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

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Female Math Myth

In the 1630s Puritan leader, John Winthrop, warned husbands against allowing their wives to be swept up in the dizzying and debilitating business of book learning. A hundred and fifty years after that, Rousseau argued that Nature, no less, had destined women to an education for the benefit of males, "to make life sweet and agreeable for them." Such domination and stupidity could not be altered by the few women who dared to speak the truth, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, who earned an attribution as the "hyena in petticoats" for her fearless counter-arguments in the late 18th Century.

Now we find that that Mary was right, of course, and that women are just as capable as men in intellectual pursuits, if not more so. From Time Magazine, and note how the author, a woman herself, continues the long, long tradition of offering a male orientation to readers who may find reason enough to dismiss these findings when they see that all the researchers were, gasp, women. The research appears in the most recent issue of Science:
A new report by researchers at University of Wisconsin and University of California, Berkeley, aims to overturn the long-held belief that girls aren't as good at math as boys. According to new data, the researchers say, that gender gap has become a myth — a finding they hope will help shift the very real gender gap in math, science and technology professions, which are currently dominated by men.
Janet Hyde, a psychologist at University of Wisconsin, and her (all-female) collaborators culled data from federally mandated annual math tests administered to 7.2 million second- through 11th-grade students in 10 states. They found little difference between boys' and girs' average math scores. Hyde also searched for a gender difference in the outlying scores — that is, whether more boys were among the top math scorers than girls — but again found negligible difference, although boys did still slightly outnumber girls in the 99th percentile.

The equalizing of math scores may reflect the simple fact that more female students are now taking math courses, says Hyde, whose study, funded by the National Science Foundation, appears in the current issue of Science. In Hyde's earlier research in the 1990s, she found that girls and boys scored similarly on math tests in elementary school, but that by high school the boys were overtaking the girls. Why? Because somewhere along the way, girls stopped taking math and never learned the skills required to do well on standardized tests. Today, girls are increasingly sticking with math classes through school — according to the paper, girls and boys take advanced math in high school in equal numbers, and women receive nearly half of all bachelor degrees given in math in the U.S. — and their scores are closing the gap. But "the stereotype that boys are better at math is alive and strong," Hyde says. "Parents still believe it, and teachers still believe it." . . . .

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Choice Editorial from Jacksonville, NC

Too bad the NY Times or the Washington Post don't have the guts or insight of Jacksonville, NC's JD News:
It’s time to leave‘No Child’ behind
July 26, 2008 - 12:16AM

No Child Left Behind, the massive education program enacted by U.S. Congress in 2001, is one of those well-intended initiatives that has turned into a train wreck. It is time to admit that it simply doesn't work.

Onslow County Schools, like many other educational systems, have struggled with the stringent goals set by NCLB since its inception. In addition to what, on paper, appears an admirable objective - to improve the performance of the nation's public schools - NCLB has probably done less to foster actual learning and more to tie teachers' hands than any program before it.

Once criticized for "teaching to the tests," educators have now been saddled with goals that are next to impossible to reach and draconian sanctions that are supposed to raise the quality of instruction. Instead, NCLB has sent many excellent teachers scrambling for the door.

At a time when educators' salaries are losing ground along with the rest of America, why would anyone want to enforce a provision that does little but drive good teachers from the profession? It makes no sense, but that is what is happening.

The rural, lower-wealth counties and inner-city schools can barely keep enough teachers on staff to meet their needs, yet NCLB, which purports to raise the qualifications of those who teach, discourages the ones they do have, forcing many fine teachers to rethink their personal career objectives.

Although NCLB is designed to raise the reading and writing levels of America's children and provide measurable means of testing those abilities, what it is really doing is forcing teachers to "teach to the test" with a whole new desperation. The Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, goals that schools are required to meet are often impossible, turning the process into a shell game played between school and program administrators.

Recently, Onslow County's latest AYP report card revealed Onslow did not do very well in its latest assessment. Overall, the number of schools meeting their AYP goals in the county declined.

What does that mean in terms of students actually learning something useful? How do parents make any sense of these numbers? They are the forgotten component of the NCLB Act.

In truth, the only provision of NCLB designed to benefit parents and students allows those at low-performing schools to move to other schools in the district.

No matter which candidate carries the day in November, it is hoped he will take seriously the business of teaching, limit Congress' input into education and, finally, kick the NCLB Act to the curb.

