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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

When Will WaPo Move Jay Mathews to the Opinion Pages?

Every Monday, testing industry lackey, Jay Mathews, gets paid by his patron, Kaplan, Inc, to offer a steamy pile of propaganda under the wildly-inaccurate rubric of "News." If Mathews's cheerleading for corporate welfare schools for the poor, union busting, and more testing is, indeed, news, we must wonder which of the Washington Post's education news we should believe: the Mathews rendition or the one reported by the journalists at WaPo who earn their salaries by the stories they file, rather than which side they take in the stories they file.

Mathews's piece yesterday was aimed principally at praising the Queen of Hearts, Michelle Rhee, for her attempt to bring down tenure and due process for teachers in D. C. schools, all for the sake of, yes, the children. Only secondarily was yesterday's piece aimed at praising the KIPP chain gang schools as the final solution to tenure, to achievement, and to every other shortcoming of the public schools that may be as yet devised. The opening salvo:

Sarah Hayes, principal of the KIPP DC:KEY Academy, realized that two new teachers were not working out. Their résumés and recommendations had been good. They were nice people. But their classes were disorganized, their standards low. Efforts to help them improve had little effect.

If KEY were a traditional school, Hayes's only reasonable option would have been to mentor the teachers, note her dissatisfaction on their evaluations and recommend that they not be kept after a two-year probation. That is the way it goes in most school systems. Staffing rules, tenure agreements and low expectations tend to favor weak teachers unless they do something awful.

But KEY is a public charter school, one of many in the District that do not have such rules. Hayes was able to get the teachers out of her middle school by Christmas and replace them with proven talents, who were freed from other duties at KEY because of flexibility allowed such schools. . . .

The only problem for the Washington Post and for a fact-challenged Jay Mathews is that one of the Post's real reporters, Bill Turque, was filing a story yesterday, too, on the facts surrounding the shortfall of teachers in D.C. classroom five weeks into the first term.

Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker said the high number of vacancies at this point in the school year is a consequence of Rhee's decision to fire 270 teachers over the summer. About 70 were on probation, meaning they had less than two years' experience and could be terminated at any time under District rules. About 200 others were let go after failing to meet a June 30 deadline to obtain certification.
Whoops! Did Mathews just tell an intentional lie or is he so out of touch that he knows not of what he speaks? It's a problem for the Washington Post, either way you look at it.

What I really enjoyed in yesterday's WaPo, however, was the skewering of Mathews by a couple of readers, who commented thusly:

qaz2 wrote:
You have the facts wrong. In the first two years in DCPS teachers are on probation and are easy to dismiss. Teachers become challenging to fire after they have passed the probation period when they shouldn't have been retained if they weren't performing, that is the current standard. I also notice in your example the principal at Key didn't just let them go after a few days of failure, it took months to find replacements, during which I'm sure they tried to train these teachers up in the mean time. With Rhee's strategy only the charters have this option now. We in DCPS now are starving for teachers. Lots of teachers took the buyout seeing this woman is gunning for them. Now we don't have enough teachers to go around. A DCPS school principal with an incompetent teacher on probation can't let them go, because no competent teacher wants to enter the green tier. Not with the Queen of Hearts who is clear that she doesn't have to justify any firings she makes. I would not take a job anywhere that she had the authority to fire me. Job descriptions and employee evaluations are niceties she has made clear she cannot be bothered with.

There is another big problem with this example. Ms Rhee is suggesting we hire lots of inexperienced teachers. Most teachers take a few years to learn the ropes, and depend on mentoring from good experienced teachers. A good principal knows new teachers with just a degree in education and a license to teach are a management challenge. They may have the book knowledge on teaching but they haven't learned practical classroom skills. Let alone the Teach for America folk that Rhee is a big booster of, who come with enthusiasm and little training at all. The problem with her model is it takes the teaching team at each school and tells them not to play together. You are in it for your bonus and retention. Time you spend helping your colleagues is time you could be investing just in your classroom making sure you get the big bonus. Good schools are like a sports team, to be successful they need to work together. Yes sometimes you have to replace people, but more often you succeed by giving your existing players what they need to succeed. The Green tier does away with that. You are in it for your bonus, not the school, not your colleagues, and educating kids is not the end, it is a means to gain the end of the big payout. Talk about creating incentives to cheat on tests!
And then came this smackdown on Mathews's unceasing crowing about the test score accomplishments of the KIPPsters, who put in 12 hour weekdays and every other Saturday grinding away at test prep:
AttorneyDC wrote:
As always, people lauding charter schools and their teachers fail to mention the one very critical difference between charter and public schools: admission and retention of their students.

Schools like KIPP take only those students who apply, and whose families agree to abide by all the extra strictures of the KIPP schools. Note that the great proficiency numbers posted in this article for KIPP only apply to those students who remain at KIPP for all four years. Of the students who are motivated enough to apply to KIPP, many drop out before 8th grade.

It's not surprising that a school which hand-selects its students from a pool of those motivated enough to apply, and then can expel students who do not live up to the rules and expectations, would be left with relatively high-achieving students at the end of the day.

The success of some charter schools to post successes with the subset of their pre-selected students who are not expelled or asked to leave has NO bearing on firing DC public school teachers. Mathews should know better than to make this kind of specious cause and effect argument.

Fryer and Rhee Teaching Children to Demand: Show Me the Money

Hoping to further his "research" on how to instill rat learning in children with ca$sh rewards, crackpot economist-cum-education-researcher, Roland Fryer, has brought some of Eli Broad's bags of money to the D.C. area for another grand experiment on unwary middle schoolers. Michelle Rhee, of course, is in for a million + with D.C. education funds.

Operating under the appellation of the American Inequality Lab (AIL), Fryer and his paymasters are on their way to finding a prominent place in the dustbin of discarded educational atrocities against the poor, if and when people eventually wake up to this kind of Wall Street-inspired corruption of children. The name for this exploitation: Capital Gains.

What are children learning? To show up on time and keep their mouths shut, of course. Seems to me that Broad and the rest of the social entrepeneurial tax cheats who advocate this kind of experimentation on children could save a bunch of money simply by getting rid of school, altogether, and giving all these children jobs now rather than later stocking shelves at Wal-Mart or emptying garbage cans at the mall. But, then, I guess I am missing the whole point of going to school.

Clips from WaPo:

. . . . The $2.7 million for the program has already been set aside, half coming from the District and the rest from a grant to Harvard by the Broad Foundation.

Those who forgot that yesterday was day one picked up on it quickly. In Meredith Leonard's sixth-grade English class, there was the usual low-level din until she issued the reminder.

Silence blanketed the room, she said. "Everybody was in awe."

Under Capital Gains, every two weeks, students will be scored on 10-point scales according to a series of performance indicators. All schools in the program are required to review behavior and attendance, which means showing up on time for every class. Individual schools can choose other criteria, including grades, homework, class participation and adherence to the dress code. Each point is worth $2. . . .

. . . . For the first two pay periods, beginning Oct. 17, checks will be distributed by school staff. Later, they will be deposited directly into student-owned savings accounts at SunTrust Bank. Students will be able to access the money with or without their parents, and no one can withdraw money without the child, officials said.

Each school has a program coordinator, officials said, who will be responsible for ensuring that no student withdraws money under duress. "We can arrange for appropriate responses on a case-by-case basis," said Dena Iverson, spokeswoman for Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

Betts and his staff did a two-week trial run this month to give teachers practice with the scoring system and to give students an idea of what would be expected to earn points. He said that the sixth- and seventh-graders were "right into it" and that attendance and punctuality ticked up. Grades did not.

