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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Education for Democracy and Sustainability

From Common Dreams:

Sustainable Communities

by Ruth Ann Smalley

I came home one day just in time to catch my neighbor planting flowers in my front garden. I had admired several of his plants, and asked him if they would do well in shade and among tenacious tree roots. Little did I know he’d be so obliging!

The neighborly exchange of plants, recipes and tools is as old as human history, but to many modern city dwellers seems as remote as the horse and buggy. Even in areas where neighbors do have reciprocal relationships, they are often limited. In his book, “Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future,” Bill McKibben notes “studies have shown that as urban neighborhoods became more heavily used by cars instead of pedestrians, the average person saw the number of friends and acquaintances she had in her neighborhood drop from nine to four.”

This truly is a loss. McKibben identifies the problem as a kind of “hyper-individualism,” resulting largely from the same industrialized lifestyles that have contributed so strongly to climate change. Loss of community also takes a personal toll. “The body reacts to community in measurable ways. Staggering ways,” McKibben notes. “According to Robert Putnam, if you do not belong to any group at present, joining a club or society of some kind halves the risk that you will die in the next year.” Pretty impressive numbers, eh?

We chose our neighborhood because of its reputation for being an old-fashioned neighborhood, where kids run in and out of each other’s houses. Since we’ve been here, we’ve been to ice cream socials, a children’s talent show, and all kinds of seasonal celebrations. One family hosts an annual August “Kid Wash,” where children in swimsuits soap up, and enjoy being sprayed by adults with garden hoses. To stave off cabin-fever this winter, another family organized a bowling party. It was heart-warming to watch dozens of neighbors, ages 3 to 83, knocking down pins in lane after lane of the Playdium.

On a more serious note, last year 10 of us met for nine months to discuss sustainability issues, using a course packet from the Northwest Earth Institute. (For more information on the institute, click here.) As a result, we started a neighborhood vegetable garden. A book club formed this year, as well as a “band” of about eight, who gather to play guitar, ukulele, hammered dulcimer, fiddle and flute.

“Safety in Numbers” is one of the band names we’ve considered. Suggested as a joke to help quell our nerves at our first public gig - a neighborhood festival celebrating local merchants — it nevertheless speaks to my point about community.

We’re living in interesting times. The prospect of peak oil, and the reality of global warming, are challenges better faced in solidarity than alone. To have the “durable future” that McKibben writes about, we’re going to need to build it from the ground up, working with the folks next door.

Granted, certain features of my neighborhood facilitate community. Houses are close together — we can’t avoid frequent encounters. One resident says it’s “like dorm-life for grown-ups.” And, most of the homes on our street were built to the same circa-1925 blueprint. As another homeowner remarked, “these houses are the ‘working man’s dream:’ no one has anything better than anyone else.” You feel at home nearly everywhere you go, with intriguing exceptions in decor and renovations. In fact, we recently held a block tour of six look-alike houses, to see what people had done with their attics, kitchens, additions, etc.

Obviously, community building works in other contexts: places of worship, schools, clubs. But I think we do best when we know each other in various capacities and have multidimensional relationships. This is what attracts me to the eco-village and intentional communities movements, and to cooperatives, like Albany’s Honest Weight Food Co-op.

During three hours in the store recently, I had a set of experiences that parallel those in my neighborhood. While staffing an informational table on Fair Trade, I touched base with someone who’s starting a writing group, discussed exchanging healing services with a body work practitioner, and hooked up a tense coworker with a source for stress reduction classes. Though crowded and bustling, the store still facilitates mutually beneficial connections. In the community room, for example, you might find a parenting group, a knitter’s circle, or a senior fitness class. It’s not unlike Bill McKibben’s descriptions of farmers’ markets, where people “have 10 times as many conversations … as they do at supermarkets.”

Chinese medicine places a premium on these interpersonal networks, calling them “personal circulation vessels,” to indicate how essential they are. People who have not developed them are sometimes referred to as “dead doors that lead to nowhere” (Yanhua Zang, “Transforming Emotions with Chinese Medicine“). A disturbing, but apt, metaphor.

It takes extra effort to be a “living door,” but we need these now, more than ever. Such connections ground us in our communities, refresh our relationships, and open up new possibilities for friendship, collaboration and support. For your health and that of the planet, I encourage you to find your opening!

Ruth Ann Smalley, Ph.D., is an educator and a certified Eden Energy medicine practitioner with a practice in Albany. She’s also an Honest Weight member worker, and writes a monthly column for the coop’s newsletter.

Writing to Chancellor Klein

Doug Avella lost his teaching job last week because he was the closest social studies teacher to the scene in the South Bronx where a group of youngsters fearlessly challenged the test-punish-test system. Commentary below from Huffington Post.

Susan Ohanian has information on how to voice your support for Doug Avella. Please take time to write Klein and Weingarten.
by Allison Kilkenny

Last Wednesday [May 21] more than 160 students in six different classes at Intermediate School 318 in the South Bronx refused to take another standardized test. The students boycotted the test not out of laziness or fears of failing, but because they are sick of being dragged out of their classrooms to be treated as lab rats in the No Child Left Behind rotten matrix.

These tests don't affect their grades, nor are they always actual tests. You see, sometimes the students are issued "practice tests" that have no real meaning. The companies are merely experimenting on the children with their shiny, new tests and if they fill in the right bubbles, the test companies ship off their crates to white schools in the suburbs.

The Bronx kids are sharp, determined pupils so they didn't just sit around, bitching and moaning. Instead, they created a petition complete with specific grievances. The students declared themselves to be aggravated with the "constant, excessive and stressful testing" that causes them to "lose valuable instructional time with our teachers."

Some might say criticizing the broken No Child Left Behind act is a tired, cheap shot. I disagree for the simple fact that teachers are still guilty of teaching to tests instead of teaching to engage. They teach with narrow, shallow focus because the No Child Left Behind act demands that sort of curriculum. The act completely robs teachers of their ambitions, desires, and instincts. Teachers are left with no other option than teaching students to regurgitate the appropriate answers for the appropriately numbered questions, which is the opposite of critical thinking and complex problem-solving.