It's an expensive, complicated program that delivers little but red tape and bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, something the American people already have in abundance.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Money Saved from Rhee's School Closures to Open Charterized Catholic Schools

Back in January Chancellor Michelle Rhee argued for and got the closing of 23 DC Schools, based on the premise of saving taxpayers $23 million. Now it seems that Rhee will use $7.5 million of those saved dollars to bail out five Catholic schools in DC, which are now scheduled to open this Fall as "secular" charter schools.

No word yet about what their "charters" will be or how they entirely skipped the 12 to 15 month review process that is customary. No word either on how the application for funding just missed by four weeks the regular budget deadline, which, of course, would have put these questions on the table for debate. Is someone required to approve such takeovers, or is a note from the Chancellor enough? From WaPo:
The District will use a $7.5 million education reserve fund to pay for the seven former Catholic schools slated to reopen as secular charter schools next month, and it will be able to find more money if necessary, officials said this week.

The D.C. Council allocated $366 million in May for 63 charter schools as part of its fiscal 2009 budget. Financing for the Center City Public Charter Schools was omitted, officials said, because Center City's application was not approved by the charter school board until June 16.

The Catholic school conversions are unusual, they said, because most charters spend 12 to 15 months between approval and opening to find buildings and staff. Center City's seven campuses are ready to accept students. . . .

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chinese Corporate Communist Government Buys Silence from Grieving Parents

HANWANG, China — The official came for Yu Tingyun in his village one evening last week. He asked Mr. Yu to get into his car. He was clutching the contract and a pen.

Mr. Yu’s daughter had died in a cascade of concrete and bricks, one of at least 240 students at a high school here who lost their lives in the May 12 earthquake. Mr. Yu became a leader of grieving parents demanding to know if the school, like so many others, had crumbled because of poor construction.

The contract had been thrust in Mr. Yu’s face during a long police interrogation the day before. In exchange for his silence and for affirming that the ruling Communist Party “mobilized society to help us,” he would get a cash payment and a pension.

Mr. Yu had resisted then. This time, he took the pen.

“When I saw that most of the parents had signed it, I signed it myself,” Mr. Yu said softly. A wiry 42-year-old driver, he carries a framed portrait of his daughter, Yang, in his shoulder bag.

Local governments in southwest China’s quake-ravaged Sichuan Province have begun a coordinated campaign to buy the silence of angry parents whose children died during the earthquake, according to interviews with more than a dozen parents from four collapsed schools. Officials threaten that the parents will get nothing if they refuse to sign, the parents say.

Chinese officials had promised a new era of openness in the wake of the earthquake and in the months before the Olympic Games, which begin in August. But the pressure on parents is one sign that officials here are determined to create a facade of public harmony rather than undertake any real inquiry into accusations that corruption or negligence contributed to the high death toll in the quake.

Officials have come knocking on parents’ doors day and night. They are so intent on getting parents to comply that in one case, a mayor offered to pay the airfare of a mother who left the province so she could return to sign the contract, the mother said.

The payment amounts vary by school but are roughly the same. Parents in Hanwang, a river town at the foot of mist-shrouded mountains, said they were being offered the equivalent of $8,800 in cash and a per-parent pension of nearly $5,600.

Flush with tax revenues after two decades of double-digit economic growth, China has used its financial muscle to make Beijing and Shanghai into architectural showcases and to open diplomatic doors in developing nations. At times, the state also acts like a multinational corporation facing a product liability suit, offering money to people with grievances in hopes of defusing protests. Most people, the government assumes, ultimately put profit before principle. . . .

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ETS Shows Serial Incompetence Abroad

Not all the gold-covered lavatory handles in its Princeton, NJ headquarters can bail ETS out of another fiasco that demonstrates their dominant cultural characteristics:
Polly Curtis
Saturday July 19, 2008
The Guardian

Over the past month ETS Europe has not only been handling the biggest crisis in Sats history but also one of the toughest recruitment jobs in finding a new marking director. Senior people at every exam board have been approached. The post, which the company insisted was vacated for reasons entirely unrelated to the marking problems, is not yet filled.

Minutes of the Qualification and Curriculum Authority meeting when the decision was made to give ETS the £165m contract to process 9.5m papers this summer and for the next four years say they offered "best value for money". It has since transpired theirs was also the cheapest bid and there were only a handful of other contenders.

The Conservatives, who first warned ministers of the problems surrounding ETS in May, produced a dossier on the board's record. In 2002 software errors by ETS led to serious failures, including giving the wrong marks, in the graduate management admission test (GMAT).

