chicago, itself?
In Illinois recently, Masten said, 25,000 and 15,000 people applied at two Wal-Mart stores in the Chicago area, and neither of those is a large Supercenter.

Here's another clip on the school militarization from AFP:

CHICAGO (AFP) — Dozens of teens dressed in uniforms provided by the US Marines stand at attention in the gym of a Chicago public high school as a drill sergeant goes through a list of the day's do's and don'ts.

Bring your books to class. Come for extra help if you need it. And wear your uniform with pride.

"Young men, you think you can get a haircut and say I'm done for two or three weeks. WRONG," Sgt. Major Thomas Smith Jr. intones.

"Young ladies. There's been no problem with your uniforms but there is a problem with your ties. Again, I will go through it again. Wear your ties when you come to my class."

One in 10 public high school students in Chicago wears a military uniform to school and takes classes -- including how to shoot a gun properly -- from retired veterans.

That number is expected to rise as junior military reserve programs expand across the country now that a congressional cap of 3,500 units has been lifted from the nearly century-old scheme.

Proponents of the junior reserve programs say they provide stability and a sense of purpose for troubled youth and help to instill values such as leadership and responsibility.

But opponents say the programs divert critical resources from crumbling public schools and lead to a militarization of US society. . . .


America's Prison-Industrial Complex

From Common Dreams:

. . . .The United States does not provide a level playing field for all children and does not protect all young lives equally, says a recent report by the Children’s Defense Fund. Poor children and children of color, in particular, “already are in the pipeline to prison before taking a single step or uttering a word,” the report states. Many youth in juvenile detention facilities have never been on the track to college or a successful life. “They were not derailed from the right track; they never got on it,” the organization says.

Much of the problem is due to poverty, and children of color are more likely to be afflicted. One-quarter of Latino children and one-third of black children are poor. Black children are more than three times as likely as white children to be born into poverty, and are more than four times as likely to live in extreme poverty, according to the report.

For millions of poor children - failed by their families and by the child-welfare and juvenile-justice systems - a life of prison awaits them. Prison is the only universally guaranteed program for children in America, the study notes, as America increasingly criminalizes its youth and spends nearly three times as much per prisoner as it does per student - this in a country with 2.3 million prisoners, the world’s largest inmate population, more prisoners than in China, a nation that has four times as many people as the United States.

And those who are incarcerated are disproportionately of color, products of a society that has neglected and marginalized them. Children of color are more likely to be placed in programs for mental retardation and in foster care, and are more likely to be suspended from school, or left back a grade or to drop out. And youth of color, 39 percent of the juvenile population, are 60 percent of incarcerated juveniles, according to the report.

A black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime. A Latino boy has a one in six chance. Today, as a result of unfair drug laws and draconian sentencing, failing schools, and a lack of opportunity, 580,000 black men - many of them fathers - are doing time in state and federal prisons, while only 40,000 graduate from college each year, an astonishing statistic.

All of this comes down to a lack of commitment by our society, misplaced priorities and squandered resources. The Children’s Defense Fund makes a number of recommendations for dismantling the cradle-to-prison pipeline, including full funding of Head Start, making sure that children can read by the fourth grade, ensuring health insurance for all pregnant women, eradicating child poverty by 2015, eliminating hunger, and providing jobs with a living wage.

The money is available. These and other recommendations are estimated to cost around $75 billion, with $55 billion to eradicate child poverty, the Children’s Defense Fund says. Repealing the tax cuts for the top 1 percent richest people would provide $57 billion. And, to put things in perspective, the war in Iraq has cost more than $450 billion through 2007, about $100 billion a year. . . .

Aqua Dots Coated with Deadly Chemicals

When American capital decided to turn its back on the American production worker by shipping manufacturing jobs to China, they probably didn't suspect that their greed would lead so quickly to toxic toys and antifreeze toothpaste on American store shelves.

What kind of health disaster will be required before our government steps in to protect citizens? What other poisons are we ingesting from the thousands of imported toxic products because our corporate socialist system is too corrupt to do anything about it?

From Raw Story:

. . . . Though anticipated to be among the holiday's biggest-selling toys, Aqua Dots were recalled in the United States on Nov. 7 after tests showed they are coated with an industrial chemical that, when ingested, metabolizes into the "date-rape" drug gamma hydroxy butyrate.

The bead-like toy could cause breathing problems, loss of consciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death if ingested. Nine children in the United States and three children in Australia have become sick.

Aqua Dots was heavily advertised in holiday fliers because of the toy's popularity, said Waugh. The Toys "R" Us circular distributed Sunday advertised the beads with a photo on page 2 under the heading "Girls Gift Sale."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lifting the Rock on Pennsylania Charter Schools

It took a lawsuit that went all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but the public still has a right to know about the sweet deals that charter schools are cutting all over the state. It remains, however, a sad state of affairs when the job of public oversight has to be done by reporters curious enough to go to court to get an answer to a question about these corporate welfare outfits pretending to do the work of schools.

When did the the right to steal from the public treasury become a virtue reserved for the practitioners of crony capitalism? If the charterizers such as Rotherham encountered such secrecy and foot-dragging among public school administrators, they would be calling for criminal investigations.
A Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision has, for the first time, established that charter schools must release information requested under the state's Right-to-Know law, according to a lawyer in the case.

The decision, handed down Tuesday said a Chester charter school must hand over its management contract and other financial documents to a Delaware County newspaper.

In 2005, Matthew Zager, a reporter for the Delaware County Daily Times, filed a Right-to-Know law request with Vahan Gureghian, head of the management company that operates the Chester Community Charter School. Zager asked for an auditor's report, financial statements, and the school's management agreement with the corporation that had managed the charter before 2002.

The request was denied by Danielle Gureghian, Vahan Gureghian's wife and a lawyer for his management company. She said the management firm was a private company and not subject to the Right-to-Know law.

Delaware County Common Pleas Court, Commonwealth Court, and the Supreme Court all rejected that argument. "Charter schools are not exempt from the statutes that are applicable to public schools," the Supreme Court said in its ruling. . . .