Eighth-graders, he said, are "crafty folk" and are likely to wait until the program ramps up before they make many changes. "They're like 'Jerry Maguire': 'Show me the money,' " he said.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Conservative Congressmen Act Out

So that they can say they voted against it before they voted for it, the new crop of neo-conservative House members went all in today on a pair of deuces, John Boehner and Roy Blount. Gambling on the prospect that they will be treated as liberators by their anti-government constituents who have never been made privy to the neocon script on how our government is to bled until it can be dragged into the bathtub and drowned, these fresh Janus-faced Republicans hope somehow that the American public will blame Nancy Pelosi for their recalcitrance.

Whether or not that tactic works, don't be surprised to see the Maverick on the Capitol steps in a couple of days backed up by all those no-voting Representatives who have been led out of the darkness by their new leader, a leader who will graciously offer the votes that are needed to pass the Wall Street welfare plan, thus saving the world from economic meltdown while crippling the ability of any future Administration from accomplishing anything of public substance.

Link to SAT Research on Relationship of Scores to Family Income

Everson & Michna, 2004. Yes, that's the College Board's own Howard Everson (pdf here).

Will Colleges Go Optional on SAT? One in a Thousand

Despite the fact that the SAT and ACT are much weaker for their alleged purpose of predicting college success than, say, high school grades, and despite the fact that boys score higher than girls (even though girls graduate at higher rates than boys), and despite the fact that the SAT and ACT are only remotely linked to high school curriculums, and despite the fact that those who can afford $400 per hour test coaching do much better those who cannot, and despite the fact that the greatest predictor of SAT and ACT scores is family income, and despite the fact that a study headed up by William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard University, recently concluded that “that [SAT and ACT] test scores appear to calcify differences based on class, race/ethnicity and parental educational attainment,” depsite all this and despite a live presentation of findings by Fitzsimmons, himself, at a national gathering of admissions officers, only one admissions chief of the thousand who attended the presentation said that his school would consider altering current SAT requirements to make them optional.

Congratulations, Earlham College, for your bravery in stepping forward to consider challenging the racism and classism that undergirds the college admissions process and the ratings system devised by the mass media.

SAT Scores 2002 from the College Board

Family Income Verbal/Math Scores

Less than $10,000/year-----417/442
$10,000 - $20,000/year-----435/453
$20,000 - $30,000/year-----461/470
$30,000 - $40,000/year-----480/485
$40,000 - $50,000/year-----496/501
$50,000 - $60,000/year-----505/509
$60,000 - $70,000/year-----511/516
$70,000 - $80,000/year-----517/524
$80,000 - $100,000/year----530/538
More than $100,000/year---555/568

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Study Published in Science Shows Massive California School Failures Imminent

Considering the crimes that have been committed by this Administration, it should come as no surprise that they would unblinkingly blow up the public schools for the sake of their school privatization agenda and corporate welfare schemes--all in the name of saving the poor and the brown, who were the first affected by this crime and who, of course, will be the last when the impossible proficiency goals are finally ditched by the new Administration.

For those with steel-reinforced skulls who still will not admit that massive failure is certain under the present regime, here is the latest piece of research that looks at the case of California. The research is published, by the way, in the September 26 issue of Science. From the NSF website:
Press Release 08-164
All Students Proficient on State Tests by 2014?

Analysis of California elementary school achievement data shows projected improvements in student performance will fall short of legislated benchmarks

Back to article | Note about images

Photo of student doing math.

One of the challenges of meeting adequate yearly progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind is that schools, districts and states must report not only a rise in total scores, but also progress in the scores of subgroups of students, including minority students, English language learners (ELL) and students with disabilities.

Credit: © 2008 JupiterImages Corporation

Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (228 KB)

Use your mouse to right-click (or Ctrl-click on a Mac) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.

Chart projecting California student proficiency to 2014.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) used state assessment data reported for the school years 2002-2003 through 2006-2007 to project the growth in student proficiency through 2014. Data was drawn from more than 4,900 California elementary schools. The researchers used three different growth models (represented by the blue, grey and green lines) to project average annual growth in proficiency for mathematics (solid lines) and English language arts (dotted lines). Models are plotted out to 2014 to illustrate that the available data (through 2007) does not indicate the accelerated growth in proficiency required to meet legislated goals. California's benchmarks for adequate yearly progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind are shown in the red lines. More information on this research appears in the Sept. 26, 2008, edition of Science magazine.

Credit: University of California, Riverside

Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (488 KB)

Use your mouse to right-click (or Ctrl-click on a Mac) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.

Cover of Science magazine.

The researchers' findings are published in the Sept. 26, 2008, issue of Science magazine.

Credit: Copyright AAAS 2008

Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (1.1 MB)

Paul Newman, Equiescat In Pace

CO2 Outputs Almost Off the Charts While Debaters Remain Unfazed

I had a disturbing dream the other night. I was at the library looking at new journals, and I began to notice that each one I picked up was very thin, and some had nothing but covers displayed on the rack. When I went to the desk to ask a librarian what was going on, she told me that most scholars had stopped researching and publishing in order to focus on personal issues. When I asked why, she told me that global warming had reached the tipping point and that humankind had sealed its fate.

More awful than that dream, the New York Times offers this nightmare that we cannot wake up from, on the status of CO2 emissions. No dream, no joke. The simple truth is this: Unless there is a global effort to educate and to act now, life on Earth as we know is doomed, easily within the lifetime of the children just entering school this year. Time is short and the clock is ticking.
Overnight the Global Carbon Project, a network of scientists tracking emissions of carbon dioxide, released its latest update, and it shows that emissions are accelerating and are close to the highest scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year.

Seth Borenstein of The Associated Press has written a summary of the carbon dioxide findings, with some input from experts who express surprise that a slowing of economic growth in some places hasn’t blunted the growth in CO2 output.

More than half of global emissions, which totaled more than 34 billion tons of CO2 in 2007, are now from developing countries, the report said. Their dominance reflects explosive growth in the burning of coal and manufacturing cement, another big source of the heat-trapping gas.

The project scientists also said that the absorptive power of oceans, forests, and other “sinks” for carbon dioxide, which typically suck in more than half of the gas emitted each year, has not kept pace with the rising emissions. In 2007, the report said, these sinks took in 54 percent of the emissions, but that is a drop of 3 percent from the long-term average rate from 1959 to 2000. . . .
What are our political debaters saying about this? Nothing. They are talking about more science and math education to compete in the global economy. There is, truly, a need for more science, but it is a desperate need for a science that will save the global economy from the environmental cataclysm that, so far, the global economy has only exacerbated. The real competition must be to find ways within our national identities and individual psyches to cooperate, rather, in the global ecology. And that is an ethical commitment that must undergird the scientific one, the scientific one that can no longer afford to eschew ethics as a way to mollify the scientific concience against the unthinkable.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The New Eugenics: Incentivize the Poor to Sterilize Themselves

Two stories showed up today that form nightmarish bookends for a subject that most Americans never knew about and the rest thought was long dead: eugenics, the social-darwinist pseudoscience popularized in the early 20th Century that sought to engineer the perfect race by encouraging the procreation of the well-heeled and by forced sterilization of the poor and the different--anyone deemed to have defective "germ plasm." As part of their ongoing acknowledgement of the Lab's role in this movement that helped to inspire the Holocaust, Cold Springs Harbor maintains an excellent website on the subject. Do check it out.