No Child Left Behind is still rotting our schools from the inside because we've left it to politicians to fix the educational system. Big mistake. It is going to take the will of the students to get real, permanent policy changes.

The Bronx strike is a significant victory because it represents students rejecting a corrupt institutional policy from inside the institution. Victims of corrupt policies are the strongest voices of dissent because without their participation, the entire parade of corruption and deception comes to a halt.

For the same reason, veterans are the most prolific voices of peace. It's difficult for even the most staunch conservative politician to look a veteran in the eyes and say, "Look, buddy, I know more about this whole war thing than you."

Though it is smaller by comparison, the Bronx strike brings to mind the historical 1968 strikes in France that led to the collapse of the De Gaulle government and forever changed the country. The French students wanted certain grievances addressed, namely issues involving class struggle and school funding. Above all else, the students wanted to be treated like adults. They wanted a place at the negotiation table and they wanted dignity in the negotiation process. Quite rightly, they believed they should have a say in the outcome of the institution that would play a part in shaping their minds.

At the time, the French students were dismissed as petulant children out of their league in the world of politics. As Gandhi famously said: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win." The French students won and the 1968 strikes are now seen as a critical time in France's history when the old order of nationalism and conservatism gave way to a more liberal, enlightened period.

These Bronx students will be ridiculed, too. They'll be called lazy and petulant among other things. Already, the school's Principal, Maria Lopez, has wowed the public with her spectacularly wrong decision to fire Douglas Avella. Avella is the students' Social Studies teacher, and he was fired even though the students insist they are entirely responsible for the petition and the strike, and Mr. Avella had nothing to do with their walk-out.

Despite the unfortunate consequence of Avella getting scapegoated, the strike is an encouraging rebellion within a corrupt, failed institution. Hopefully, other students will reject the No Child Left Behind doctrine, just as a steady trickle of war veterans will continue to join the anti-war movement. Until then, our country will be unable to right the wrongs of the past without these essential players, those victims of the very institutions we wish to heal.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Planning for the Restoration

As the past eight years have been largely counterproductive on social, economic, political, moral, educational, military, and environmental matters that matter, the next eight years must be devoted to a restoration of moral credibility, ethical governance, and enviromental stewardship in education and life in general within the Republic.

Here is one of the pathfinders for getting back to the main trail:
May 2008

Moral Dimensions of Educational Decisions

The essential place of values-rich curricula in the public schools

By Amitai Etzioni

There is a widely held notion that public schools (which, of course, most students attend) should not teach values. In effect, schools do. Moreover, there are next to no significant decisions a school administrator or classroom teacher can make that do not have a normative dimension. . . .
Read the rest here from The School Administrator .

Thursday, May 29, 2008

See What Comes After the Testocracy

When the current testing hysteria subsides, the work of CES will be critical in establishing or re-establishing meaningful learning environments that include multiple assessment methods for multiple learning tasks.

See part of the future tomorrow.

Beyond “The Big Test”: Coalition of Essential Schools Webcast Highlights Exhibitions as a Better Assessment Method


WHAT: Streaming webcast of a student’s Graduation Exhibition to a panel of evaluators and guests as part of National Exhibition Month

WHEN: Friday, May 30th, 2:00 p.m. Eastern, 11:00 a.m. Pacific

WHERE: Log onto: http://shows.implex.tv/Qwikcast/router.aspx?WebcastID=1281

Oakland, CA: The Coalition of Essential Schools (CES), the nation’s oldest and largest school reform organization, hosts a unique web event on Friday, May 30th, allowing educators, policy makers, parents and students to see, in action, the power of exhibitions as a means of assessing student learning. Exhibitions are presentations in the tradition of the PhD defense that provide a powerful alternative to machine-graded testing, not only better measuring but also dramatically improving student achievement and 21st-century skill development.

On Friday, May 30th, at 2:00 pm ET, CES will webcast an exhibition that occurred earlier in May in which a student presents her Graduation Exhibition to a panel of evaluators and guests that determines whether she has met proficiency requirements (http://shows.implex.tv/Qwikcast/router.aspx?WebcastID=1281). The web event marks the end of National Exhibition Month, during which students from over 100 schools nationwide presented their research findings and analysis to panels of expert judges and to community audiences. During the webcast, CES Executive Director Lewis Cohen will be available to answer questions about the exhibition in real time.

Gail Stafford, a senior at Francis W. Parker Essential School in Devens, Massachusetts, is the featured student in the webcast. Her exhibition is the culminating presentation of her year-long senior project that applies Professor Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences to an analysis of modern dance, integrating the theory in an original choreography. A question-and-answer segment with her evaluating panel further tests her ability to think on her feet and defend her work.

Unlike machine-graded assessments that test textbook memorization, exhibitions require students to develop and use a wide range of high-level analytical and communication skills – the very skills, experts say, that pave the way for college and career success.

Many states, looking to address the limitations of NCLB, are exploring adoption of performance-assessment as a means to not only better measure but also improve student achievement. Exhibitions require students to think critically and present publicly – skills that are needed for success in the 21st century. Rhode Island is the first state to take the practice of exhibitions, as pioneered by CES, to scale. This spring marks the first time seniors across the state of Rhode Island will demonstrate their learning as a requirement for graduation. The exhibition webcast, say organizers, is an opportunity to see this promising reform, under consideration across a number of states, in action.

The Coalition of Essential Schools is an education reform organization dedicated to transforming American public education so that every child in every neighborhood, regardless of race or class, attends a personalized, equitable, and intellectually challenging school. Education reforms pioneered by CES have become common currency in policy debates around the country. The organization's growing network includes over 300 diverse schools in 36 states.