The New York Times reported in 2004 that mismanagement by ETS led to over 40,000 teachers taking a flawed exam. Thousands were given the wrong marks and there was a shortage of teachers. ETS paid millions of dollars in compensation. . . .

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Needed: Students to Pass Tests, Salary Negotiable

In defiance of the growing belief that the testing insanity can't get any crazier, Fresno Superintendent Larry Powell moves test talk into a whole new padded room.  He wants to pay students to pass the junk tests through a game of Name Your Incentive.  

Does Powell really believe that the students are failing because they are not trying hard enough? What kind of incentive would it take to get this guy's resignation?

By Norma Yuriar & Laura Fabian

Like any parent trying to motivate their kids to do better in school lawmakers believe they have come up with something that will encourage students to do better.

Larry Powell Superintendent of the Fresno County Office of Education said he supports legislation that would reward middle and high school students individually for excelling on standardized tests.

"It has good and bad as you can imagine.  I can just see an enterprising young man say 'tell you what, you want me to do better what else will you give me,' so you may end up with something like that," said Powell.

The Bill would leave it up to students to come up with ideas for an appropriate prize if they improve their test scores.  "I like the idea of the student part, where students can come up with an opportunity to say what kind of incentives can we put together that are non-monetary to help kids do better on STAR testing," said Powell.

But, critics like retired valley Principal Terry Allen said they are leery of the concept, "I feel this reward would be a false one, we are teaching kids to learn for a test, but not to learn for their own benefits," said Allen.

Fresno teacher Janet Fiorentino see it differently, "the concept is good," said Fiorentino, "I believe kids should be rewarded with some sort of rally or a dance."

6th Grader Donovan Judd could not agree more, "It would be pretty cool, it would motivate me more," said Judd.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Genocide Olympics, Brought to You by Western Corporations Without Scruples

No amount of crimes against nature or humanity by a corrupt government against its own people or the rest of the world could now mute the roar of approval by the multinational corporations lined up at the trough to cash in on the upcoming Genocide Olympics.

Forgotten are the schools made of sand where thousands of children were buried from earthquakes, forgotten is the continuing history of support for African governments that allow genocide within their own countries, forgotten are the worker exploitation and slave labor to produce poisonous products to line the shelves of Walmarts around the world, forgotten are the children of Tianamen Square where tens of thousands were mowed down for their dreams of democracy, and forgotten are the tens of milliions of tons of pollutants spewed into the environment to produce the easy profits for international corporations and the oligarchs who own them.

So even th0ugh all the ads from Macdonald's, Coke, Verizon, Adidas, and the rest or the corporate sharks will be cheering on the Chinese people to win the medals, we may remain assured the billion-dollar Madison Avenue boosterism offers nothing more than a tissue of cover for the naked greed of those who will really take home the gold from the most polished exploitation on Earth.

The story in the NYTimes:

BEIJING — It is becoming increasingly clear which nation global corporations will be rooting for at this summer’s Olympics: China.

Or at least that’s what it looks like from advertisements here. McDonald’s is running a “Cheer for China” television ad. Nike ads feature China’s star hurdler, Liu Xiang, and other Chinese athletes besting foreign competitors. Earlier this year, Pepsi even painted its familiar blue cans red for a limited edition “Go Red for China” promotion.

The campaigns for Western companies are part of an advertising blitz the likes of which this ostensibly communist nation has never seen. Ads are papered over bus shelters, projected on giant outdoor television screens and plastered on billboards. Commercials even flicker at commuters as they zoom through subway tunnels.

China, already the world’s second-largest advertising market, after the United States, is a dream for consumer product companies. “For most international brands here, China is the growth market for the next 10 years,” said Jonathan Chajet, strategic director at Interbrand, which consults on brands.

A record 63 companies have become sponsors or partners of the Beijing Olympics. Olympic-related advertising in China could reach $4 billion to $6 billion this year, according to CSM, a Beijing marketing research firm. . . .

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Charter Looting

As ideologues press on in their battle to replace public schools in urban areas with unregulated, though tax-supported, charter chain gangs for the poor, the opportunities for corruption and outright thievery increase. Here are details of the latest from Philadelphia, where freedom from oversight quickly turned to the opportunity to loot:
By Martha Woodall
Inquirer Staff Writer

The embattled board of the Philadelphia Academy Charter School last night released a scathing internal report alleging that the charter's founder and its former chief executive officer systematically looted the school for personal gain.