The first story today comes from Louisiana, where a state representative now argues for the revival of eugenics with a 21st Century twist: pay the poor, such as those burdensome dead-enders living in Katrina trailers, to have themselves sterilized. I am not making this up. From Think Progess:
Louisiana State Rep. John LaBruzzo (R) recently stirred controversy by advocating a form of eugenics to decrease the number of poor. “I realized that all these people were in Louisiana’s care and what a massive financial responsibility that is to the state,” he said. “I said, ‘I wonder if it might be a good idea to pay some of these people to get sterilized.’” His plan would also give tax incentives to the rich to encourage procreation. . . .

. . . .But this week, LaBruzzo explicitly ruled out more common sense solutions. “LaBruzzo said other, mainstream strategies for attacking poverty, such as education reforms and programs informing people about family planning issues, have repeatedly failed to solve the problem,” the Times-Picayune reported.

LaBruzzo seems to be dead serious about implementing the plan. He “gathering statistics” now and is planning to introduce legislation “if he finds that the number of people on welfare has increased” over the past decades.
The other story comes from the New York Times, which reports that Harvard econ professor Roland Fry, who gained fame as Bloomberg's chief equality officer (get it?) in charge of devising programs to pay children for higher test scores, is resigning to head up a multi-million dollar research lab funded by Eli Broad, oligarch and mega-social entrepeneur, to study the most cost-effective and "scientifically-based" way to transform learning for the poor into a system of rewards based on the production of test scores. Children whose souls are thus purchased will willingly participate in their own intellectual sterilization, while learning the larger lesson about how the world of work will operate for them.

All in the name of helping the poor, which, of course, was the primary rationalization exactly a hundred years ago during the first flowering of a eugenics craze that everyone was wild about, from the pulpit to main street to the university to the state legislatures. As Faulkner said, history is not dead; it is not even past.

Commentary on Recent SAT Recommendations

by Glen Ford for the Black Agenda Report:
There is a growing realization that standardized testing for college entrance does not serve the interests of educational excellence or reward merit. Rather, SATs, PSATs and their clones tend to freeze already existing societal privilege in place, allowing the already well-off to pass on that status to their children. The assessment comes from the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, and from no less than Harvard University's dean of admissions and financial aid, William Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons says, "The test scores appear to calcify differences based on class, race/ethnicity and parental educational attainment." In other words, the children of white parents who make good livings and had good educations, tend to do well in standardized tests. But the tests don't reliably predict how well the kids will do in college.

The educators note the vast differences that exist in life and learning experiences that are available to children in the United States. "No one who visits the range of secondary schools we visit," they concluded, "and goes to the communities we visit...can come away thinking the standardized tests can be a measure of someone's true worth or ability."

The admissions counselors also urged that PSATs not be used to decide who is eligible for scholarships.

"Real education is grinding to a halt at schools across the nation, under the weight of relentless, ruthless testing."

This is very good news, the logic of which would be to finally destroy the rule of standardized tests - not just for college, but throughout the educational system. There is a huge body of study that shows race and class privilege is further embedded in society through the use of these tests, which have become a bulwark of rigidity, not mobility, in the United States. And that most emphatically means breaking the classist, racist grip of hyper-testing in elementary and secondary education, through the stifling No Child Left Behind Act.

The Bush regime and the plutocrats it serves understand perfectly well that class and race structures reinforce the rule of...people like themselves. That's one reason they have imposed the draconian and educationally counter-productive standardized testing regime on the U.S. public education system. The other, related motivation is to "prove" public schools are failing, in order to boost private schooling and bogus theories of "marketplace education."

In ways that are only now being understood, real education is grinding to a halt at schools across the nation, under the weight of relentless, ruthless testing. In the process, teacher creativity, innovation and just plan caring fall by the wayside.

Standardized testing does not encourage the deepening of democracy. Instead, it rewards privilege. This outcome is cumulative, adding layer upon layer of culture- and class-biased test results to all the other burdens and assaults that children of non-privileged parents will endure in their school lives. That's not a meritocracy - it's a caste system.

There will always be a place for properly constructed testing in society. But tests should never be wielded as weapons against those born with less, to benefit the already fortunate.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Sister Palin Prayed Over by Witch-Hunting Minister

What do you think you would hear in the media if Barack Obama had been prayed over by a witch-hunting, violence-provoking nut job minister? Probably the same kind of media storm that we would experience if Obama had a pregnant, single daughter.

Anyway here is the video from YouTube, with their annotation:
Sarah Palin accepts the blessing of Pastor Thomas Muthee, who asks Jesus to fund her political campaigns, and protect her from witchcraft. Really.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rhee's "Green Tier" Gives Green Light for Firing

Photo by Susan Walsh-AP
Michelle Rhee has a big bonus for DC teachers who choose the greenbacks of her Green Tier, those teachers who are willing to, 1) give up tenure, 2) spend a year on probation, and 3) trust Michelle Rhee to re-hire them following that probationary year with or without their big bonuses intact.

On the other hand, stubborn red bird teachers who insist on preserving what remains of the due process and academic freedom guarantees that are still offered to the tenured, must wear the scarlet R of the red tier, a clear acknowledgment of their unwillingness to be judged on their true merits (as defined by test scores in databases controlled by Michelle Rhee.)

The younger green birds, many of them like the TFA (Teach for Awhile) contingent, are temporarily padding their resumes with the generosity of their good works while making plans for grander futures. For these ambitious folks who wouldn't be caught dead committing themselves to a dead end career like teaching, they would really like to have those big bonuses to pay for law school or to get their MBAs. It all makes for a perfect divide and conquer strategy that Rhee hopes to exploit for its full potential to gut the teaching profession.

A clip from the Washington Post:
. . . .Teachers who attended the session, which was not open to the media, seemed to remain split on the merits of Rhee's proposal and whether it should come to a vote. Several said the two-tiered system was Rhee's attempt to drive a wedge into the union.

"The red-green salary proposal is designed to divide teachers into two opposing camps," longtime Woodrow Wilson High School history teacher Erich Martel wrote in a flier he distributed. Those choosing green, he said, "surrender tenure in exchange for trusting the objectivity and fairness of the principal and chancellor." Instructors who opt for red will have chosen "the scarlet letter" and "will be stigmatized for not being on the principal's -- and chancellor's -- team."

Other teachers, especially younger ones less concerned about tenure, expressed disappointment that their chance at higher salaries linked to performance might be slipping away.

Some union activists accused Parker of misrepresenting Rhee's plan by downplaying the level of risk that teachers would assume under the new salary framework. Several said that Parker was repeatedly asked why it was necessary to split teachers into two groups but that he never answered the question.

"All they got tonight was bamboozled and confused," said General Vice President Nathan Saunders, who announced the formation of a new teachers group, Committee for Fair Reform in D.C. Public Schools, to oppose Rhee's plan and other personnel decisions she has made as chancellor.

The committee is sponsoring a prayer service for "social justice in the workplace" Friday evening at Covenant Baptist Church in Southwest Washington.