Reading the Revolutionary Overreaching by Michelle Rhee

After six years of NCLB's guaranteed failure plan, the public schools in America's largest urban school systems are ripe for the ultimate reform: the shifting of control to corporations that will make private decisions on the use of public dollars to carry out the en masse cognitive lynchings against black children behind the privacy screens set up by by no public oversight and the relinquishing of civic responsibility.

The most aggressive and egregious of these strategized privatization steamrollers is rolling in the nation's capital, where the diminutive, smiling Michelle Rhee has been put out front to announce the demise of tenure laws, the end of due process in hiring and firing, and the shift of civic responsibility and democratic control to a couple of hand-picked contractors who will be put in charge of the future with absolutely no evidence that they can produce better educational results than what we have now.

And what has prepared Michelle Rhee for such responsibility? Look at her resume, and you will see that, even though she has no experience to recommend her bold (reckless) moves, she has resources at her disposal: Joel Klein, Margaret Spellings, Kati Haycock, and Wendy Kopp.

What a team! Political ruthlessness and stupidity egged on by moral superiority and an implacable denial of reality.

If you missed the chilling John Merrow report last week on Little Michelle's big adventure, check it out here.

And here is an astute reading of the situation by Marc Fisher in WaPo:

Uh-oh, here we go again. Not even a year into D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee's ambitious effort to remake the city's school, it's time once more for a trip into the fantasy land of fixing the schools by handing them over to untested, unimpressive private companies.

Rhee is talking about giving 27 of the District's many dozens of failing schools to some of the companies that contract with school systems to take over and revamp exceedingly bad schools. The track record of such companies is fair to poor. Studies looking at how those companies have performed tend to conclude that the success of the privatized school is heavily dependent on the abilities of the principal and other school leaders, as well as the amount of community support there is for the concept and its execution. In other words, what makes a school work is pretty much the same whether it's a traditional public school or a privatized school.

The attraction of the privatization route is that it's dramatic, and if there's anything Mayor Adrian Fenty and Rhee are all about in their school reform movement, it's being dramatic. The other appeal of privatization is that it's a quick fix, a way to circumvent the failed administration of the D.C. public schools. That's a real appeal, especially given the rising skepticism that Rhee will prevail in her far more ambitious and important effort to win permission to clean house in the DCPS headquarters. Perhaps she is anticipating failure in that effort, which would leave privatization as one of the few remaining ways to pull some schools out from under the cynics and incompetents who toil at the system's central office.

One of the leading companies under consideration to take over some D.C. schools is apparently St. Hope Academy, which is controlled by former NBA star Kevin Johnson. The company's record at its schools in California is not exactly stellar, and it has a somewhat checkered history both as a school operator and as a real estate developer and manager.

In Philadelphia, where an embrace of private management for public schools has led to what some academics call a public-private hybrid school system, the results of the changed structure of public education has been pretty much as mixed as anywhere else. As with charter schools, the bottom line is determined by the creativity and smarts of the school operator, rather than by the very concept of privatization. Some people do this well, most do not. That's par for the course in any kind of school governance. So privatization is neither panacea nor disaster.

But it is folly to assume that the D.C. school system will be rigorous or honest enough to choose the very best of operators if it does go down the road to privatization. The record through decades of experiments with D.C. schools is that almost any charlatan can come along and get a piece of the D.C. system to play with. The charter school system in the District has had a disturbing number of operators who seemed to be in the game primarily to make money or try out some bizarre and ill-planned educational concept. The good charters do exist, but they are hardly the majority of the schools in that chunk of the system.

As the Post's Theola Labbe and Dion Haynes report, No Child Left Behind gives school systems these options for dealing with failing schools: Bring in private firms to manage the schools; convert them to charters; keep them under the system's control but replace the principals and teachers; allow the state -- or in Washington, the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education -- to seize the schools; or devise something else.

In the District, there are really only three options, since handing over a school to the "state" is a farce, seeing as how there is no state. Privatization and conversion to charters are paths of last resort; the system should at least make an effort to remake its worst schools with all-new staffs.

Everything Rhee has said since arriving on the scene has raised hopes that the system would cleanse itself and try to manage its schools in a less centralized, more independent and creative manner. To talk of privatization now is to deflate hopes across the city. The chancellor should be focused on building political support for her plan to clear out the central headquarters, not to give away schools before she's even tried to fix them.





Saturday, November 24, 2007

NC Declares Too Much Testing

Do you think? Huh.
RALEIGH - A state commission agreed today on a draft report saying “there is too much time spent on testing” and that several exams should be eliminated or no longer counted in the state’s testing program.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Testing and Accountability agreed to recommend to the state Board of Education that the fourth-, seventh- and 10th-grade writing tests and the eighth-grade computer skills tests be eliminated. . . .


Who Needs Human Capital When You Have the Virtual Eve?

When the ed industry really gets ramped up, it won't take them long to find many economic advantages of virtual teachers, compared to the old fashioned off-shoring of jobs to countries that pay in pennies. Virtual tutors work for free, and they never depart from the script like some of those sentimental and strong-willed fleshy types. Sounds like, hey, the Garden of Eden?

A virtual teacher who is able to respond to children's moods is being hailed as a critical tool in the expanding long-distance learning market.

Massey researchers have developed the near-human animated teacher, called Eve, and say the development has drawn the attention of scientists across the computing world.

An attractive blonde, the 3D image is designed to teach maths one-on-one to 8-year-olds.

Eve is what is known in the information sciences as an intelligent or affective tutoring system, that can adapt its response to the emotional state of people by interaction through a computer system.

Linked to a child via computer, the animated character or virtual tutor can tell if the child is frustrated, angry or confused by the on-screen teaching session and can adapt the tutoring session appropriately.

Eve can ask questions, give feedback, discuss questions and solutions and show emotion.

To develop the software, the Massey team observed children and their interactions with teachers and captured them on thousands of images. . . .


Friday, November 16, 2007

What Is Left Behind

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Let us give thanks for an improved chance now of killing NCLB in the coming year. It is still important to let your Congress know that we are eager for them to stop the educational genocide in the new year.