The report, compiled by a team of lawyers led by a former federal prosecutor, says more than $700,000 is missing from a school account and cites "substantial evidence of wrongdoing" by Brien N. Gardiner, a former public school principal who founded the popular charter in Northeast Philadelphia, and Kevin M. O'Shea, a former police officer who replaced Gardiner as CEO two years ago.

Gardiner's alleged "frauds" were complex and included what appears to have been a no-interest $70,000 loan to one of his other business entities, the report says.

O'Shea's misconduct, it says, was "no less destructive, as he systematically siphoned cash from virtually every aspect of [the school's] operations, even going so far as to misappropriate money raised by the Student Council and National Honor Society that was intended for the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots Program."

The 62-page report, by former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer and other attorneys at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll L.L.P., also alleges that O'Shea's sister, Constance, coordinator of the school's elementary program, destroyed computer records in April at her brother's behest to keep investigators from getting them.

. . . .

Hockeimer's team found Gardiner had violated his duties to the charter to advance other business interests. By doing so, the report says, he jeopardized the school's ability to pay for capital projects and educational programs.

"Gardiner's conduct is particularly surprising and disappointing in light of the profound trust PACS' faculty, staff, parents and students placed in him," the report says.

Ballard Spahr investigators labeled O'Shea's allegedly fraudulent conduct "pervasive." Their report says they uncovered "substantial evidence" that he stole a large amount of lunch money at the high school, pocketed the $2 students paid to attend school without uniforms on Dress Down Days, kept the proceeds from the candy and soda machines at the school, and forced maintenance staff to cut his lawn and make repairs to the $1.4 million house he built in Beach Haven.

A former city police officer with a high school diploma, O'Shea earned $204,000 as the school's chief executive officer until he and Gardiner were fired in May.

The "largest abuse in monetary terms" detailed in the report stems from actions of the nonprofit that owns the Philadelphia Academy's high school building. The school has been paying nearly $67,000 a month in taxpayer money to rent the building from Philadelphia Academy Charter Development Corp., a nonprofit established by Gardiner that had been led by O'Shea's wife, Jamie. . . .

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Retention Still Harms Students, Just As It Always Has

The gross immorality of student retention based on standardized test scores continues to spread, even though the vast compendium of research consistently points to the harm caused by such practices.  Here is the latest in a long line of research that points to what the test and punish crowd has known and ignored for years.  ht to Monty Neill for this link:

Five years after a state law required school districts to make third-graders who fail the reading FCAT repeat the year, questions remain about whether the strict rule that has affected tens of thousands of students is effective.

Soon after the law was enacted, the state trumpeted stories of parents initially upset by the retention who later were pleased. But a recent Miami-Dade study that followed the first group of retained students concluded that retention only improves student achievement initially.

''It appears now that the gains have essentially disappeared,'' the study states.

A similar Broward study that tracked the first group of retained students -- who just finished seventh grade -- also found that as they have grown up, their attendance rate in school has dropped and their suspension rate has risen.

State data show that for students who have repeated third grade -- despite the extra year in elementary school -- nearly half fail the reading test as fourth-graders.

Arizona State University Professor Mary Lee Smith studied Florida's law the year after it was enacted and has continued monitoring its effects. In 2004, her policy brief recommended the law be repealed.

Four years later, Smith's objections are the same.

'The research stretching over a 60-plus-year period has consistently demonstrated the same thing: that retention in grade does not improve performance in subsequent years' achievement and bears a strong relationship to dropping out of school later,'' Smith wrote in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. ``No other body or research is so strongly one-sided, yet policy makers and politicians point to it as a way to improve performance.''

She said many other strategies, including small class sizes, high quality preschools, good teachers, remediation on academic skills before and after school and tutoring are better than retention as long as they are not teaching to the test.

Policies like Florida's dot the country. In New York City, for the last four years, third-graders who score in the lowest of four levels on English and math tests have been required to repeat the grade unless they score higher after summer school or if teachers appeal. . . .

Monday, July 14, 2008

Weingarten's New Nonsense Rhetoric as AFT Chief

Randi Weingarten got national attention with her recent support for public school destruction by charter--and for her enthusiasm for teacher bonus pay based on test scores.  In kowtowing to the Gates and Broad agenda, she obviously built a network of insiders strong enough to deal her way to the top of the AFT.  Today she offered the rank and file a litany of pipe dreams that are confounded by the recent capitulations of principle that got her into her new position.  Here is a clip:

. . . .In a speech minutes later to the delegates gathered in Chicago, Ms. Weingarten criticized the No Child Left Behind law, President Bush’s signature domestic initiative, as “too badly broken to be fixed,” and outlined “a new vision of schools for the 21st century.”

“Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools — schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need?” Ms. Weingarten asked in the speech.

“Imagine schools that are open all day and offer after-school and evening recreational activities and homework assistance,” she said. “And suppose the schools included child care and dental, medical and counseling clinics.” . . . .

See Randi's imagination soar.  Soar, soar, soar.  Imagine, imagine, imagine.  Let's just forget her most recent enthusiasm for the cheap charter school solution for the poor, with the test prep parrot curriculums and facilities that routinely do not have basics like libraries, gyms, or even cafeterias.  Imagine that!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Privatizing Testocrats Gear Up, and Bracey Finds More Crap in WaPo

The Broads, the Dells, and Bill and Melinda have launched another salvo in their 60 million dollar fear-mongering propaganda campaign against America's public schools. New flag-waving ads are already in the can, ready to launch as NBC prepares extensive coverage of the Genocide Olympics.

And, of course, the big money has the big media in its pocket, as evidenced in today's uncritical adver-porting of the propaganda smear in the Washington Post, a dull hatchet job that even a dolt like Jay Mathews knows is entirely misleading, one-sided, and without merit.

Here is Bracey's letter to WaPo, which will never find its way into print. Much too honest, even if it were not, Jerry doesn't have enough cash to buy the news space. Thanks, anyway, GB:
To: chandlerm@washpost.com ; mathewsj@washpost.com ; valerie strauss ; haynesv@washpost.com ; Fred Hiatt
Cc: ombudsman@washpost.com
Sent: Sunday, July 13, 2008 11:09 AM
Subject: crap

It's bad enough that Roy Romer, who used to be pretty smart when I knew him in CO, has become the most irrational of school critics, but it's worse that page C7 of today's Post gives his his latest fear mongering crap--let's call it what it is, shit, and see if that gets through the filters--free publicity. In God's name, WHY? Who put the Post up to this story?

I think the Post owes it to schools to base a piece at least as long on U. S. Competitiveness in Science and Technology which was just issued by the RAND corporation. We're #1, says RAND. It's a much more reasoned document though it, too, makes some errors when talking about school performance. It at least credits U. S. kids on international tests where they do well. If you look around at the fear mongers, you'll notice they mention PISA ranks and nothing else. That's because, as RAND observes, on TIMSS and PIRLS we look good. Of course, even RAND's study considers that there might be a link between test scores and competitiveness, which no one has ever demonstrated. In fact, in his epilogue to a recent book about PISA (see below), U of Vienna professor Stefan Hopmann notes that PISA rests on two assumptions: that it assesses important knowledge, and that it assesses knowledge important to the economic future of a nation. There is no research, says Hopmann, to support either assumption. So why does the Post accept PISA at face value?

Last week, I sent in an oped, Getting It Backwards, that begins with a quote from an English economist. He takes the proper perspective. Critics in this country look at test scores and worry about competitiveness. He looks at America's #1 economy and impugns the validity of the test comparisons. Prais' argument appears in a book I recently received edited by three profs at the U of Vienna but with chapters from researchers all over Europe that virtually demolishes PISA, the international study that is used in Romer's ads (I know, the article mentions Marc Lampkin as CEO, but if you go to their site you immediately see that Roy is the driving force). Why do American media accept these studies so uncritically?

Gerald W. Bracey

Saturday, July 12, 2008

AFT Calls for Abolishing NCLB

Some great reporting here by George Schmidt at the AFT Convention for Substance:
Outgoing AFT president Ed McElroy calls for abolition of No Child Left Behind

By George N. Schmidt


In a major address to the 3,000 delegates to the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), outgoing AFT President Ed McElroy announced that the union was no longer in favor of tinkering with the federal "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) law and called for the abolition of NCLB.

According to the press release summarizing McElroy's remarks: "McElroy pledged that the AFT would work with the next president to move beyond the No Child Left Behind Act (which he called 'an idea whose time has gone') to 'create a new education law that respects the knowledge of classroom professionals and helps teachers and paraprofessionals provide our students with the high-quality education they deserve."