Corporate Media Closely Monitoring the Powerless for a Full Accounting

Efforts by the Bloomberg administration to add accountability to the public school system have included moving quickly to shut down schools deemed beyond repair, and rewarding those that make significant progress on standardized tests. Those initiatives seemed to collide last week, when teachers and principals at five of the failed schools earned cash bonuses for their successes.
The New York Times this morning, during Bush Co.'s final crony giveaway ploy, is spending inches of good ink following a big story on whether or not some school teachers did or did not earn five thousand dollar bonuses for jobs done in their crumbling public schools. If the Times or the other media capitulators to corporatism had kept such a close eye on the oligarchs of Wall Street, perhaps we could have entirely avoided the manufactured crisis whose underside still remains entirely uninvestigated by the New York Times. Instead, they are busy connecting the dots on the bonuses-for-failing-school scandal. Excuse me while I puke.

Avoiding an Economic Mushroom Cloud?

Yesterday the Vice took his fleet of black Suburbans and limos for a Fall visit to Capitol Hill, where he twisted arms of Congressional members of the preferred Party of the super-greedy to vote to avoid an economic mushroom cloud. It's all reminiscent of other Fall visits just 6 years ago, when high crimes and dismeanors were committed in order to win free Executive rein to wage war for another bunch of profiteers.

Is the American economic meltdown a slam dunk unless the White House gets dictatorial power over the economy without regulation or oversight? Last night on Olberman, Barney Frank offered his take on how the Administration's treat bag for the disguised bandits of Wall Street will be monitored, if at all. There will be an independent "oversight board" that will review the massive handouts after the crooks have taken their full bags and gone home. If the "oversight board" suspects some irregularity or favoritism, the Board will, gasp, make it public so that the White House crew will get all embarrassed as they dismantle and load up the White House following the election. Tsk-tsk.

Yesterday Warren Buffet reminded us of what capitalists can do with their money for self-interest and the public interest when they refuse to be diverted by a bunch of criminals whose economic plan is based on blackmailing the American taxpayer into replacing all the money they stole.

If the Dems roll over for this one, the Republic is done.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Commission Recommends College Admission Offices Dump SAT and ACT

From the NY Times:
A commission convened by some of the country’s most influential college admissions officials is recommending that colleges and universities move away from their reliance on SAT and ACT scores and shift toward admissions exams more closely tied to the high school curriculum and achievement.

The commission’s report, the culmination of a yearlong study led by William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, comes amid growing concerns that the frenzy over standardized college admissions tests is misshaping secondary education and feeding a billion-dollar test-prep industry that encourages students to try to game the tests.

A growing number of colleges and universities, like Bates College in Maine, Lawrence University in Wisconsin, Wake Forest University in North Carolina and Smith College in Massachusetts, have made the SAT and ACT optional. And the report concludes that more institutions could make admissions decisions without requiring the SAT and ACT.

It encourages institutions to consider dropping admission test requirements unless they can prove that the benefits of such tests outweigh the negatives.

“It would be much better for the country,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said in an interview, “to have students focusing on high school courses that, based on evidence, will prepare them well for college and also prepare them well for the real world beyond college, instead of their spending enormous amounts of time trying to game the SAT.”
. . . .
“Society likes to think that the SAT measures people’s ability or merit,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said. “But no one in college admissions who visits the range of secondary schools we visit, and goes to the communities we visit — where you see the contrast between opportunities and fancy suburbs and some of the high schools that aren’t so fancy — can come away thinking that standardized tests can be a measure of someone’s true worth or ability.”
. . . .
The report calls for an end to the practice of using minimum-admissions-test scores to determine students’ eligibility for merit aid. And it specifically urges the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to stop using PSAT scores as the initial screen for eligibility for recognition or scholarships. The National Merit Scholarship competition “contributes to the misperception of test scores as sole measures of ‘merit’ in a pervasive and highly visible manner,” the report says. . . .

Section 8: Absolute Power for the Absolutely Corrupt

The anti-government schemers who run the White House are seeking to take ultimate advantage of the economic meltdown that their own criminal malfeasance has created. So the next time you hear one of their fuming fascists getting tough on accountability for teachers and children in crumbling schools, remind yourself of the 32 words from Section 8 of their proposed giveaway that would put the trillion-dollar public handout to the crooks of Wall Street beyond any oversight, any judgment, any protest, any accountability.

From Huffington Post:
A critical - and radical - component of the bailout package proposed by the Bush administration has thus far failed to garner the serious attention of anyone in the press. Section 8 (which ironically reminds one of the popular name of the portion of the 1937 Housing Act that paved the way for subsidized affordable housing ) of this legislation is just a single sentence of thirty-two words, but it represents a significant consolidation of power and an abdication of oversight authority that's so flat-out astounding that it ought to set one's hair on fire. It reads, in its entirety:

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

In short, the so-called "mother of all bailouts," which will transfer $700 billion taxpayer dollars to purchase the distressed assets of several failed financial institutions, will be conducted in a manner unchallengeable by courts and ungovernable by the People's duly sworn representatives.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

High Test Scores at KIPP Coupled with High Attrition Rates of Low Performers

A new study on Bay Area KIPP middle schools is out, and Washington Post education writer and full-time ed industry stooge, Jay Mathews, offered his assessment on Friday. He likes it, or at least he likes the parts that can be used to jack up his all-in bet on the KIPP testing boot camps as the solution to the impoverished minority achievement problem.

As corporate media mouthpiece for the union-busting privatizers, Mathews sets out to use this study to correct the critics of KIPP, as does, indeed, this "research" commissioned to study what does not constitute the chief criticism of KIPP at all. If the primary criticism of KIPP were limited, as Mathews seems to think, to those who accuse KIPP of "creaming the most successful students from high-poverty public schools" (p. vii), then this study might be seen as a success for the Hewlett Foundation, which paid for it. While Rothstein has demonstrated the creaming phenomenon to be a undisputed fact for the Baltimore area KIPP when compared to Baltimore publics, this is not at all the core critique against KIPP.

The more substantial criticism, and one not addressed by Mathews or his data suppliers at SRI, centers on the fact that the KIPP chain gangs, through their harsh regimens, punishing protocols, and lockstep methods and content, generate failure for low performers or those who are too far behind to keep up. These low-flying students, then, transfer out, as do those who have the audacity to question the punitive climate of enforced feel-good indoctrination). By Mathews's own admission, "60 percent of Bay Area fifth-graders entering KIPP in 2003 left before completing eighth grade, and they were usually low achievers." That, sir, is how the creaming occurs. Get it?? The KIPPsters' reputation for high test performance is based on non-survival of those unfit for KIPP Schools.

So when Mathews crows about KIPP school math and reading averages soaring for cohorts that complete four years at KIPP, he ignores the fact it is primarily the high-fliers who survive the full treatment. If public schools had the luxury or lack of conscience required to dump their low performers, public school averages would be much more impressive, too:
"Since 2001, middle school students who completed four years at KIPP increased their average math achievement level on average from the 40th to the 82nd percentile and their reading level from the 32nd to the 60th percentile -- gains not seen anywhere else."
And with almost half the school day spent on math and reading drill--a school day that runs from 7 to 5 (and Saturdays)--we might expect some significant gains by the survivors.

Student attrition, then, is a real problem, to say the least--but one that does nothing to dampen the heat of enthusiasm among those looking for a rigorous solution to the achievement burden. The idea of "scaling up" a system that leaves over half the students to give up may be an laudable model for folks like Don Fisher who "thinks that education is a business" and that a school is "not much different from a Gap store," but such a system would throw gasoline on the failure fire that is already consuming poor communities where hope has already been airlifted out. Consider this non-shocking, though certainly troubling, finding from the Report:
Together, the four schools began with a combined total of 312 fifth graders in 2003-04, and ended with 173 eighth graders in 2006-07 (see Exhibit 2-3). The number of eighth graders includes new students who entered KIPP after fifth grade (p.12).
That amounts to a 55% attrition rate, even when adding all the new enrollees during the three years. Imagine what the attrition rate might be if the "researchers" took a measure of the beginners vs. completers without the new recruits.