For additional information, please contact Ramon Calhoun, (510) 433-1924, rcalhoun@essentialschools.org

For more information about Exhibitions please see
http://www.essentialschools.org/exhibitionmedia.html

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Eleven States Sue EPA

Is that the EnergyCo. Protection Agency? From Think Progress:
Eleven states and environmental groups sue EPA over lax smog standards.
Eleven states and several health and environmental organizations filed two separate lawsuits yesterday arguing that the “Environmental Protection Agency ignored the recommendation of a key advisory panel of scientists” and issued smog standards that were far weaker than the EPA scientists and health experts had recommended:

“EPA officials ignored the advice of their own scientists when they chose these deficient standards, but they can’t ignore the law,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron…“The Clean Air Act requires EPA to adopt standards strong enough to protect our lungs and our environment. We’re fighting to make sure that happens. Stronger standards could save thousands of lives, by some estimates.”

When Communists and Capitalists Lie Down Together at the Same Trough

Regardless of where they live, the poor and the children of the poor share similar fates. In China, the poor get cheap, crumbling schools that lead to thousands of dead children following earthquakes. In New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the hurricane disaster gets the children of the poor toxic FEMA trailers to live in, even three years later, as 22,000 FEMA trailers are still being used.

From the NYTimes:

DUJIANGYAN, China — Bereaved parents whose children were crushed to death in their classrooms during the earthquake in Sichuan Province have turned mourning ceremonies into protests in recent days, forcing officials to address growing political repercussions over shoddy construction of public schools.

Parents of the estimated 10,000 children who lost their lives in the quake have grown so enraged about collapsed schools that they have overcome their usual caution about confronting Communist Party officials. Many say they are especially upset that some schools for poor students crumbled into rubble even though government offices and more elite schools not far away survived the May 12 quake largely intact.

On Tuesday, an informal gathering of parents at Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan to commemorate their children gave way to unbridled fury. One of the fathers in attendance, a quarry worker named Liu Lifu, grabbed the microphone and began calling for justice. His 15-year-old daughter, Liu Li, was killed along with her entire class during a biology lesson.

“We demand that the government severely punish the killers who caused the collapse of the school building,” he shouted. “Please, everyone sign the petition so we can find out the truth.”

The crowd grew more agitated. Some parents said local officials had known for years that the school was unsafe but refused to take action. Others recalled that two hours passed before rescue workers showed up; even then, they stopped working at 10 p.m. on the night of the earthquake and did not resume the search until 9 a.m. the next day.

Although there is no official casualty count, only 13 of the school’s 900 students came out alive, parents said. “The people responsible for this should be brought here and have a bullet put in their head,” said Luo Guanmin, a farmer who was cradling a photo of his 16-year-old daughter, Luo Dan.

Sharp confrontations between protesters and officials began over the weekend in several towns in northern Sichuan. Hundreds of parents whose children died at the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School in the city of Mianzhu staged an impromptu rally on Saturday. They surrounded an official who tried to assure them that their complaints were being taken seriously, screaming and yelling in her face until she fainted.

The next day, the Communist Party’s top official in Mianzhu came out to talk with the parents and to try to stop them from marching to Chengdu, the provincial capital, where they sought to prevail on higher-level authorities to investigate. The local party boss, Jiang Guohua, dropped to his knees and pleaded with them to abandon the protest, but the parents shouted in his face and continued their march.

Later, as the crowd surged into the hundreds, some parents clashed with the police, leaving several bleeding and trembling with emotion.

The protests threaten to undermine the government’s attempts to promote its response to the quake as effective and to highlight heroic rescue efforts by the People’s Liberation Army, which has dispatched 150,000 soldiers to the region. Censors have blocked detailed reporting of the schools controversy by the state-run media, but a photo of Mr. Jiang kneeling before protesters has become a sensation on some Web forums, bringing national attention to the incident. . . .

DC Public Schools Just Got Less Public, Again

Staying faithful to the script, Michelle Rhee continues her consolidation of power:
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 26, 2008; B01

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has scrapped a funding formula introduced in the late 1990s to bring more transparency and public participation to budget deliberations, replacing it with a system that critics say diminishes the autonomy of individual schools.

Rhee says that the funding method, known as the "weighted student formula," has not served many schools well, placing too much power in the hands of principals. Her alternative, she said, will increase transparency and help her make good on a core promise: to provide every D.C. school with art, music and physical education teachers.

Dismay over changes in the formula is part of a broader unhappiness with the development of the 2008-09 budget, the first on Rhee's watch. Information about the proposed allocation of money, usually available to the public in February, was posted only a week ago on the D.C. Public Schools Web site. . . .
There does seem to a minor annoyance standing in Rhee's and Fenty's way, however. It's name is Deborah Gist:
By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 28, 2008; Page B04
In February, the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education was ready with a 17-page rubric to approve or reject Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's plan overhaul 26 academically troubled schools.

But about a month later, State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist had to do an about-face when she learned she did not have the power she thought she had. Her lawyers told her she could review the plan but had no authority over it.

Now, some elected State Board of Education members, who serve as advisers to Gist, are seeking to elevate her role in scrutinizing Rhee. . . .

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Inhumane Testing 5, Doug Ward 0

From the Asheville Citizen-Times:
May 27, 2008

Jackson County teacher loses job over EOG testing dispute

Mike McWilliams

Jackson County Board of Education members on Monday voted unanimously to fire a teacher who refused to administer state end-of-grade tests to his students with severe disabilities.
The board went into closed session for about two hours during its meeting before voting 5-0 to agree with the superintendent’s recommendation that Doug Ward’s contract not be renewed, Ward said.

“They’re also keeping me suspended through the end of the year. They’re not going to let me come back and say goodbye to the kids,” Ward said. “But that’s what I expected.”

Ward, 36, a teacher at Cullowhee Valley School, sent a letter to his school and district administration May 12 saying he would not participate in the NCEXTEND1 because recent test changes made it impossible for his students to pass.

Students with disabilities must be tested under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This is the first time a North Carolina teacher has refused to administer standardized tests, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Phone messages left with school board members were not immediately returned Monday.

Ward said he hopes to explore working as an administrator as he expects to be blackballed as a teacher.

“Hopefully this whole thing will motivate (the school board) to maybe take a second look,” Ward said. “But I realize it’s more of a system issue than anything else. They’re just kind of fulfilling their roles in the system and unfortunately, due to the law, that really doesn’t give them any latitude to use some logic or critical thinking when it comes to decisions."