To the loudest cheers of his valedictory speech, McElroy repeated that No Child Left Behind cannot be repaired, and had to be replaced. He reminded the delegates that their duties includes electing an even greater majority of Democratic Party candidates to the House and Senate in Washington in November, and to replacing George W. Bush with Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who received the endorsement of the AFT executive council in June and who will receive the backing of the convention later this weekend. . . .


Thursday, July 10, 2008

What George Wood Learned

HT to Monty Neill. From Forum for Education and Democracy:
For one of the few times this year, I am alone at school. It is the weekend after all the reports were due for state accountability, after the final requests for next year’s materials were sent to the treasurer’s office, and after I sent off my final report to the school board. Time to clean up my desk, catch up on some reading, write some notes to faculty members—and think about what I learned in school this year.

Working both in a school and with The Forum provides an opportunity to feel the juxtaposition between the rhetoric of policy debates and the reality of the day-to-day lives of our children, their teachers, and their families. Here are a few things I learned this year working in both worlds:

Parents trust the judgment of their child’s teachers above all other measures of student or school success. I have yet to have a parent enter my office and ask for her child’s test scores to see how s/he is doing in school. I have fielded requests to meet with teachers, to review graded work, to observe a classroom, or to discuss with the teacher how the child can do better. This should not be a surprise, given the recent AP poll that showed nearly 70% of parents (and the general public) think classroom work and homework, as compared to standardized tests, are the best measures of student learning and engagement.

What’s missing from this equation is a policy environment that honors the judgment of teachers, supports that judgment, and engages parents in the process. Instead, policy makers tend to rely on large-scale, standardized measures of achievement in which the public has very little trust. The good news is that, among my friends and colleagues at the state and federal level, there is a growing awareness that something is amiss in how we judge our schools. We are using measures in which the public has little faith, measures that are not serving our students’ developmental learning needs .

The question is this: Can we have standards without standardization? If we pay attention to the performance assessments used in places like Rhode Island and other parts of the world, the answer is yes. (See our report on this here.) So maybe the real question is whether or not the reality on the ground can influence the policy made at the top.

There is much to be learned from educators around the world and the policies that support them. When The Forum released its report, Democracy At Risk, it was with a fair amount of internal discussion around the issue of international comparisons of schools. Many critics have pointed out that international test scores unfairly paint all of our schools as failing and are used to alarm the general population. There is also the question of what types of measures these comparisons rely upon. Fair enough. Our intention is to encourage debate about these things and see what we can learn from examining them.

What I learned from looking at these far-from-perfect numbers is that the nations that do well on these comparisons do things I wish we did, including:
Funding their schools equitably, often nationally, and refusing to allow the disparities we see in this nation;
Taking care of their children by providing national health care, early childhood education, safe neighborhoods, and quality housing;
Supporting a professional teaching corps by providing financial support to become a teacher, ensuring mentoring programs, and investing in ongoing professional development;
Making sure there is a supply of well-prepared and well-supported teachers for every child and every school;
Relying upon performance assessments, and assessments of learning at the school and classroom level, to gauge how schools are doing;
Using assessments that engage students in higher order thinking processes to solve real-world problems; and
Refusing to use standardized assessments for high-stakes decisions.

Every time I mention this list to policy-makers they seem astounded. What I have learned this year is that we have a mythological notion of what is going on in schools around the world. We believe something like this: In other nations kids go to school all the time, study primarily math, take tests almost daily, and are subjected to a great deal of drill and memorization work. In fact, nothing could be further from the case and to pursue a policy agenda based on this mythology will deeply damage our schools.

Education is still not an election issue—and maybe that is a good thing. Again, according to polling, education is not an issue very high on the charts when it comes to national elections. According to the Public Education Network’s survey, education follows well behind gas prices and employment when respondents are asked about crucial issues. And when it comes to a presidential candidate, only 10% of respondents indicate that his/her stand on education is of most importance.

That is not to say there are not significant differences between the two major party candidates when it comes to education. What it does indicate is that local schools are, for the most part, seen as just that—local. The public knows they carry the responsibility for their schools. But they also want the federal government to help carry out this responsibility—as opposed to a ‘scolding nanny’ who seems to do nothing but demand better results on measures of limited value while carrying out the task with fewer and fewer resources.

We know our schools have a national impact; most importantly on the type of citizens we provide our democracy. As such, they should be part of our national policy debates--which takes me back to the two other things learned this year. What we need is a system of national policy supports for schools that insures every child, regardless of condition, has equal access to a good school, with good teachers, where what they learn is judged by what they can do on complex tasks.