And who are the students most likely to stick with KIPP? The ones with higher test scores when they entered, of course. And who are the students who are leaving KIPP? You guessed it, the low performing students:
We found that students who remained at KIPP had higher incoming scores in both reading and mathematics than did their peers who entered KIPP in fifth grade but exited before completing the program (see Exhibit 2-5). We also considered the question from another perspective: Are students with lower scores more likely to exit KIPP? We used fall fifth-grade SAT10 scores to predict those exiting KIPP and found that the probability of a student’s leaving KIPP before completing eighth grade is higher for those with lower entering scores (pp. 15-16).
Jay Mathews never mentions these findings from the study but, rather, focuses on taking down the straw men that he hastily constructs, such as the tidbit from the study that points out that only three students were expelled during a 3-year period for disciplinary reasons. Who, indeed, needs to expel when you can eliminate the chaff by other, less visible means? Mathews's focus, then, on the big gains in test scores among the KIPP survivors only ignores the retail brutality of a system that treats children like dry goods that can be culled and sorted, sold, and sold out. Those goods that don't pass inspection? They are thrown back to the bargain bin or the trash can with all the other damaged goods.

Pearson Screw-Up Causes Statewide Re-Test, of FIRST GRADERS

If any humane educator, child psychologist, or child advocate had predicted even 20 years ago that events like the ones that follow in this story from Arkansas could actually occur, he or she would have been dismissed as a crackpot.

Now that such state-sanctioned child abuse is commonplace, where are the advocates for humane, effective education and for the healthy development of children???
BENTON COUNTY — First-grade students across the state are in the midst of retaking standardized tests they took last spring as kindergartners.

The problem was created when the test publisher, Pearson, inadvertently sent an estimated 100 schools in the state the actual kindergarten test when they were supposed to receive a practice exam, said Julie Thompson, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Education.

The mistake was discovered at several schools when teachers and students taking the actual exam realized they had seen the test previously. The schools across the state had been given the option to purchase the practice exam to help prepare students and not all the schools chose that option. When the mistake was discovered, state school officials debated whether or not to require all first-grade students this year to take the test again, even if they didn’t see the actual test as a practice exam. It was decided that to be fair, all students should be tested again so all the previous test results were deemed invalid. The new tests are not the exact same test the students were given last year, but they are similar in style and content, Thompson said.

. . . .

Diana Gray, director of accountability and assessment, spoke of the behind-the-scenes work that the mistake caused.

“ What is not so obvious is all of the time required behind the scenes that also has to be repeated. The tests have to be ordered. Once they arrive, they have to be inventoried and distributed to the building or buildings where they will be administered, ” she said. “ Storage of the tests requires a secure location. District and building test coordinators have to attend Arkansas Department of Education training on how to administer the tests and then repeat that training for teachers and others involved in testing in the buildings where testing will be conducted. ”

Gray added that after the tests are completed they must be checked then mailed.

“ This was an unfortunate situation for everyone concerned, Pearson included, ” she said.

Just As Predicted, Schools on Track for Failure

In 2005, Ed Moscovitch published a study (Executive Summary: Facing Reality) that showed the guaranteed failure rate built into NCLB's hard racism of unachievable goals. Moscovitch projected a 75% failure rate for all Massachusetts schools by 2014.

And here is a clip from the story last week in the Globe showing Moscovitch pretty much on target with his prediction:
By David Abel, Globe Staff

Fifty percent of all Massachusetts public schools have been identified as needing improvement, corrective action, or restructuring, according to a report released today by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The figure, which included 102 schools in Boston, was up from 37 percent last year. . . .

. . . .Middle schools especially had troubles. Seventy-five percent of middle schools in the state were considered underperforming, compared with 25 percent of high schools and 45 percent of elementary schools. . . .
And here, once again, is the relevant chunk from the recent Time Magazine story in which Susan Neuman finally admits what she knew from the beginning: For the neocons who crafted this mess, NCLB was always about assuring failure of the public schools in order to usher in privatization. Any dots still need connecting?

There was always something slightly insane about No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the ambitious education law often described as the Bush Administration's signature domestic achievement. For one thing, in the view of many educators, the law's 2014 goal — which calls for all public school students in grades 4 through 8 to be achieving on grade level in reading and math — is something no educational system anywhere on earth has ever accomplished. Even more unrealistic: every kid (except for 3% with serious handicaps or other issues) is supposed to be achieving on grade level every year, climbing in lockstep up an ever more challenging ladder. This flies in the face of all sorts of research showing that children start off in different places academically and grow at different rates.

Add to the mix the fact that much of the promised funding failed to materialize and many early critics insisted that No Child Left Behind was nothing more than a cynical plan to destroy American faith in public education and open the way to vouchers and school choice.

Now a former official in Bush's Education department is giving at least some support to that notion. Susan Neuman, a professor of education at the University Michigan who served as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education during George W. Bush's first term, was and still is a fervent believer in the goals of NCLB. And she says the President and then Secretary of Education Rod Paige were too. But there were others in the department, according to Neuman, who saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda — a way to expose the failure of public education and "blow it up a bit," she says. "There were a number of people pushing hard for market forces and privatization."

Tensions between NCLB believers and the blow-up-the-schools group were one reason the Bush Department of Education felt like "a pressure cooker," says Neuman, who left the Administration in early 2003. Another reason was political pressure to take the hardest possible line on school accountability in order to avoid looking lax — like the Clinton Administration. Thus, when Neuman and others argued that many schools would fail to reach the NCLB goals and needed more flexibility while making improvements, they were ignored. "We had this no-waiver policy," says Neuman. "The feeling was that the prior administration had given waivers willy-nilly." . . .

Neuman does not explain why she continued to collect her check at ED while the most vulnerable children in America were ground up in the guaranteed failure machine of NCLB. Or why it took her six years to come clean on what she knew then? She and the rest of the "just following orders" paper pushers will forever remain part of W's perfect domestic example of industrial conservatism and its unholy war against democratic government. What other bombs have been laid for the remains of the Republic, we will just have wait until they go off to find out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Got Melamine?

It's not just for Chinese dog food anymore. From the AP:
BEIJING (AP) - China's tainted milk crisis widened Friday after tests found the industrial chemical melamine in liquid milk produced by three of the country's leading dairy companies, the quality watchdog said.

Singapore suspended the sale and import of all Chinese milk and dairy products because several tested items were contaminated.

Tainted baby formula has been blamed for killing four infants and sickening 6,200 in China since the scandal broke last week. Some 1,300 babies, mostly newborns, are currently in hospitals and 158 of them are suffering from acute kidney failure. Thousands of parents across the country were bringing their children to hospitals for health checks. . . .

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who Will Bail Out Pell Grant Applicants?

While the Fed and Congress huddle this evening to figure out how many hundreds of billions will be needed to socialize the losses for the biggest heist in Wall Street history, we must wonder how long needy students will have to wait to see if they will be able to register for school in the Spring. From the NYTimes:
. . . .As of July 31, 800,000 more students had applied for grants than on that date last year, according to the memorandum, which called the increase one of the largest ever year to year.

This year, more than six million low-income college students will receive Pell Grants ranging from $431 to $4,731, federal officials said.