I am taking a week off from blogging to get some things done and some other things not overdone. In the meantime, my extended mantra:



What Is Left Behind
As NCLB’s reauthorization or expiration takes center stage in Washington, American citizens who care about the future of our public schools and our democracy must be heard. Our shared future is not an abstract political possibility but, rather, one that breathes in every son or daughter, every niece or nephew, every grandson or granddaughter, every neighbor’s child, and every one of our own students who enters the schoolhouse door.

While Secretary Spellings and legislators from both parties stubbornly proclaim that NCLB is working—despite of all the empirical evidence indicating otherwise—and as politicians boast that no child is being left behind, let us pause to consider what has been jettisoned. Let us take a moment to think about what has been left behind, what has been dumped, what has been pushed out the door because there is no longer space or time for it in the school day.

Now if your school still has some of these things, I say congratulations. At the same time, however, I say beware. Beware, because the unattainable goal of 100% proficiency that is the bedrock of NCLB makes it most likely that over the next seven years, your school will join the 30% of schools today where these crucial elements of school have already been left behind.

As American citizens deeply concerned about the health of our democratic republic, we are, of course, concerned and horrified that the social studies have been left behind. In Florida and other states, social studies teachers, afraid of losing their jobs, are lobbying for social studies to be tested, so that their work will survive.

The emphasis on math and reading tests has meant less geography, civics, and government, which leaves children ignorant of how public decisions are made or where their community fits into state, national, and global contexts—or even that there is a context beyond their street and TV screens. Children are left, in effect, stranded on lonely islands of ignorance, without the impetus or skills to have their voices heard in ways that make the world listen.

History, too, has been left behind, making it assured that this next generation will grow up more likely to be swayed by the mistakes and misdeeds of the past to which they remain clueless. What is a democratic republic and where did it come from? Sorry, that’s not on the test, either.

And economics? While children in wealthy communities, the ones without AYP worries yet, play stock market games and learn about hedge funds, the economic education of children in schools under the testing gun consists of collecting “Scholar Dollars” that they trade in for bags of Skittles, a pittance of pay for a meaningless labor whose significance remains a mystery to them.

Health and physical education have been left behind, too, leaving children out of shape and subject to diseases associated with obesity and inactivity. At the same time, children are left in the dark about the importance of healthy foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, the kinds of foods that are scarce in the small stores of poor neighborhoods. And left behind, too, is information about the hazards of a never-ending diet of Taco Bell and McDonalds—because that's not on the test, either.

Art and music have been left behind, leaving in their crossing wakes an imagination gap, a creativity gap, and expression gap, an aesthetic gap, a souls gap. We can add these gaps to the achievement gap that parallels a widening economic gap – despite years and years of increased testing and accountability in those schools where the economic gaps are at their deepest points.

Diversity of thought has been left behind. What remains in failing schools and the ones teetering on the testing bubble are collections of remote and desiccated facts that represent not even a single culture, but rather, an anti-culture that has essentially eradicated cultural values as a discussable issue.

Science has been left behind, too, and thus the primary tool for understanding how the modern world is organized. Where science survives, it is where it is tested, and the kind of science that remains is the kind that can be fit into a multiple-choice format, not the kind that exercises children’s ability to think, solve problems, conduct experiments, and make good decisions.

Literature has been left behind, and with it the love of reading and books and the curiosity that is spawned and kept alive by the life of the imagination. Stories are now substituted by the measured mouthing of nonsense syllables and the framing of comprehension responses that the children who utter them do not understand.

Recess has been left behind in a third of all American elementary schools, and as the percentage of failing schools increases, we may expect that number to rise. Play, itself, then becomes left behind, and along with it one of the most useful skills of all—to think as if, what if, as in what if life were somehow different than, or what if there were a choice beyond a, b, c, or d?

Nap time has been left behind in kindergarten and even in pre-K, as teachers focus on replacing dream time with skill practice time for a future of testing.

Field trips, holidays, and assemblies have been left behind unless they can be used for test preparation, or unless they come after the test, those short precious weeks when smiles may be seen to return to teachers’ lips and to students’ eyes.

The love of the teacher for her craft has been left behind in so many schools, replaced by the burdensome regimen of the pacing guide and the production schedule and the script. And time for teacher-led discussion, exploration, reflection? There is only time for teachers to learn their lines, trying to become good actors in a very bad play where the audience is compelled to participate. And time to weigh the results of the practice tests in order to get ready for the real tests.

Left behind, too, are teacher autonomy and professional discretion. Now whole hallways of fourth grade classes are on the same page of the same scripted lesson at the same moment that any supervisor should walk by, supervisors who are identically trained to look for the same manifestations of sameness, from bulletin boards to hand signals to the distance that children are trained to maintain from one another as they march to lunch, with their arms holding together their imaginary straightjackets.

Most troubling, however, of all that has been left behind is the teacher’s nurturing care, the teacher whose advocacy for and sensitivity to every child’s fragile humanity has been a trademark of what it means to be the teacher of children. With the current laser focus on avoiding test failure, even as expectations become higher with each passing year, the child who cannot do more than a child can do now becomes viewed as the stumbling block to a success that is increasingly elusive.

Instead, then, of being viewed as the reasons we have schools to begin with, the needful child who is, indeed, behind, becomes the obstacle to a proficiency that becomes further and further out of reach. When this occurs, as it surely does every time teachers and principals fall prey to the pressure, children become the burden that must be reluctantly borne, obstacles to a success that their own disability, poverty, or language issues complicate— and that even the best teacher can never compensate for.

Students, then, come to be seen as complicit in creating the failure that, in fact, no one, teacher or student, can remedy, because there is a monstrous system that has made child failure and, thus, school failure inevitable, a monstrous system that has traded and treated this generation of children as a means to attain a political end—a political end that, in fact, threatens our future as a free people who are able to think, to solve problems, to care, to imagine, to understand, to have empathy, to participate, to grow, to live.

So as you listen to the growing debate this fall in Washington, please do not leave your political responsibility behind and your good sense with it. Go online tonight and order the Linda Perlstein book, Tested. . .. Read it and, as you do so, keep in mind that the horror that she so ably describes occurred in a school that is considered a success, a “lighthouse school.” Think, then, of what it must be like in the thirty percent of American schools that are now labeled failures.