That may be too much to wish for by the time I get back to this desk in August. But what I have learned is that we know how and what to do—I do not yet know if we have the will to do it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

SAT: No Benefit, Big Harm

From Stan Katz at the Chronicle Review:

The Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley has quietly been doing some of the most significant higher education policy research I know of. Spurred by the vote in California in 1996 to end affirmative action in the state’s colleges and universities, and blessed with a vast database on student performance in the huge UC system, researchers at CSHE have been asking the Big Question about college admissions — what are the most reliable objective predictors of success in college for high-school students? When the first results were published several years ago, I found them both troubling and significant, for the researchers found that the best predictor of college success (measured by course grades) was grades in high-school college preparatory courses. They also argued that using grades as the criterion for
admissions had the least adverse effect on the success of poor and minority college applicants. And, significantly, high-school grades were not just predictive of success in the freshman year, but of cumulative GPA over four years, and four-year graduation rates.

An important follow-up report by Saul Geiser of CSHE was published a few days ago. It is entitled Back to the Basics: In Defense of Achievement (and Achievement Tests) in College Admissions (click here), and it is a strong confirmation of the earlier findings. It is, in particular, a criticism of the usefulness of the SAT I examination as a general predictor of college success. But it is even more critical of the assumption
that the SAT I will identify promising poor and minority students more adequately than high-school GPA — the theory was that if one could test for ability to learn rather than actual learning outcomes, one could discount the negative impact of the poor secondary schools to which the poor and minorities were assigned. But the California data, we are told, shows that the achievement test adds nothing to the predictive value of course grades and achievement tests. They show, in fact, that the SAT “has a more adverse impact on poor and minority applicants than high-school grades and achievement tests.” The report finds that AP courses (though not AP scores) are “good predictors of student success in college,” but AP courses are limited by their availability across high-school systems nationally.

I am not a testing expert, but I have been following the CSHE data analysis with great interest and increasing conviction. I share the center’s concern both with accuracy of prediction of college success, and the relationship of prediction to equity in admissions. These data seem to me to add tremendous force to the growing lack of confidence in the reliability of aptitude tests. And most important, in an era in which affirmative action in college admissions seems to be rapidly disappearing, tests that disadvantage the poor seem particularly objectionable, given the relationship between higher education and life outcomes. I have to confess that the CSHE conclusions reinforce my teacher’s bias for subject-matter mastery as the criterion of achievement. And, if nothing else, it should be reassuring to students to know that some fair measure of what they have actually learned will be the primary criterion upon which admissions decisions are based — rather than the black box of achievement tests. If nothing else, we should be grateful to CSHE for providing a solid statistical basis for public discussion of what is too often more an emotional and political than a policy debate.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Obama, McCain, and the Disappearing Light Between Them on Education

There are two policy issues that threaten the creation of quality public schools for all who choose them, and Barack Obama and John McCain support both of them: corporate charter schools and teacher raises based on test scores.  

There are many liberals who believe that they, themselves, support charter schools for the promised innovation that such schools of the imagination, well, promise.  As the liberal script goes, charter schools offer the opportunity for parents and teachers to form innovative programs that serve various niches within communities by focusing the school environment and curriculum on things that matter to the constiutents who come together to learn and teach, all the while forgoing the control and bureaucracy of local school boards.

Sounds great, right?  Power to the people!  Well, to the anti-public school wing of American school reform--the wing with the money--this kind of liberal blather sounded the dinner bell for a new feeding line for the ed industry's corporate welfare artists and the religious welfare scammers who believe the solution to urban poverty is a uniform scripted curriculum for uniformed children who are fed a Spartan diet of behavior modification with their boiled reading and math.  

These KIPPster schools, and the corporate charters that emulate them, have an effective PR machine (the American media) that boasts the high percentages of their graduates who attend college.  What is not talked about are the large numbers of children and parents who cannot hack the regimentation or cognitive decapitation on which these schools build their mindless parrot learning programs. Many urban parents desperate for something besides the demoralized poverty schools that have been blown up by NCLB look to these newly-painted child workhouses with a hope and a prayer.

So much for liberal dreaming.  Not only have the privatizers coopted a good figment of liberal imagination and operationalized it for their own economically-driven ends, but they have used the same idea to attack humane teaching, teacher tenure, collective bargaining, and retirement plans.  What about school libraries and librarians?  Who needs them in the small-school chain gangs?  Who has time for the library--if there were one?  