Congress appropriated $14 billion for the grants for the current fiscal year, but because of the increase and because of accumulated shortfalls from previous years, lawmakers will need to add $6 billion in new funds next year or cut the size of the grants, Department of Education officials said.

“There may need to be an announcement in February 2009,” the memorandum warns, that Pell grants for the following academic year will be reduced.

“It’s the mother of all shortfalls,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “There’s more unmet need than anyone predicted.”

The Pell Grant, created in 1972, has long been the most important form of aid to needy students, and for millions, whether recent high school graduates or those who have been working for years, higher education would be impossible without such aid. . . .

The Great Pretender and "George Bush's Thing"

. . . Oh, yes, Im the great pretender
Just laughing and gay like a clown
I seem to be what Im not, you see

I'm wearing my heart like a crown
Pretending that you're still around

Too real is this feeling of make believe

Too real when I feel when my heart can't conceive
--Buck Ram

From WaPo:

. . . . In a speech to educators and advocates from across the country, Spellings urged support for the law's core principle: requiring states, school systems and schools to show that students can handle reading and math at grade level.

"We must resist pressure to weaken or water down accountability," Spellings said in an education summit hosted in the District by the nonpartisan Aspen Institute. "To those who reject this goal, I ask, 'What's your answer?' I have yet to meet a parent who doesn't want their child on grade level right now, today, not 2014."

. . . .

In an interview last week, Spellings said she does not think either candidate would make renewal of the law a priority upon entering the White House. "It's not their thing," she said. "It's George Bush's thing. George Bush campaigned for president on No Child Left Behind." . . . .

Thomas Frank on Industry Conservatism

This clip is from the August Harper's Magazine, which carried this spot-on essay adapted from Thomas Frank's new book, The Wrecking Crew, which documents the rise of the profiteers who now control Washington:
. . . Fantastic mis-government is not an accident, nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction; it believes in entreneurship not merely in commerce but in politics; and the inevitable results of its ascendance are, first, the capture of the state by business and, second, what follows from that: incompetence, graft, and all the other wretched flotsam that we've come to expect from Washington.

The correct diagnosis is the "bad apple" thesis turned upside down. There are plenty of good conservative individuals, honorable folks who would never participate in the sort of corruption we have watched unfold over the past years. Hang around with grassroots conservtives in Kansas, and in the main you will find them to be honest, hardworking people.

But put conservatism in charge of the state, and it behaves very differently. Now the "values" that rightist politicians eulogize on the stump disappear, and in their place we can discern an entirely different set of priorities--priorities that reveal more about the unchanging historical essence of American conservatism than do its fleeting campaigns against gay marriage or secular humanism. The conservatism that speaks to us through its actions in Washington is institutionally opposed to those baseline good intentions we learned about in elementary school. Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. They have made a cult of outsourcing and privatizing, they have wrecked established federal operations because they disagree ith them, and they have deliberately piled up an Everest of debt in order to force the government into crisis. The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action. . . .

. . . . Like Bush and Reagan before him, John McCain is a self-proclaimed outsider, buth shoud he win in November he will merely bring us more of the same: an executive branch fed by, if not actually made up of, lobbyists and other angry, righteous profiteers. Washington itself will remain what it has been--not a Babylon that corrupts our pure-hearted right-wingers but the very seat of their Industry Conservatism, constantly seething and effervescing, with tens of thousands of individuals coming and going, each avidly piling up his own tidy pile but between them engaged in an awesome common project.

Take a step, reader, and see what they have wrought.
There is much more in the Harper's piece, which, by the way, is one of the best subscription deals around today. And they did not give me a subscription for that endorsement.

Making Pancake Brains

A nice opinion piece from the Seattle Times by Jesuit educator, Kent Hickey:

IN a very funny scene from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life," a pompous hospital administrator describes how ingeniously he has outfitted a delivery room. (He is especially proud of his favorite machine, the one that goes PING!) Only reluctantly does he look upon the actual procedure taking place: "What are you doing this morning?" A doctor explains that it is a birth. "And what sort of thing is that?"

Our classrooms are starting to look like that delivery room. Increasingly, we are ignoring the miracle of learning deep reading, thoughtful writing, analysis and reflection, and focusing our attention only on its trappings: inclusion on some lists (best of), exclusion from others (failing schools), and using technology as window dressing instead of as a tool to help learners.

Education? And what sort of thing is that? So enamored with the machine that goes PING!, we forget about the patient giving birth.

The drift toward superficiality is broader than misusing technology, but let's start there. Nicholas Carr's recent article, "Is Google Making Us Stoopid?," describes a mind (his own) that is becoming less capable of prolonged and complex thought because of constant quick searches, skimming and e-mail exchanges.

Unfortunately, this is also the way our children's brains are being shaped in many schools. Technology is often used more as a toy than a tool. Seating kids in front of computers and keeping them busy with activities provides the appearance of learning, but that doesn't mean it's happening. Our kids are developing what Carr describes as "pancake" brains — wide with experience, but shallow. The mind once trained for deliberative, critical thought is being replaced by a spasmodic, twitching kin.

Our nation's infatuation with standardized testing also contributes to superficial education practices. Quantitative measurements can be helpful to learners and educators, but the pendulum has swung too far. The end result of a good education is not so easily reduced to test results. And the overemphasis on testing hasn't induced educational bureaucracies to innovate, only to retrench and adopt better survival skills.

One such skill is teaching to state-mandated year-end tests. Too much is at stake with a "failing school" designation dangling overhead. What these tests really measure, therefore, is how well students are primed for a test, not how well they think. That is learning of a sort, but is the really good standardized test-taker the kind of thinker we need in the voting booth and workplace?

And what happens if test scores remain low? The solution has been to reduce expectations so that more will reach the (now lowered) bar. One national study of test results, for example, showed that scores were up in critical thinking but, strangely, tests lacked questions that actually required critical thought. Huh?

Finally, Advanced Placement (AP) courses provide an increasingly popular way to improve one's appearance. AP was created to give academically prepared upperclassmen the opportunity to master college-level work. It has devolved into something quite different. A high school's quality is now often measured simply by virtue of the raw number of AP courses offered, not the quality of instruction or what is learned by the students. So, if your school pines for inclusion on Newsweek's Top 100, you had better get those numbers up!

The results are predictable. More-brazen schools have been known to simply relabel courses as AP or insert an AP course where it doesn't fit. Lake Wobegon schools, aware that their parents require evidence that their children are above average, are more subtle.

A high school in Seattle, for example, recently decided that all sophomores would take AP Human Geography so that "all children can achieve to a higher standard." Assuming that these 15-year-olds don't magically morph into college-level students after freshman year, one of two things is happening: This course is college-level in name only or what passes for college rigor has greatly diminished. (I am reminded of a Midwestern school that touted its academic excellence by requiring its students to read the "Odyssey" in third grade. Wasn't even a pop-up edition.)

But these trends didn't develop in a vacuum. Our schools reflect society more than they shape it. Columnist Sarah Churchwell recently wrote, "We live in a culture of face value, a superficial world of skim-reading, snap-judgments, and thin-slicing, in which perception is all ... " We shouldn't be surprised, then, that our schools have embraced our cultural love affair with form over substance. They're meeting our expectations.