Recently, a quote by Cal State professor, Art Costa showed up on one of internet discussion groups, a quote that is horribly relevant today: "What was once educationally significant, but difficult to measure, has been replaced by what is insignificant and easy to measure. So now we test how well we have taught what we do not value."

Call and write and visit your school boards and your Congressional delegation. Remind them what you value and what you believe to be significant for now and for our future, and what you know that now and finally must to be left behind.

Jim Horn
Monmouth University
September 2007

Bloomberg's Cracked Trumpet


As the above chart from the New York Times shows, NYC student scores on the state test have increased over the past five years, while the NAEP (national) scores have remained flat. Even though Bloomberg's trumpet has been the loudest, this same phenomenon is occurring all over the country. Why? Because the schools, particularly the urban schools, are focused entirely and year-round on state test prep, while the NAEP is a bit wider kind of temperature-taking test of academic abilities.

Now there are plenty of people who want to turn NAEP or something like it into a national test, while getting rid of the state tests where school systems can "game" the system, as the Eduwanks and Eduwankettes like to say. This would, of course, only serve to turn the full-time test prep in schools toward the national test, which would, in fact, (as Jerry Bracey has pointed out repeatedly) destroy any value that tests like the NAEP now have.

The disturbing part of this story from the Times is that it points out a trend that can be seen in the national NAEP data: NAEP gains were higher before the current testing hysteria in America got underway. This suggests what many of us have known, which is that the accountability-through-testing fixation is making American school children stupid. Imagine that.

By Jennifer Medina:

New York City’s eighth graders have made no significant progress in reading and math since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took control of the city schools, according to federal test scores released yesterday, in contrast with the largely steady gains that have been recorded on state tests.

The national scores also showed little narrowing of the achievement gap between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts.

The results for New York and 10 other large urban districts on the federal tests, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, paint a generally stagnant picture for the city, although there are gains in fourth-grade math. On measure after measure, the scores showed “no significant change” between 2005, when the test was previously administered, and 2007.

Mr. Bloomberg has trumpeted improving state test scores as evidence that the city is setting the pace for urban school reform. But the federal scores, on a test often called the nation’s report card, suggest that the city’s gains are limited. Similar patterns of gains on state tests outstripping gains on the national assessment have emerged elsewhere as well.

New York City’s federal scores showed that while fourth-grade reading results have improved over the past five years, the most significant jump came in 2002, before Mr. Bloomberg took control. . . .

And, thus, another vaunted mayoral miracle turns out to be just another attempted corporate takeover of a another civic institution. Can we restore public control before it is too late?

This Week's Charter School Crime Roundup

What do you get when you offer free public education dollars with no public oversight to anyone who wants to open a school?

From Massachusetts:
In the charter school incident, the girl wrote a statement for police saying she saw Commeret [the "CEO" of the Marblehead Community Charter Public School] of drinking what she thought might be alcohol in his office and she asked what the drink was. According to her statement, "He grabbed my arms and pushed me up against the back of the door. He held me there for a few moments, and said, 'I'll (expletive) find you.' Then he jerked me back and let go."
From Canada:
The superintendent of a Calgary charter school where a teacher has been charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old female student is defending the school's hiring practices. Foundations for the Future Charter Academy Superintendent Jay Pritchard admits it is shocking to have a teacher face sexual assault allegations.
From Columbus, where profiteer, Alllison Perz, is in charge:
A second teacher at an East Side charter school is being investigated for inappropriate discipline after a sixth-grade teacher was fired for getting physical with a student.

Aleca Bryan, 28, was fired on Monday. Officials wouldn't name the second teacher yesterday, but that educator has been suspended with pay, said Allison Perz, who oversees the Columbus Arts and Technology Academy.

Perz is head of the Ohio Council of Community Schools, which sponsors the charter at 2255 Kimberly Parkway East.

Bryan was fired after a 13-year-old Reynoldsburg boy said she grabbed him and slammed him against the wall in the school's hallway. The boy told police she also dug her nails into his arms and that a witness who intervened had trouble pulling the teacher away.

How about this one on corrupting the youth of Toledo:

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - A state audit of a former Toledo charter school concludes that the former executive director and her husband couldn't justify the use of about $119,000 in taxpayer money.

And out west to a bold plan in Boulder:
Ann Leslie Kane, founder of Boulder's Horizons K-8 Charter School, was charged Friday with theft, forgery and attempt to influence a public servant. She is alleged to have misrepresented her salary to the Public Employees Retirement Association in order to increase her retirement benefits.
And more out west to Arizona:

. . . .The charges stemmed from allegations that her son, Bobby Kennedy, a teacher at Morningstar and a youth pastor, had molested teenage girls in his class.

Today, Bobby Kennedy, 29, is on the run from police and listed by Apache Junction police as one of their “Most Wanted.”

And Carolyn Kennedy, 53, who police say attempted to protect her son and conceal the abuse allegations, is still in charge of the Apache Junction charter school.

State law requires school teachers, counselors and administrators to report allegations of sexual abuse.

Yet there is nothing in the law that forces state education officials to remove educators such as Kennedy from their schools. One person who could remove her, charter holder C. Steven Cox, is embroiled in his own personal scandal after being indicted on more than 100 counts of misappropriation of public funds and grand theft. . . .

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kevin Johnson's Overreaching, Michelle Rhee's Under-Researching

Would Michelle Rhee try to hire a charter outfit for DC Schools that is run by someone whose Sacramento properties were cited 73 times over the past ten years for code violations, ranging from high weeds to open raw sewage? Are Johnson and Rhee both in over their heads?

Oct 16, 2007 (The Sacramento Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- No one questions Kevin Johnson's heart or his dedication to the Oak Park neighborhood where he was raised. But some Oak Park residents question whether the former NBA All-Star has the ability to follow through on his ambitious development plans to revitalize the neighborhood.

As The Bee's investigative report published Sunday revealed, Johnson owns more than three dozen properties in Oak Park. Some are well maintained, but others have fallen into serious disrepair.