Smith and Wake Forest Dump SAT

From the NYTimes:

Smith College, a women’s college in Northampton, Mass., and Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., will no longer require prospective students to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their applications.

At both institutions, the policies will take effect with the class entering in fall 2009.

The number of colleges and universities where such tests are now optional — mostly small liberal-arts colleges — has been growing steadily as more institutions have become concerned about the validity of standardized tests in predicting academic success, and the degree to which test performance correlates with household income, parental education and race.

Some schools that have made standardized tests optional have found that they have attracted a more diverse student body, with no decline in academic ability.

“By making the SAT and ACT optional, we hope to broaden the applicant pool and increase access at Wake Forest for groups of students who are currently underrepresented at selective universities,” said Martha Allman, Wake Forest’s director of admissions. Wake Forest will announce its change on Tuesday; Smith announced it on May 16. . . .


Click chart to enlarge.

Monday, May 26, 2008

"muscular philanthropy"

Muscular philanthropy--that's what Fred Hess calls the kind of Walton-Broad-Gates phalanx that has as one of its goals the charterizing (rhymes with cauterizing) of American public schools, beginning first in the urban schools where voucher efforts have been unsuccessful so far. Bill and Melinda, the darlings of the neoliberal set, are a bit queasy regarding vouchers, having the ongoing history that they do with the education establishment. See, too, "How Many Billionaires Does It Take to Fix a School System," NY Times Magazine, 3/9/08.
Now charter schools are a different matter, particularly as we have elements of the AFT and the head of the SEIU, Andy Stern, on board with Steve Barr, Eli Broad, and the Gates Foundation to craft a corporate-controlled version of public schools for the poor and working classes at a 20 percent savings to the taxpayer (and a 20% cost to teachers). Bill and Melinda's, in fact, gave $7.8 million to Green Dot Public Schools, Inc. last July. That's a nifty complement to the $20+ million already dished up by the Broad Foundation for the LAUSD charter takeover.

(Photo: Andy Stern (SEIU) looks on as Steve Barr, CEO of Green Dot Public Schools, Inc. presents Eli Broad a plaque for his $10 million given at the first annual Green Dot Ball, November 2007, Los Angeles).

Now I don't know if you would label corporate control of the public schools as social control. I guess some would call it corporate socialism or just plain fascism. For those, however, seeking more evidence of Bill's boyish, if slightly creaky, charm applied to using private billions to buy the public good, here are a few additional links here, here, here. I wish I had time to summarize them for Dr. Anonymous, but I am going the beach in few minutes.

The saddest part of all this is that the corporate media outlets offer ample opportunity for Broad and others of his ilk to pump the KIPP charter chain gangs (Bill and Melinda gave $7.9 million to KIPP in 2004) as the modern day solution to the "negro problem." Ed Week has only a slightly more nuanced approach, as Tmao Essj points out in this blog entry from last June:
The June 13 issued of Education Week published an article on student attrition at KIPP schools, particularly the two in San Francisco and one in Oakland, that didn't bury the lede as much as it pretended it didn't exist. Somewhat surprisingly, all manner of bloggers and commenters performed the same intellectual sleight-of-hand.

The article is trapped behind a subscription wall, making it unlinkable, but Ed Week correctly reports that fewer than half of the kids that begin the Bay Area KIPP schools as 5th graders in 2003 make it to 8th grade in 2006. In the Oakland incarnation, the attrition rate climbs to 75 percent. The article ignores the fact that these lost students are overwhelmingly African-American males. The three Bay Area KIPPs lost 77, 67, and 71 percent of its Young Black Males (YBMs) during this time period.

That's the story Ed Week. That's the story Eduwonk. That's the story, KIPP PR fixers.

There's more Black males on the KIPP website than in the KIPP. . . .
Admittedly, these attrition rates for KIPP in the Bay Area are not as bad (or good) as they were at the Hampton Institute in 1900 in Virginia (or the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama), when one out of five students who entered those industrial education/teacher training camps earned certificates to permit them to brainwash black children throughout the South in the "dignity of labor," but you have to admit the KIPP numbers are pretty impressive stats. The washouts, of course, have an economic function, too, providing as they do the future customers in the privately-managed prison industrial complex that the technocrats have devised to replace, yet another, civic responsibility.

You can be sure, however, that those black and brown KIPP-sters who make it through the direct instruction gauntlet are no less ready than the Hampton graduates to do, as Booker T. Washington did, the work that is offered by the overseers whose respect must be earned--repeatedly. WORK HARD, BE NICE--indeed.

Georgia State Officials Knew of Mass Failures Ahead of Tests

From Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
By HEATHER VOGELL, LAURA DIAMOND, ALAN JUDD
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/22/08
The state Department of Education knew as early as July 2007 that tens of thousands of sixth- and seventh-graders were on track to bomb on this year's mandatory social studies test, documents obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution show.

But officials allowed the testing to go forward, apparently without warning schools, teachers, parents or students of the likelihood of widespread failures.

State school officials released the documents as criticism mounted Thursday of how they handled this year's statewide Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

"This is atrocious and unforgivable," said Jason Adams, a seventh-grade teacher at Lost Mountain Middle School in Cobb County. "This is the kind of thing where a heads-up to teachers would have been nice."

Dana Tofig, the education agency's spokesman, said early projections were based on pilot questions given to students who hadn't been taught the state's new social studies curriculum. Officials assumed students would score higher this year.

The documents show students taking the pilot test answered large numbers of questions incorrectly.

By February, six weeks before testing began, officials had put a precise number on the predicted failures: 69 percent of students in both grades would likely not meet the bar.

The prediction proved generous.

Students, teachers and parents learned this week that 70 to 80 percent of middle-schoolers in the two grades had failed to pass the social studies test this spring. On the eighth-grade math test, which students must pass to go on to high school, only about 60 percent had passed — 20 percentage points fewer than the year before.

Teachers 'devastated'

The results are preliminary. Official and complete results are due next month.