So while both liberal and conservative politicians rub their chins and consider the 20% payroll savings that the charterizers promise by cutting teacher pay in the charter detention camps, they have arrived at a scheme by which teachers in these "schools" may earn back the pay they will have lost through charterization:  higher pay for test scores.  The vortex tightens, and the dizzying spin of mindlessness accelerates.  

Such visionary planning leads me to conclude at this point in "yes, we can" campaign of 2008 that any real audacity of hope came from those audacious enough to believe that the new boss will be any different on education than the old boss.  Read 'em and weep.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Michelle Rhee Using Gates and Broad $$ to Bribe Teachers Out of Tenure and Seniority

What happens when public officials team up with corporations to use tax-exempt corporate foundation money in an attempt to crush teachers' rights and to further the agenda of societal segregation based on test scores?

We're about to find out in DC. From WaPo:

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 3, 2008; B01

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is proposing a contract that would give mid-level teachers who are paid $62,000 yearly the opportunity to earn more than $100,000 -- but they would have to give up seniority and tenure rights, two union members familiar with the negotiations said yesterday.

Under the proposal, the school system would establish two pay tiers, red and green, said the union members, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. Teachers in the red tier would receive traditional raises and would maintain tenure. Those who voluntarily go into the green tier would receive thousands of dollars in bonuses and raises, funded with foundation grants, for relinquishing tenure.

Teachers in the green tier would be reviewed yearly and would be allowed to continue in their jobs only if they passed an evaluation and boosted students' test scores, the union members said.

Under Rhee's proposal, raises to the green tier would be more than the 19 percent increase over five years she is proposing for all teachers, the union members said.

They said teachers are opposed to giving up seniority and tenure, no matter the size of their raise, and probably would reject such a proposal.

"You may be trading off your future, your tenure, your job security," a union member said. "When you trade that, it seems to me you're not getting much."

. . . .

The two union members said Rhee wants to use donations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Broad Foundation, in part, to pay for the raises and bonuses. Officials from the Gates and Broad foundations would not comment on proposed future funding. . . .

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Slavery By Another Name

HT to Jerry Bracey for this interview link at Bill Moyers Journal:
Bill Moyers interviews Douglas Blackmon, the Atlanta bureau chief of the WALL STREET JOURNAL, about his latest book, SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME, which looks at an "age of neoslavery" that thrived from the aftermath of the Civil War through the dawn of World War II.
Watch the interiew here.

And read about the same era in industrial education from educational historian, James Anderson.

Reading First: "unproven magnet of corruption"

From USA Today:
WASHINGTON — Is the federal government getting out of the reading business?

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted last week to eliminate funding for Reading First, the groundbreaking but controversial Bush administration program that has given states $1 billion a year since 2002 to teach low-income elementary schoolers to read. A House committee also had voted to eliminate funding; if money is not restored before the federal budget is approved in the fall, the program could end.

Democrats in Congress say the program was an unproven magnet for corruption. House hearings last year focused on financial ties between its top advisers and major textbook publishers, who account for a large share of materials schools use. A U.S. Justice Department investigation, begun last year, is still pending. . . .

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


At a rare moment in history when the backwards-gazing, morally bankrupt social antiquarians of the Right are rocking on their heels ready to topple over, at a time when we have a President who is so profligate, reckless, and ignorant that the Bubbas of America would seriously consider a Black man for the White House, we have a candidate who has chosen to stick with the playbook of propping up the the losing policies that the rest of America is ready to knock over.

Whether it is school privatization by charter, open discrimination through "faith-based" religious welfare programs of dubious legal standing, or telecom immunity for illegal spying on citizens, Obama appears to have stepped in to make sure these losing propositions remain on the front burner. One can only guess that the geniuses who are advising him would like to turn him into that rarest of commodities, a black Republican who can win by making McCain's campaign unnecessary.

This is certainly not what so many of us hoped for (remember that word?) when we saw Obama talk about change, audacity, standing up, democratic principles, fairness, equity, the Constitution, and all the other forgotten values that once formed the ideological core of the other party.

What Obama has managed to do since the primary is to prove that he doesn't cower like the Democrats of old, mildly trying to maintain some integrity by deflection and glad-handing. Rather, he bravely proclaims as his own what the most of America is ready put in File 13. If this rightward maneuvering continues, it will surely lead enough of those who were inspired for awhile during the primaries to stay home, thus making a contest out of what was sure to be a blowout.