The Bee reporters who reviewed city property records, code enforcement files, permits and police and fire reports found 37 properties owned by organizations founded by Johnson, including Kynship Development, St. HOPE Development, St. HOPE Academy and Kevin M. Johnson Living Trust.

Over the last 10 years, the city has cited Johnson properties on 73 occasions. Simple things such as cleaning up trash and cutting weeds have been neglected. One property had to be torn down. Johnson tenants have complained about raw sewage bubbling into backyards and mice. In his client's defense, Johnson's lawyer says in the demolition case Johnson was caught in a dispute between city preservation and code enforcement officals and that the tenants who complained had not paid rent for months and were being evicted.

Johnson may have underestimated the difficulty of redevelopment; even experienced developers have trouble rebuilding in depressed inner cities.

Piecing together city lots takes more time and money than developing in the suburbs. Rehabbing historic houses is expensive. Landlords in low-income neighborhoods can't charge as much.

Despite the challenges and the problems uncovered, Johnson's overall Oak Park economic development record is mixed. His signature 40 Acres complex at 35th and Broadway has given Oak Park a handsome gateway. Anchored by a Starbucks coffeeshop, it contains the rebuilt Guild Theater, a book store, art gallery, barber shop and apartments. When it opened in 2003, many saw it as the catalyst for Oak Park renewal, and it has helped.

Local architect Ron Vrilakas, who is building a 10-unit loft complex in Oak Park, credits Johnson's 40 Acres with leading the way: "We would not have taken this risk we took had his project not gone first. ... It changes the perception of what Oak Park is."

But since 40 Acres was built, Johnson's attention has been diverted by his other passion, the charter school movement. He took over Sacramento High School in a very contentious fight in 2003. His St. HOPE Academy continues to run PS 7. He has even expanded his operation to another charter school in Harlem. Any of these school projects is enough to occupy one person's efforts full-time and more.

It appears that Johnson's Oak Park economic redevelopment interests have been placed on hold. That is appropriate. St. HOPE's educational ventures should be his first priority.

But Johnson can't afford to neglect his real estate holdings entirely. Neighborhoods suffer when homes go vacant and fall into disrepair or empty lots become dumping grounds.

If Johnson really cares about Oak Park, he must show it by maintaining the property he owns there.

Will Charter Schools Help to End Church-State Separation?

As fundmentalist theocrats challenge the Constitutional protections of the Establishment Clause at every turn, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims must ask themselves whose interests are served when they, themselves, begin to accept public money to run religious schools, or a watered-down version of religious schools? The theocrats, mostly Protestant and in the majority, express no such reservation because their greater calling by God or Pat Robertson (or some other crackpot who has been washed in the blood of the Lamb) offers them impunity from legal obligations or Constitutional niceties. See George Bush.

Is it really a good trade-off for ecumenicalists to accept a few public dollars for the possibility of fueling the full-scale production of an Armageddon-laced religious cocktail that school children will be forced to drink every day? Or should they join with those who wish to keep religion out of Government, as the Founders intended?

Here is a very thoughtful take on the charter school temptation by Daniel Trieman:

Florida’s Ben Gamla Charter School is more than just a place of learning. It represents a radical new vision for the future of Jewish education in America.

The Ben Gamla school, which opened this summer, is the country’s first publicly funded, Hebrew-themed charter school. Its founder, former Democratic congressman Peter Deutsch, has said he wants to open 100 such schools across the country. Already, the idea of publicly funded, Jewish-themed charter schools has sparked the interest of mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, a major force in Jewish education.

Critics have raised two main concerns about the Ben Gamla school: First, they say it undermines the wall of separation between church and state (although school officials maintain their curriculum is not religious). Second, critics argue that the school poses a competitive threat to private Jewish day schools. These are valid concerns. There is, however, a larger problem, namely that the Ben Gamla model represents a profound betrayal of American Jewish liberalism.

At the core of American liberalism is the idea that government should actively promote the common good. This presupposes a common American identity, one that binds our diverse society into a single nation — e pluribus unum. Public schools have been a cornerstone of this idea, building a common civic identity and offering educational opportunity to all.

American Jews have remained remarkably loyal to this vision. That’s why our community has fought efforts by conservatives to divert public funds to private schools. It’s why many Jews have taken the lead in opposing those on the multiculturalist left who reject the idea of a common American heritage that should be taught to children of varied backgrounds.

And why shouldn’t we defend this vision? After all, it has served us well. For Jews, public education provided a route to upward mobility. Public schools not only helped Jews enter the mainstream, they also helped craft an American civic culture that includes us.

Today, however, the challenge facing American Jews is no longer how to integrate into the mainstream. Instead, we struggle with the question of how to preserve our distinct heritage amid the assimilatory currents of American life.

Many communal leaders have concluded that the solution is for more Jewish kids to enroll in private Jewish day schools. They can point to survey data suggesting that day school graduates are more likely than their peers to have strong Jewish identities, affiliate with synagogues and marry other Jews.

The allure of Jewish day schools presents a difficult choice. Day school education has its benefits in terms of strengthening Jewish identity. But opting for Jewish schools also involves turning inward, away from a full embrace of the larger American scene — and away from the public education system that has served us so well. Something valuable is gained, but something is also lost.

No one can blame parents who — faced with this dilemma — choose to enroll their children in Jewish schools (after all, many non-Jews have long made similar choices). At present though, relatively few non-Orthodox children attend Jewish schools full-time, in part because tuition can be prohibitively expensive. That’s why Ben Gamla’s charter school model is so tempting. It offers many of the benefits of a Jewish day school (minus the religious component, of course) but with the taxpayer footing the bill.

It’s one thing, however, to opt out of the public school system; it’s another thing to cash out. It’s one thing to privilege your group’s private interests; it’s another to demand that government privilege those interests, as well.

True, this is not only a Jewish issue. The charter school movement has opened the door to public funding of particularist agendas; there are, in various places around the country, schools that are dedicated to promoting Greek, African-American and even Muslim culture. Thankfully, these remain the exception rather than the rule.