Yet on Wednesday, state Superintendent Kathy Cox announced the state was throwing out the social studies results, blaming a vague curriculum and imprecise direction for teachers. She said the math results would stand and defended the test as necessarily more rigorous.

The state's testing contractor, CTB/McGraw-Hill, tried out 80 potential new questions with a sampling of Georgia students in the spring of 2007, according to state education documents. Committees made up largely of Georgia teachers chose 60 questions for the 2008 test, despite the poor results from the pilot.

Tofig said Cox was not available for an interview Thursday.

He said the pilot, or "field," test results were speculative, and useful only for setting the minimum score, known as a cut score, needed to pass the test. Pilot scores are not always predictive, Tofig said, noting that a cut-score committee projected 52 percent of eighth-graders would fail the math exam, while only 40 percent actually did.

"You really don't know what's going to happen until you get the data," Tofig said.

The department made no changes based on the anticipated social studies scores, he said. Nor did it share the projections beyond a small circle of state officials.

"A limited number of people had seen that in February," Tofig said. "That whole process is secure." To protect the tests' integrity, he added, "it has to be secure."

The state made the projections public in April when the state board approved cut scores for the tests.

The results "came as a great surprise to curriculum leaders" in the school districts, said Deborah White, executive director of the Georgia Association of Curriculum and Instructional Supervisors. "Teachers were devastated."

Cherokee County Superintendent Frank Petruzielo also said school systems had no idea what was coming. But he said the result should not have surprised state officials.

"Maybe they underestimated," he said. "But they knew the failure rate was going to be extraordinary."

Petruzielo agreed that vague teaching guidelines contributed to the high failure fate in social studies. But he said the state also raised the standards on eighth-grade math enough to trip up even accomplished students. He said state officials may have been "overreaching" to improve student test performance.

"The bar was simply set too high too soon," Petruzielo said. "We weren't able to show how much progress kids have made year to year when just getting over the bar was such a Herculean task."

The state Board of Education raised the cut score in sixth- and seventh-grade social studies from 23 and 22 correct answers, respectively, to 32 and 31 right answers out of 60 questions. In eighth-grade math, the cut score decreased, from 35 to 32.

State board member William Bradley Bryant said he expected a gap between performance last year and this year.

"The only thing we could have done with the cut scores was say, 'Are we more comfortable with more people passing the test even if that meant lowering the bar?' " said Bryant, whose district includes Gwinnett, DeKalb and Decatur. "It would look good on paper, but it's more important for them to leave the grade with the content knowledge we think they need."

He said he wasn't sure if a connection could be made between the projections and the results released this week.

Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, said state officials should have acted to head off disaster when they saw the warning signs in the pilot test.

"You would not have let the train continue on in the dark and wreck like it has now," he said. A panel Cox is convening to look into what happened will likely do some things that should have been done before, he said.

Superintendents not told

Teachers have complained repeatedly about inadequate training as the curriculum has been revamped, said Callahan — whose group's 72,000 members are mostly teachers.

In recent weeks, as dismal scores trickled in, teachers called the state in alarm, Callahan said. "The initial response was kind of flippant and cold," he said. "They were like, 'Well, you didn't do your job.' "

Gwinnett Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said local superintendents weregiven no direct information that the failure rates would be so high. School leaders did know scores would drop because of the new tests and higher standards.

He said he doesn't know if sharing the projections would have helped.

"With those projections, what you got is what you got and I don't know what knowing about it would have done," Wilbanks said. "But it's always nice to have information and prepare people. I don't know if you'd still administer the test."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Georgia Plans Student Failure While Pushing for Charter School Expansion

While the State Department of Education in Georgia was planning to use the state test to demonstrate the failure of the majority of Georgia students (yes, they knew it ahead of time), it was also giving a nod to legislation to dramatically expand the presence of charter schools in Georgia--legislation recently signed by Gov. Perdue (R). Now it seems entire systems are contemplating shifts to the corporate-style charters. No collective bargaining required, no state retirement, no libraries needed, slashed services and salaries. Will Georgia citizens wake up before their public schools are gone?

Now the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the State seems to have no plans or uses for the tests or test scores beyond their use to demonstrate that most children are failing in their public schools. Can a class action lawsuit be far behind? Where is the public outrage!
By ALAN JUDD, HEATHER VOGELL
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/25/08
About 36,000 Georgia eighth-graders tried but never passed the math test required for high school admission in 2006 and 2007. After that, state officials have no idea what happened.

The state doesn't know how many of those students were promoted despite failing the mandatory test. It doesn't know how many repeated the eighth grade. It doesn't even know how many of them dropped out of school.

Despite the high-stakes nature of Georgia's Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, which cover subjects that students in certain grades must pass before moving up, the state doesn't track the ultimate outcome of those who fail.

Instead, the state lets each of Georgia's more than 180 local school systems decide whether to promote students who fail the required tests, after an appeals process that may vary from district to district. But some school systems — such as Gwinnett County, the state's largest — say they don't keep up with the failing students, either.

As a result, while state officials suggest that most of the 36,000 students were promoted, they acknowledge that's just an assumption.

The lack of information and an inconsistent appeals process undermine the state's ability to measure whether the no-pass, no-promotion law is effective, testing experts say.

"In order to make effective decisions about students, you have to have good data," said Ron Dietel, an assistant director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing at UCLA. Georgia's approach, he said, "sounds like a situation that would produce very messy outcomes and not good decisions."

The fate of students who failed since 2006, the first year the math test helped determine promotion to high school, took on new relevance as details emerged last week about a colossal failure rate on this year's exam.

Forty percent of the state's eighth-graders — roughly 50,000 students — failed the math test this spring, twice as many as in each of the past two years. The state's schools superintendent, Kathy Cox, said the math results, which are preliminary, would stand.

But Cox invalidated social studies scores for sixth- and seventh-grade students, 70 to 80 percent of whom failed. Unlike eighth-grade math, the social studies exam does not count toward promotion.

Cox blamed a vague curriculum for the social studies results, but she defended the math test as appropriately rigorous.