Kent Hickey is president of Seattle Preparatory School, a Catholic, Jesuit school founded in 1891.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Unlimited Tax Credits for Supporting School Privatization

I hate to pick on my new hometown paper so soon, so let it be said that the Boston Globe’s support for corporate solutions to the problems of the public schools is no different, really, than the LA Times, the NY Times, the Washington Post (which could be weekly by now if it were not for the profits of Kaplan keeping it afloat), or any of the other corporate news outlets whose accountants and marketing departments essentially determine editorial policy. Nonetheless, the Boston Globe often gets its Irish dander up more than most when faced with the stubborn insistence on the part of Massachusetts public officials to preserve the civic space occupied by the state system of public schools.

This past Sunday, for instance, the Globe gave former head of the State’s Board of Education (under Romney®), James Peyser, almost 2 of the first 3 pages of its “Ideas” Section to promote the investments of his venture philanthropy outfit, the NewSchools Venture Fund. Actually, it is not James Peyser’s outfit—this tax haven for the rich and ultra-rich is much too connected and too wired to the power sources for any one individual to control, even Bill Gates.

Mr. Peyser, you might say, acts as part and partner of a well-connected brokerage house for venture philanthropists, where brokers put together donor-investors with investments such as corporate charter schools that pass the conservative ideology smell test. These investors, then, are involved in ways that provide funding and control of urban education reform, even to the point of creating (through in-house alternative teacher preparation programs) a teacher corps appropriately indoctrinated and without unions or collective bargaining. And all in the name of philanthropy—and tax credits. Did I say that NewSchools Venture Fund is a non-profit? The same kind of non-profit, of course, as the College Board, which brought in over a nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in “non-profit” last year.

Peyser’s piece entitled Brain Drain: Why so many talented educators are leaving Boston for New York, laments the fact that, following the profitable Romney years of using government to attack government, some of Boston’s pioneers of the charter school business have moved on to “greener” pastures such as New York, where the Bloomberg-Klein juggernaut stands poised for a final assault on the public schools of the City.

The real and unacknowledged drain that is at the heart of Peyser’s concern is, of course, the dollar drain, the one that he sees flowing away as Boston and its environs reach the statutory cap for charter schools. This is the real reason for alarm and the prominent placement of this piece in the Boston Globe to begin with. The loss has nothing to do with the loss of educators and everything to do with the loss of market potential for the corporate philanthropy industry and the education industry that provide a new, morally-sanctioned machinery aimed to complete the conversion of urban schools into contained work camps for behavioral control and parrot learning.

While calling for the Massachusetts Legislature to allow charter schools to “expand and replicate without limit, and [that] the arbitrary municipal caps on charters . . . be eliminated in the Commonwealth’s lowest performing school districts,” most of Mr. Peyser’s piece, it seems, is really aimed at promoting the contents of the NewSchools Venture Fund portfolio: outfits like KIPP, Uncommon Schools, Mastery Charter Schools, and Victory Schools (is that where Winston Smith graduated)? All of these academic chain gangs operate in poverty-blighted urban communities, and their Pavlovian pedagogy, scripted curriculums, uniform teaching methods, uniformed children, and unceasing testing and test prep are seen by the conservative cognoscenti as the final solution to educating the poor—at a 20% cost savings (remember the new teacher corps with the “relentless work ethic”and no union), a 20% cost savings that can be passed on to more leafy school districts that are trying, damn it, to attract the high tech industry execs into their foreclosure-strewn cul-de-sacs.

The NewSchools Venture Fund represents, in fact, the confluence of consumer capitalism, an Abramoffian conservative ideology, and entrepreneurial philanthropy. And it operates for the simultaneous preservation of wealth by the wealthy, a backwards-aimed social policy that is racist at its core, and the replacement of public institutions by corporate welfare non-profits that suck up public dollars, occupy public buildings, all the while collecting tax credits for its corporate sugar daddies who provide the bribes that are offered teachers and students for higher test scores. This new phalanx of fascism offers a clever, and seemingly respectable, route to the continued partitioning of the non-privileged in poor communities that have only gotten poorer over the past thirty years, while allowing the privileged to sleep better at night for the fact that part of their wealth is invested in efforts to attack the "achievement gap" while simultaneously shoring up their privilege gap, all accomplished while humbly supplementing the public school coffers, the same coffers that continue to be melted away by the tax credits that are redeemed by the same humble, though generous, patrons whose gifts, er, investments must surely assuage any conscience that may, otherwise, be sullied by accusations of not caring for the poor. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too!

And as for the educators who are supposedly moving to New York and New Jersey for better schools? The ones who are moving are moving for business reasons, not education reasons. There are some of us who still know the difference.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tina Fey Nails Palin

Too good!

The Rove Lipstick Crew and the Anti-Women Campaign

Here is clip from a column by Roberta Riley on the lipstick smear:

. . . .Lipstick doesn't just differentiate the hockey moms from the pit bulls, as Palin joked in her convention speech. Lipstick conceals the harsh, anti-woman actions of McCain and Bush. Bush searched high and low for women, preferably attractive ones, from groups opposed to such things as equal pay, health care for all, contraception and shelters for battered women. Then he handed them the reins of government. McCain approved his Cabinet appointees, who have now quietly dismembered federal programs near and dear to women. Their favorite tools are executive orders, rule changes and unfunded mandates, which do not require congressional approval and rarely grab headlines. They excel at doublespeak. When congressional action is needed, McCain votes with Bush 95 percent of the time, and now he's recruited Bush's lipstick crew to his team.

On the 35th anniversary of Title IX, the federal law requiring equal opportunity for females in education, Bush's Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, held a warm, fuzzy news conference to celebrate the law's successes. Then she silently weakened the rules for Title IX compliance, threatening sports opportunities and scholarships for women. McCain tacitly approved. Not only is the slice for females getting smaller, the whole pie is shrinking because Spellings, who regulates the federally guaranteed student loan program, ignored the inspector general's advice and refused to recoup the hundreds of millions in excess profits that predatory college loan lenders siphoned from funds meant for students.

On top of the overall financial insecurity squeezing middle-class families, women still earn only 77 cents to every dollar made by men. Despite strong evidence that some women are segregated into low-paying occupations, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a Bush economic adviser from the Independent Women's Forum, voiced the administration's opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act, arguing the wage gap stems from women's different "choice of occupation." . . . .

Let's see now. Women make less because they choose occupations that are low paying, and they are low-paying because they are--chosen by women?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Central Ohio Charter Schools Performance "Bleak"

The Sanders Value-Added Model has all kinds of limitations, not the least of which is Sanders and Co.'s undying faith in an assessment model that entirely ignores the quality of the tests whose values are being added up. A year's worth of growth to a crop that will never bear fruit is not worth much, unless, of course, you are interested, as most Americans are, only in the height of your stalk.

Even with such limitations, it is going to be interesting for some ambitious reporter or researcher to look specifically at the growth scores of the charter chain gangs in comparison to other schools. Those comparisons have already begun, in fact, and as the Columbus Dispatch reports, the charter miracle schools are worse that the struggling public schools they were intended to replace. In Columbus, for instance, the 59% of the public schools managed a year's worth of growth. In the Columbus charters, 41% of them showed a year's worth of growth.

With numbers like that, one must wonder what kind bogus line Rotherham is feeding the Obama camp to make them so enthused be speed up public school conversion to charters. Oh, I forgot, the charters are 20 percent cheaper to operate, since they can hire teachers who aren't held back from teaching by such "bureaucratic barriers" as certification requirements.

Here is a clip:
As experts analyzed heaps of data released as part of the school report cards a few weeks ago, this much has become clear: The debate about how the charter-school movement really works - and why charters exist - has changed dramatically since the experiment began in Ohio a decade ago.