But what if government-funded charter schools devoted to reinforcing the pride — and prejudices — of particular ethnic groups became the norm? It’s difficult to see how this would lead to a more cohesive, tolerant America. And that’s why it’s hard to imagine this model would ultimately be good for America’s Jews.

Daniel Treiman is the Web editor of the Forward.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yes! Reauthorization of Head Start Without the NRS Test

Now will the humanity and common sense of the Congress hold long enough to strip the high-stakes testing from NCLB? From UPI:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. lawmakers approved a five-year Head Start bill that will boost teacher qualifications and expand access to the preschool program.

After handily passing the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, the proposal moved to the White House, where U.S. President George Bush was expected to sign it, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

About 909,000 disadvantaged children are enrolled in the program designed to help prepare them for school academically and socially.

The legislation would allow eligibility for the 42-year-old program to expand to families slightly above the federal poverty level. The proposal also set a goal that by 2013 all Head Start teachers will have at least a two-year associate's degree.

"Head Start teachers and staff are the heart and future of the program," U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a statement. "They help children learn to identify letters and arrange the pieces of a puzzle. They teach them to brush their teeth, wash their hands, make friends and follow rules."

The bill, however, would jettison a controversial system for testing 4-year-olds' math and verbal skills and doesn't have a provision sought by the White House to allow to allow religious groups participating in Head Start to hire and fire staff members based on religious affiliation, the Post said.

British Testocracy Fails the Test That Matters

New research from Lancaster University and reported in The Guardian shows that Blair testocracy in Britain has, for the most part, been a hugely-expensive bust that has disabled learners, rather than making them better thinkers. Maybe there is something here in these findings for our own clueless Congress as they consider ways to get free of the NCLB millstone:
. . . . The review is also highly critical of the narrow basis on which children's ability is measured. It points out that the pressure on schools and children to deliver the right answers to tests means teachers don't develop children's abilities to think and talk. Teachers ask closed questions and children are expected to give short, prescribed answers. What the report calls "higher-order learning", ie the ability to connect different ideas and draw conclusions from evidence, is neither encouraged nor measured. Here the report echoes a child I heard on the radio last week, who said: "I know the right thing to do to pass the tests, but I don't know what I'm doing."

But perhaps the most important parts of the report are to be found in its recommendations for the future. It points out, drily, that "massive efforts to bring about change have had a relatively small impact". Education policies have cost hundreds of millions, but they have generally had neither a sound basis in research nor a systematic evaluation thereafter. As the review says, what is clear is our ignorance. It wants to see policies tied much more closely to evidence, and trials of any new initiatives before they become national practice.

In its response the DCSF appears to be imprisoned by its political inability to admit that the thrust of this policy could have been a mistake. Indeed, ministers are planning to press ahead with new tests for primary school children which can be taken at any point during the school year - something critics believe will only add to pupils' stress, while adding nothing to their learning.

Perhaps the only hope lies in the possibility that the new secretary of state will have the courage to look at the evidence anew. Meanwhile, it is ironic to reflect that, 10 years after coming into office and promising to govern on the basis of "what works", the government should still have so little idea of what really does.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. --A. Einstein

Greenbacks and Green Dot Coming to DC?

With Congress and the American people eager to put the NCLB educational genocide behind them, the privatizing mayors are moving fast to get rid themselves of the burden of poor children in neglected schools where no one in power gives a damn about solving the problems of poverty that remain the source of the achievement gap. Unless a concerned public intervenes, these schools, teachers, and children will be auctioned off to the most corrupt bidders.

DC Schools under Fenty and Michelle Rhee are the latest to use the guaranteed failure provided by NCLB to dump the poorest into the laps of education industry. Where have we heard that name, Green Dot Public Schools, Inc. before? To be sure, the race is on in DC, LA, NYC, Chicago, and St. Louis to assign as many of these disposable children as possible to corporate control before the public actually notices what is going on. Would the public give a damn if they did? Where are the voices of support for public education? Does the relinquishing of public institutions and public dollars to corporate control matter? Where is the outrage?

From WaPo:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is considering bringing in national nonprofit charter school operators to manage at least two dozen of the city's lowest-performing schools, one of the first indications of how she might proceed in reforming the 49,600-student school system.

The charter operators were one of several options for improving failing schools that Rhee outlined Monday to school leaders at Roosevelt and Cardozo high schools, according to Rhee spokeswoman Mafara Hobson. The Northwest schools are among those in the system that have not reached benchmarks in reading and math test scores in the past five years.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools that fail to reach benchmarks for five straight years enter into "restructuring" mode. In that phase, the school system must devise a plan that changes the schools' governance structure, replaces most of their staff, contracts with an education management organization to operate the schools or turns the schools over to the state. In the meeting with school leaders, Rhee outlined how those options could work in the District.

. . . .

Hobson said there are 25 traditional public schools in the restructuring phase, while state education officials put the number at 27. Four charter schools have also failed to meet testing benchmarks.

The charter schools and the D.C. system must turn in their restructuring plans to Gist by the end of the month.

"This is the planning year, but there is no more room for talk," Gist said. "I expect to see action."

According to Hobson, Rhee told the parents and teachers she met with Monday that three nonprofits potentially could run some D.C. schools: St. Hope, a charter operator in Sacramento; Green Dot, which operates 12 charter schools in the Los Angeles area; and Philadelphia-based Mastery Charter Schools.

Rhee has a personal connection with St. Hope. She recruited teachers for St. Hope in her former position as chief executive and president of the nonprofit New Teacher Project. She also was a board member of St. Hope for about a year until she was appointed chancellor, according to a St. Hope official.

At her confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council in June, former NBA star Kevin Johnson, who serves as president and chief executive of St. Hope, flew from California to testify on her behalf. . . .


NOVA's Judgment Day a Stunner

We can call them nitwits and crackpots all day, but words will never harm these zealots who wish to lead a revolution to return our society to a pre-science era in hopes of completing the theocratic experiment that John Winthrop began in 1630 in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, this well-funded revolutionary movement shares Winthrop's views, too, that democracy is the "meanest form of government." God's law, as interpreted by them, trumps even the Constitution.