The high failure rates have enraged parents and teachers and created uncertainty for tens of thousands of students who must decide whether to go to summer school before taking the test again.

Many parents say their children were expected to answer test questions about concepts not covered during social studies classes. Others complain that, by falling just a few points short of an arbitrary passing score on the math test, many high-performing students could end up having to repeat a grade.

During the past two school years, about 28,000 students failed both the eighth-grade math test and a retest, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Another 7,900 failed the math test once but chose not to take it again, rendering them ineligible for moving to the ninth grade.

If that pattern holds, as many as 29,720 students could be in jeopardy of being held back in the eighth grade next fall, according to the Journal-Constitution's analysis of state school statistics.

State officials assume the vast majority of students who failed the eighth-grade math test in 2006 and 2007 moved up to ninth grade anyway. They expect the same result this year.

"A lot of these students get promoted even if they haven't passed the retest," said Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education. "But we get them extra help where they're struggling."

In a separate interview, Tofig dismissed concerns that large numbers of students will be retained in the eighth grade.

"Not going to happen," he said.

In 2007, he said, school systems statewide retained about 68,000 students in all grades — about 4 percent — for all reasons.

"I would feel confident saying less than 10 percent" will be held back in the eighth grade because of the math test, he said.

Tofig acknowledged, however, that state officials reach those projections "anecdotally."

"We don't collect that data," he said. "The school districts collect that data. It's a school district decision."

In Cherokee County, for instance, about 5 percent of the 291 eighth-graders who failed the math test in 2007 repeated the grade this year, Superintendent Frank Petruzielo said.

But similar data is not available for the Cobb County schools, a spokesman said.

In Gwinnett, spokesman Sloan Roach said in an e-mail, "the placement process ... occurs at local schools and is not collected centrally."

State law requires students in the third, fifth and eighth grades to pass certain standardized tests to advance to the next grade. The promotion rules, which former Gov. Roy Barnes signed into law in 2001, aim to stop so-called social promotion and have been phased in.

Since the law took effect, the state education agency has studied how only one group of students fared on tests they had to pass to advance: third-graders who took the reading exam in 2004.

Nearly 2,800 students failed that test twice, according to a state report. But 61 percent of those students advanced to the fourth grade, anyway.

Among the 1,100 or so who repeated the third grade, 31 percent failed again the next year. The report does not say whether they were held back again.

Without statewide data, officials cannot look for differences in failure and promotion rates among districts, said Dietel, the testing researcher. Districts with similar types of students should have comparable rates, he said. If they don't, it could signal a problem.

"My guess would be most districts are probably going ahead and letting students go on to the next grade," Dietel said. "But if you don't know that, how do you know if the test is doing what it is supposed to do? How do you know if the remediation is doing what it's supposed to do?"

The state requires school systems to offer summer school or other remedial instruction to students who failed tests required for promotion. But the students don't have to attend. Cox, the state superintendent, said last week that summer school teachers will focus on aspects of the test that stumped most students.

"The children will receive the help they need," Cox said.

In June or July, schools give the test a second time to those who failed in the spring.

Students who fail a second time may appeal to the school principal and a teacher. Only parents, not school officials or the students themselves, may request a hearing.

The consequences of failing the math exam have flustered many parents, especially those whose children are strong in math.

Leah Smith's eighth-grade daughter Alex is an A/B student who failed the math test by five points — essentially one question, the mother said.

Her daughter's math class in Cobb County's Awtrey Middle School had three teachers over the course of the year, she said. When Smith talked to school officials last week, she said they told her that even if her daughter failed the retest, she would likely be successful in an appeal.

But Smith hopes Alex won't need the back-up: The two have already bought study guides.

"We'll be going over those the next four weeks," she said. "It's hard for me not to be upset with the school. But she's got to do her best and learn there are these things in your life you have to go through."

Staff writer Laura Diamond contributed to this article.

Training A Future Workforce that Never Stops to Eat

Perfect.

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. — High school students in this well-to-do Westchester suburb pile on four, five, even six Advanced Placement classes to keep up with their friends. They track their grade-point averages to multiple decimal places and have longer résumés than their parents.

But nearly half the students at Briarcliff High School have packed their schedules so full that they do not stop for lunch, prompting administrators to rearrange the schedule next fall to require everyone to take a 20-minute midday break. They will extend each school day and cut the number of minutes each class meets over the year. Briarcliff currently does not require students to have a lunch period.

In a school where SAT scores are the talk in the hallways and more than half the seniors are accepted to their first-choice college, Briarcliff’s principal, Jim Kaishian, said mandatory lunch is intended to reduce stress on teenagers so caught up in the achievement frenzy they barely have time to eat or sleep.

This year, 12 percent of Briarcliff’s 665 students have no free periods, while an additional 30 percent have classes the entire time the cafeteria is open.

“We see kids rushing to eat; we hear about stress levels going up,” Mr. Kaishian said. “We’ve watched as some kids implode and bend under the weight of having to go period after period without a break.”

Briarcliff is one of several high-performing campuses that is confronting the lunchless, alongside other stress-reduction measures like starting school later or limiting the number of A.P. courses each student can take.

At Horace Mann, a prestigious private school in Riverdale, the Governing Council passed a resolution in March saying: “All students, regardless of whether they want a lunch period, should have time to eat lunch outside of class.” In Chappaqua, Horace Greeley High is rolling out a new schedule this fall that lengthens classes, with a 30-minute free block in the middle of the day so that “students will have more time to eat in a less stressful way,” according to the superintendent, David Fleishman. . . . .


Friday, May 23, 2008

How Hillary Sealed Her Fate: Chalk Up Another One to the Power of the Unconscious

Here's what she said today:
"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it."
Hillary, no doubt, is horrified that she said this. But what makes it so damning and what makes it the final sign that it is time for her to quit is that this statement reflects the desperation of her own inner rationalization, today uttered despite herself. This simply reflects the fact that there are some things we can want too much. And Hillary wants to be President too much.