"Some of the early charter advocates clearly overplayed their expectations," said Jeffrey Henig, a Columbia University professor who has written about charter schools.

And when data came out, "It clearly wasn't the case that charters were blowing schools out of the water. It became necessary to recalibrate the argument."

In Ohio, the argument for charter schools was that charters could deliver a better education for less taxpayer money, parents would "vote with their feet" and pull their children from poorly performing charters, and the charters would force competition.

While the data don't offer a definitive answer about whether charters are academically any better than traditional schools, the figures include that:

About 43 percent of charter schools and traditional schools statewide fail to provide students at least a year's worth of education. The "year's learning" measure, called the "value-added" rating, is new on the report cards, which use last school year's data to grade schools for the current year, and gives credit to schools that made gains even if students didn't pass required tests.

About 51percent of central Ohio's 59 charter schools have failed to teach at least a year's material. In the region's schools, which include statewide virtual schools, 61percent were given grades of D or F.

About 10,000 students attend central Ohio charter schools and virtual schools that serve only central Ohio students.

Narrowing the view to just charter schools that operate within Columbus City Schools territory, the outlook is bleaker for charters. Of the city's charter schools that received a value-added rating, 59 percent showed less than a year's growth. Among the Columbus district's traditional schools, 41percent failed the year's-growth standard. . . .

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Education Reform that All Politicians Ignore: Ending Poverty

Since John Edwards and his mission for ending poverty have been erased by a hypocritical society eager to trade his achievable goal of cutting into poverty for a mythical one based on sexual purity, the national political spotlight now shifts back and forth from McCain's attempt to preserve privilege for those who already have it, to Obama's goal of adding new names to the rolls of the privileged (middle class, middle class, and more middle class).

Forgotten are the impoverished, the poor, and the working classes, and as their invisibility becomes more assured, so does the likelihood for the disappearance of any education reform that addresses the primary contributor to bad schools: poverty. The closest we have come so far is Obama's call more qualified teachers in impoverished schools and a greater focus on early childhood education. Both of these tactics can do no more than treat the symptoms of the problem we ignore, which will likely lead to some more good teachers ground up by the crucible of poverty in crumbling schools, and shifting the blame for student underperformance to bad parenting of younger and younger children.

Here is a piece from the Des Moines Register that makes these and other points. The author is Richard Doak.

The elementary-school teacher in a mid-sized Iowa town came across the little waif of a girl standing in the hall, sobbing. The child said she was crying because her teeth hurt.

A look inside her mouth stunned the teacher. All the girl's back teeth were rotting.

The school managed to get her to a dentist that very day, but it was apparent the little girl had been in pain for a long time. She had never been to a dentist and had no one at home who cared about hygiene. With pain on top of an unsettled and impoverished home life - the parent was angry that the school sent the kid to a dentist - it's no wonder the child was having trouble learning.

You can't concentrate in school if you hurt. Or if you're hungry. Or abused. Or worried about your parents being evicted. Or if your parents are druggies who take the Ritalin that was prescribed for you. Or if your older sister entertains gentlemen callers in the next room all night. Or if your mom has a new live-in boyfriend every few months. Or if your job-losing parents keep moving you from school to school with long truancies in between. Or if you don't know where you'll be sleeping tonight because your dad's in prison and you get shuffled from one relative to another, and no one really wants you.

Any teacher in Iowa can tell stories that both tug at the heart and stir anger. Such stories are probably more common, in large and small schools alike, than Iowans would like to believe.

What's remarkable is not that the stories are commonplace - anyone who knows a teacher has heard them - but that they are heard so little in the public discussion about education.

As another school year is set to begin, the focus is once again not on the kids themselves. It's all about test scores, teacher quality and education standards. This year features a national advertising campaign from Strong American Schools, partly financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The campaign notes that schools in most other industrial countries outperform American schools. It advocates higher standards, more time in school and better teachers. The Register's editorial page has been urging higher, uniform standards for Iowa, too.

All well and good, but once again the discussion studiously avoids the elephant in the room.

Student achievement in this country is never going to significantly improve until attention is directed to the root causes of low achievement: failing families in a low-wage economy.

Sure, teaching can get better and schools can adapt their methods to help low achievers. Individually, caring teachers do what they can to overcome poor parenting, but they have the children only a few hours a day. The larger influence is at home.

If fundamental improvement is going to occur, it must happen primarily outside the classroom.

Test data firmly link income, achievement

The most firmly established link in education research is the correlation between family income and student test scores. Poverty is the single biggest predictor of low scores. It's a greater factor than class size or per-pupil spending.

Low scores are not a sign of a poor school. They are a marker of an impoverished neighborhood.

A student's low scores are not evidence of bad teaching. They're most likely a reflection of the child living in poverty.

Yet this overwhelming truth is virtually absent from the political debate over education.

The debate should be about how to increase the number of American children who grow up to become well-educated, successful adults. A clear-eyed, rational approach to doing so would not focus on test scores and on punishing "bad" teachers and schools, as the No Child Left Behind program does. It would focus on eliminating poverty.

To boost scores, close gap between rich, poor

Poverty in itself does not produce low student achievement, but the conditions of life for children in poverty are not conducive to learning. Conversely, the conditions present in higher-income families - stability, educated parents, security - are conducive to learning.

Teachers know that any student who has two parents in the home and can afford to pay full price for school lunches will do just fine on standardized tests. The goal should be to get every kid into a home like that or something close to it.

That's a long way from happening. In the richest country in the world, a certain level of poverty seems to be increasingly intractable, chronically pushing down the average on test scores, among other social pathologies.

Finland, South Korea, Canada, Japan and other countries that outperform the United States in education are not as wealthy as America, but their gaps between rich and poor are not as wide. The wealth they do have is more evenly distributed. So is their student achievement.

Politicians dodge issue of educational underclass

We might not want to talk about it, but one of the most serious problems in contemporary America is the deep and widening chasm between rich and poor. There is a segment of the population - think of the poor waif with rotten teeth - who are almost invisible to most of us but who are at risk of becoming members of a permanent underclass.

It would be an educational underclass, really, in which poor and undereducated parents beget poor and undereducated children.

The political establishment has not faced up to the problem. Looking at poor student achievement, politicians find it convenient to blame the schools, bash teachers and demand non-solutions such as vouchers. The political right chants a mantra that is uttered like one word: thefailingpublicschools.

Wrong. It is not the public schools that are failing. It is the larger American culture and economy.

Change economic policies that encourage low wages

Perhaps politicians fall back on non-solutions because the real solution - ending poverty and the conditions associated with it - seems impossible.

No law could persuade every couple to delay childbearing until they are financially secure. No government program can ensure that every parent provide a secure, stable, encouraging environment. No magic wand can rid America of the family-destroying ravages of drugs. No public policy can undo the damage done by incompetent parents or those who are scornful of education. No amount of scrimping can make the minimum wage a living wage.

A general rise in the level of wages might help, at least with respect to the all-important financial security of children, but the country is locked into economic policies guaranteed to hold down wages.

Those would be the first policies to re-examine if the country ever gets serious about raising student achievement. Then concentrate on changing the cultural traits that reinforce poverty, such as single parenthood and scorn for education.

The No Child Left Behind Act should be repealed as an education bill and reshaped into an antipoverty program.

Improve the economy, especially at the bottom, and strengthen the American culture. Better schools will follow.

Richard Doak is a retired Register editor and columnist, a lecturer in journalism at Iowa State University and an adjunct in history at Simpson College.