The good part of the story is that the judgment delivered in the Dover school case by a Bush-appointed judge totally busted up the creationism-in-a-cheap-suit Intelligent Design bandwagon for the time being.

PBS will re-run this NOVA segment on November 16. Anyone, educator, parent, student or citizen should see this 60 minutes of history. This is an indispensable piece of journalism for every citizen of the world who seeks to avoid another Dark Ages. Watch a Preview

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Work Hard, Be Nice, and Other Lies My KIPP Teacher Told Me

Update March 5, 2008: See review essay focused on Work Hard, Be Nice . . . by Jay Mathews here at Education Review.

For white philanthropists, the major appeal of the KIPP charter chain gang schools is the non-stop behavioral control system aimed at producing compliant worker bees who learn to internalize any real or potential shortcomings as evidence of individual weakness or failure. If things don't work out, then, as the KIPP brainwashers promise, then who is to blame? This is not a new pedagogical approach--it was used successfully at Hampton Institute in the late 19th Century to train a generation of black teachers like Booker T. Washington, who would become complicit in their own subjugation and that of their brothers and sisters.

For black parents, the KIPP appeal is the promise that for those who "work hard, be nice," there is a new world of opportunity waiting to embrace their efforts. Hope, however groundless, remains the only alternative to despair.

New studies by Pew and reported in WaPo show some disturbing realities that are troubling at least, even though they are likely to be ignored by the keep-on-the-sunny-side world of those who have been KIPP-notized.

A couple of clips here:

Nearly half of African Americans born to middle-income parents in the late 1960s plunged into poverty or near-poverty as adults, according to a new study -- a perplexing finding that analysts say highlights the fragile nature of middle-class life for many African Americans.

Overall, family incomes have risen for both blacks and whites over the past three decades. But in a society where the privileges of class and income most often perpetuate themselves from generation to generation, black Americans have had more difficulty than whites in transmitting those benefits to their children.

Forty-five percent of black children whose parents were solidly middle class in 1968 -- a stratum with a median income of $55,600 in inflation-adjusted dollars -- grew up to be among the lowest fifth of the nation's earners, with a median family income of $23,100. Only 16 percent of whites experienced similar downward mobility. At the same time, 48 percent of black children whose parents were in an economic bracket with a median family income of $41,700 sank into the lowest income group.

. . . .

Overall, family income of blacks in their 30s was $35,000, 58 percent that of comparable whites, a gap that did not surprise researchers. Startling them, however, was that so many blacks fell out of the middle class to the bottom of the income distribution in one generation.

Ronald B. Mincy, a Columbia University sociologist who has focused on the growing economic peril confronted by black men and who served as an adviser on the Pew project, said skeptical researchers repeatedly reviewed the findings before concluding they were statistically accurate.

"There is a lot of downward mobility among African Americans," Mincy said. "We don't have an explanation."

Pew hopes to develop some answers in future reports in its series on economic mobility. Reports scheduled to be released early next year will probe, among other things, the role of wealth and education in income mobility.

Mincy and others speculated that the increase in the number of single-parent black households, continued educational gaps between blacks and whites and even racial isolation that remains common for many middle-income African Americans could be factors.

"That's a stunner," said Orlando Patterson, a Harvard University sociologist, when told about the Pew finding. "These kids were middle class, but apparently their parents did not have the cultural capital and connections to pass along to them."

Another reason so many middle-class blacks appear to be downwardly mobile is likely the huge wealth gap separating white and black families of similar incomes. For every $10 of wealth a white person has, blacks have $1, studies have found.

"We already knew that downward mobility was much more likely for blacks," said Mary Pattillo, a Northwestern University sociologist who studies the black middle class. "But this is an even bigger percentage drop than I have seen elsewhere. That's very steep."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Renaiisance or Dark Ages in Chicago?

When I posted this at ARN on the Bloomberg corporate giveaway plans in NYC Public Schools, George Schmidt wrote back with this on the situation in Chicago:

The same kind of plan has been in place in Chicago for the past five years. It's called "Renaissance 2010 -- 100 new schools for Chicago" and is based on the same drives (privatize and charterize as much as possible).

Renaissance 2010, as we reported in Substance, was inaugurated in a speech by Mayor Richard Daley here in July 2004. It was scripted, though, in a report by a group called the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, which has been Chicago's local version of the Business Roundtable for the past 100 years or so.

The Civic Committee published a report entitled "Left Behind" in 2003 which claimed (based on twisting data sets) that all Chicago public schools had failed and should be replaced by charters.

That meant that by the time, one year later, Renaissance 2010 was announced by Mayor Daley people could say "Whew, they're only going to charterize 100 schools (out of 600) so most of us are safe."

The central committee of the ruling class at this point is sharing information about how to bring this stuff about. One of their main claims is that all they are doing is offering "choice" to poor and "underserved" communities. Of course, the ruling class has made those communities poor and underserved, but unless our side puts that loudly into the debate, it's ignored.

They have also raised a lot of private money (Gates; Walton; Ford; others) for direct assistance to charters. Additionally, they are continually getting additional funds from the federal government. Margaret Spellings came to Chicago (as we reported in February) for what I called a charter school infomercial three days after President Bush pushed charters in the State of the Union address.

With the amount of money they have, they are buying a lot of activists to shill for them, including many erstwhile "progressives." While they are starving the remaining public schools of capital and operational funds, there are millions of extra dollars provided you push charterization.

Finally, for now, there is a very strange religious side to this stuff. One Chicago charter schools (Chicago International Charter Schools) now has ten "campuses" and is the largest charter school in Illinois. Every one of its "campuses" is in what was once a Catholic Schools, and they have generally refused to remove the religious iconography from the building. Two weeks ago (as I'll be reporting in the November Substance this week) I was surrounded by security guys when I went out to the newest CICS charter school which was just opened in the old Immaculate Heart of Mary school building on Chicago's northwest side. I wanted to get my usual shots (a statue of the Blessed Virgin outside a "public schools", the crucifixes all over the place) and wasn't taking my photographs five minutes when first one, then two, then three private security people (for a school of 200!) rushed around trying to block my camera. They really wanted to protect that eight foot high statue of the virgin from my camera lens.