And, now, of course, she can never be VP--which seemed like a possible outcome over the past few days. The takeover today by an outraged unconscious made that impossible. Go home, Hillary. Rest.

Watch Amy Wilkins Change the Subject

Dan Brown asks a great question that does not get answered, even as Amy launches into an attack on the questioner. Wonder how come.

From Huffington Post:

Georgia Students Held in 8th Grade Due to Flawed Test?

Will parents tell the idiots in charge of their state schools where to put this year's flagrantly flawed math test--the one being used to keep their children from going to 9th grade next year?

The State response so far? Throw out the social studies test, the one that doesn't count in holding back students.

How long will will the madness continue?

By LAURA DIAMOND, ALAN JUDD, HEATHER VOGELL
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/21/08
No one disputes that Georgia's system for evaluating middle school students broke down this year.

How, and why, became the topics of debate Wednesday, as the state threw out the results of two social studies tests and education advocates questioned the validity of eighth-graders' abysmal math scores.

Several possible explanations emerged for failure rates that ran as high as 80 percent: New curriculum standards that may have been too vague. A complicated process for creating tests. Flawed test questions. Inadequate training in the new curriculum for teachers. An unrealistically high passing score. A long history of poor test performance by Georgia students.

Whatever the reason, the widespread failures are making Georgia's high-stakes testing even more contentious.

"Any time you have that level of failure almost statewide, you've got to go back and re-examine the test and re-examine everything associated with the test," said Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association.

The math scores were particularly troubling, Garrett said: "There are a lot of youngsters who didn't meet the standards who are known by their local systems to be great math students."

Preliminary results from this year's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test have stirred up parents and educators all week. On Monday, state School Superintendent Kathy Cox announced that 70 to 80 percent of sixth- and seventh-graders had failed the social studies exam. About 40 percent of Georgia's 124,000 eighth-graders — or about 50,000 students — failed in math.

The math results are especially significant, since students who failed the test cannot advance to ninth grade. Those students will have to take the test again this summer, and many may have to forgo vacations to attend summer school.

Further, the test helps determine whether schools have met goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Schools that repeatedly fall short of the goals face potentially severe sanctions.

The high failure rates have frustrated parents, some of whom weren't satisfied by Cox's decision to invalidate the social studies scores.

"This is just crazy," said Karla Penn, whose daughter Kamille failed the eighth-grade math test by five points at Shamrock Middle School in DeKalb County.

"The whole thing started with this new curriculum, and it's just gotten worse. You have students who aren't familiar with this information and teachers who don't know how to teach it, so of course this all happened.

"This whole thing is a fiasco. How can they think this is fair to the kids?" . . . .

Next Target: The State University System

Crackpot reform is not just for K-12 anymore. On the the way to their corporate dystopia, the Grover Whitehursts of the world want to make public univerities the new corporate vocational schools, as well as the new corporate R&D units that will be directed and funded by corporations that dole out money to university researchers who depend upon them to make a living.

Wonder how high the flames must get before academics will put down their Foucault and their monocles to their look outside the tower windows?

From the Austin American-Statesman:
Voucher-style funding, bonus pay for teachers among recommendations.

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Gov. Rick Perry urged regents of the state's major public university systems Wednesday to pursue a series of higher-education reforms outlined at a conference in Austin that was organized by his office and a conservative think tank. The proposals included new requirements for tenure, bonus pay for teachers and a funding model that would essentially amount to vouchers for students.

"I'm not saying these are a dictate to you. One size does not fit all." But "the time is right for these types of reforms to go forward," said Perry, who appointed all the regents to their positions.

Officials described the Governor's Higher Education Summit at the Inter-Continental Stephen F. Austin Hotel as a first-of-its-kind joint meeting of the governing boards of the University of Texas System, the Texas A&M University System, the Texas Tech University System and other university systems. The nonprofit Texas Public Policy Foundation, which favors limited government and free markets, helped organize it.

Regents generally offered muted reactions to the proposals, and the president of a statewide faculty group questioned the business-oriented flavor.

"There's a lot of food for thought," said John White, a Texas A&M regent. "I don't think we're looking for revolutionary change."

H. Scott Caven Jr., chairman of the UT regents, said further discussion is warranted. "I haven't formed any firm opinions about any of the recommendations," he said.

The proposed initiatives, billed as "breakthrough solutions," included requiring evidence of teaching skill before granting tenure to some professors, awarding bonuses to faculty members and teaching assistants who get the best evaluations from students and separating budgets for research and teaching to focus on excellence in each category.

Many of the proposals would be controversial, and some would need legislative approval.

The proposal for voucher-style funding is a case in point. Lawmakers currently allocate tax dollars to public colleges and universities to subsidize undergraduate and graduate education based on formulas that take into account the number of students and other factors.

The proposal calls for placing much of that money directly into students' hands, thereby emphasizing their role as the customers of higher education. All students qualifying for in-state tuition would receive the same amount of money, regardless of family income. Need-based financial aid would be on top of that.

Perry has suggested a similar approach in the past, to no avail. In January 2001, shortly after becoming governor, Perry touted an advisory panel's recommendation to wean institutions of higher learning from most of their direct appropriations.

Another proposal — to create a national accrediting agency that would focus on graduation rates and other results — couldn't be implemented by the regents. But they were asked to add their voices to calls for such an agency.

The proposals were outlined for the regents by Jeff Sandefer, co-founder of the Acton School of Business, a satellite campus in Austin of Hardin-Simmons University, a private school in Abilene. Acton has put in place a number of the proposals, such as linking faculty pay to student evaluations.

Retired House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Dallas, also addressed the group. He criticized faculty senates as "an imbecile institution" and urged regents to sharply reduce the role of faculty members in university governance.

"Our universities are not fulfilling their essential mission in our culture, which is to teach our children," Armey said.

Some people attending the conference questioned the proposals. Charles Miller, a former chairman of the UT regents who led a panel on higher education for U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, said that heavy-handed treatment of top researchers could cause them to flee.

Lynn Tatum, president of the Texas conference of the American Association of University Professors, who did not attend, said he was troubled by the tone of the recommendations.