A reason I mention this is that it seems that the powerful Archdiosis of Chicago is very much in the middle of the charter school push, and that in some cases they are simply flipping Catholic schools, with the same kids and staffs, and calling them public charter schools.

On all levels, if you can challenge these programs every step of the way, you will be much better off.

Oh, and watch how they pick the people to run things. Here in Chicago, the "Office of New Schools Development" is staffed by people who've never worked in public schools, all paid more than teachers. Their current chief officer (at $135,000 per year) is a guy named Josh Edelman, a former charter school head from California. You might recognize the name of this young visionary. His mother is Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund.

George N. Schmidt

Editor, Substance

The Beginning of the End for the Last Bastion of Free Thought

It is interesting to see how higher education has quickly knee-jerked into voluntarily accepting the test-label-punish agenda of the K-16 advocates on the Spellings-Miller Commission that sputtered out before any of its grand scheme of mandated "accountability" for colleges could even come close to approved policy.

With show-me-the-way-over-the-cliff leaders in charge at public universities and ready leap into the testing void, who needs a bare-knuckled bully hired by ED to impose the extension of an educational caste system that is now in full operation in K-12, where the poor waste their time in test-prep drudgery to avoid school closure or individual retention, where the middling suburban school students focus on test prep drudgery (called AP) for college credit, and where the well-off, who don't know what all the fuss is about, continue to make their quilts for the poor, put on their stage plays, and "construct their meaning" in the best private schools.

Of course, the best private colleges and universities will tell these Kool-Aid drinkers to go to hell, which plays nicely into the democracy-by-a-few model that became so popular at about the same point in the previous century, when eugenics was offered for college credit and when social darwinists argued against public assistance to the poor for fear of upsetting the natural law sanctioned by God to eliminate the weak.

So in the end, the 10 percent or so of our best and richest will purchase their permanent Visas and their legacy Master cards in the colleges and universities with endowments big enough to continue the luxury of free and liberal thought. The rest of us will urge our children to walk up one another's backs to attain one of the few slots remaining for those of lesser worth who have shown that they can work harder and be nicer than the rest the "rubbish," as Jefferson would have it, in their KIPP chain gang schools.

Where this leaves the middling private universities is yet to be seen. Will they side with the preservation and expansion of our humanistic civilization, or will they trade in the question of the purpose of living and education for the all-encompassing answer of the GLOBAL ECONOMY, with its purse strings attached to the corporations that can guarantee access to the government grants. I wonder.

From the Baltimore Sun today:

November 11, 2007

College students in Maryland and across the country might soon be taking standardized tests to determine how much they've learned on campus - part of a national effort to hold universities accountable for student achievement.

An association representing more than 200 large public universities is expected to vote today to recommend that its member colleges adopt standardized tests and within four years begin to publish the results. A group representing another 400 colleges will take a similar vote this month.

The tests would measure students' critical thinking, reasoning and written communication. They would likely be given to representative samples of freshmen and seniors, allowing schools - and the public- to measure the improvement in scores.

The assessments are part of a broader initiative called the Voluntary Accountability System, which was developed in part to reassure Washington that publicly funded higher education does not need a No Child Left Behind law with uniform exit exams given to art history and engineering majors alike.

"There was concern that they would start trying to do these grade-by-grade assessments, which I think all of us feel would be inappropriate in higher education," said University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan, who chaired development of the project with input from more than 80 public college administrators nationally. "So it's time for us to come together as a community and develop a system of accountability."

But other educators have profound misgivings about the notion that any generic tests can capture the learning produced by a college education.

"How do you measure citizenship?" said Goucher College President Sanford J. Ungar, who called the initiative "a very unfortunate" development. "How do you measure values? How do you measure inspiring a spirit of lifelong learning?"

The proposed system is a joint effort of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The governing board of the first group is scheduled to take up the initiative at a meeting this morning in New York City.

Kirwan said he expects "most, if not all" of Maryland's public colleges to sign up.

Essentially, the Voluntary System of Accountability is a publishing project. Participating campuses would start by posting on the Internet a wide array of institutional data - such as graduation rates, student demographics and cost calculators - in a common format so students and parents could compare institutions.

Within two years, the schools also would publish the results of standardized surveys that measure student perceptions of their college experience.

The third phase of the project would require all campuses within four years to publish the results of one of three commercially available tests designed to measure student learning. . . .

Public School Advocates Organize to Face Byrne and the Theocrats

When the school voucher plan was crushed by Utah voters last week, South Carolina was named the next target in the battle against public education. It appears the reception committee might not be entirely friendly to the internet junkman:

After voters in Utah Wednesday rejected a school voucher plan there, the main financial backer of the plan, Patrick Byrne, says he'll focus his efforts on African-American churches in South Carolina. Byrne is founder and CEO of Overstock.com.

He'll find plenty of organized supporters and opposition in South Carolina.

Thursday morning, former governor and U.S. secretary of education Dick Riley and former state Supreme Court chief justice Ernest Finney announced that they're leading a new coalition opposed to school vouchers. It's called "Voices for Public Education", and it's made up of African-American educational, business and service organizations.

When Riley was governor, from 1979 to 1987, he pushed through the Education Improvement Act, which raised the state sales tax by one penny with the money going to improve schools.

"Vouchers, tuition tax credits, only distract us from our ability to work on real solutions," he said at a news conference at the African-American History Monument at the Statehouse.

Finney added, "The state of Utah on yesterday voted down vouchers. And, interestingly enough, one of the leaders of that movement that got beat in Utah indicated that that movement was going to now spearhead and pinpoint South Carolina and the black leadership in South Carolina as an entity which they could move into and do what they want to do here, which is undercut our public education system."

Columbia attorney Steven Benjamin said the purpose of Voices for Public Education would be to dispel and counter any pro-voucher efforts.

"We've been formed in response to recent tactics by pro-voucher out-of-state interest groups to mislead African-American communities into believing that vouchers are the solution to reform in our public schools," he said. . . .