"Many of these initiatives appear to derive from a business model rather than an educational model," said Tatum, a senior lecturer in the honors college at Baylor University, a Baptist institution in Waco. "In fact, students are the product. It is society that has employed faculty to provide thinking, well-rounded, educated adults."

rhaurwitz@statesman.com; 445-3604

'Breakthrough solutions'

Seven proposals, billed as 'breakthrough solutions,' were floated at the conference:

Post student satisfaction ratings and other information to publicly recognize the best teachers.

Award bonuses to professors, teaching assistants and other instructors based on students' ratings of how well a course delivered on its promises.

Split research and teaching budgets, paying teachers for the number of students they teach and paying researchers according to research dollars they receive.

Require evidence of teaching skills before awarding tenure to faculty members.

Provide each student with a personalized 'learning contract' before he or she enrolls that discloses the graduation rate and starting salary for the average student in that major with equivalent SAT scores.

Provide each in-state student with a voucher of sorts — a scholarship funded by legislative appropriations that currently go directly to public colleges and universities.

Support efforts to create a new national accrediting agency that would focus on results, such as knowledge gained between the freshman and senior years.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

South Bronx Middle School Students Boycott Test

from the NY Daily News:
Students at IS 318 are protesting 'meaningless' tests.

Students at a South Bronx middle school have pulled off a stunning boycott against standardized testing.
More than 160 students in six different classes at Intermediate School 318 in the South Bronx - virtually the entire eighth grade - refused to take last Wednesday's three-hour practice exam for next month's statewide social studies test.

Instead, the students handed in blank exams.

Then they submitted signed petitions with a list of grievances to school Principal Maria Lopez and the Department of Education.

"We've had a whole bunch of these diagnostic tests all year," Tatiana Nelson, 13, one of the protest leaders, said Tuesday outside the school. "They don't even count toward our grades. The school system's just treating us like test dummies for the companies that make the exams."

According to the petition, they are sick and tired of the "constant, excessive and stressful testing" that causes them to "lose valuable instructional time with our teachers."

School administrators blamed the boycott on a 30-year-old probationary social studies teacher, Douglas Avella.

The afternoon of the protest, the principal ordered Avella out of the classroom, reassigned him to an empty room in the school and ordered him to have no further contact with students.

A few days later, in a reprimand letter, Lopez accused Avella of initiating the boycott and taking "actions [that] caused a riot at the school."

The students say their protest was entirely peaceful. In only one class, they say, was there some loud clapping after one exam proctor reacted angrily to their boycott.

This week, Lopez notified Avella in writing that he was to attend a meeting today for "your end of the year rating and my possible recommendation for the discontinuance of your probationary service."

"They're saying Mr. Avella made us do this," said Johnny Cruz, 15, another boycott leader. "They don't think we have brains of our own, like we're robots. We students wanted to make this statement. The school is oppressing us too much with all these tests."

Two days after the boycott, the students say, the principal held a meeting with all the students to find out how their protest was organized.

Avella on Tuesday denied that he urged the students to boycott tests.

Yes, he holds liberal views and is critical of the school system's increased emphasis on standardized tests, Avella said, but the students decided to organize the protest after weeks of complaining about all the diagnostic tests the school was making them take.

"My students know they are welcome in my class to have open discussions," Avella said. "I teach them critical thinking."

"Some teachers implied our graduation ceremony would be in danger, that we didn't have the right to protest against the test," said Tia Rivera, 14. "Well, we did it."

Lopez did not return calls for comment.

"This guy was far over the line in a lot of the ways he was running his classroom," said Department of Education spokesman David Cantor. "He was pulled because he was inappropriate with the kids. He was giving them messages that were inappropriate."

Several students defended Avella. They say he had made social studies an exciting subject for them.
"Now they've taken away the teacher we love only a few weeks before our real state exam for social studies," Tatiana Nelson said. "How does that help us?"

jgonzalez@nydailynews.com

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Michelle Rhee Seeks Permanent Supply of Temp Teachers

Michelle Rhee wants to make teaching in DC more attractive by destroying the teachers' union. If she can buy up the contracts of those teachers who think this might not be such a great idea, then she and Fenty can sail with their plan to return workers' rights in the Nation's capital to the 19th Century, as they drag the schools in the same direction--back to the good times when privileged white women gave up so much to do the teaching in the Negro schools, and when memorization, recitation, and toeing the line were the orders of the day. From WaPo:

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008; B02

The Washington Teachers' Union is discussing a proposed three-year contract from the school system that would eliminate seniority, giving Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee more control in filling vacancies, a union member familiar with the talks said yesterday.

Without seniority, Rhee could place teachers based on qualifications or performance rather than years of service, said the union member, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. The union member said Rhee sought the provision as a recruiting tool so she could offer talented candidates the position of their choice. She would be able to fill positions with less experienced teachers.

Under the proposed contract, teachers would give up seniority in exchange for annual raises of about 6 percent, more personal-leave days and more money for supplies, the union member said. In the last contract, which expired in the fall, teachers received a 10 percent raise over two years.

Rhee "does want to infuse some new blood [into the schools]. She wants to make it attractive for young people coming in to advance," said the union member, adding that the union's negotiating team will meet with her tomorrow or Friday. "We've come to realize we're going to have to give in to her."

The union member said Rhee had also wanted to eliminate tenure, subjecting teachers to dismissal without cause. In March, Rhee fired 98 central office employees after the D.C. Council gave her the authority to make several hundred of them "at-will" staff members. . . .

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Teachers Who Deserve to Be Fired--But Won't

From Wired, ht to Raw Story:
One in eight U.S. high school teachers presents creationism as a valid alternative to evolution, says a poll published in the Public Library of Science Biology.

Of more than 900 teachers who responded to a poll conducted by Penn State University political scientist Michael Berkman and colleagues, 32 percent agreed that creationism and intelligent design should be taught as scientifically unsound. Forty percent said such explanations are religiously valid but inappropriate for science class.

However, 25 percent said they devoted classroom time to creationism or intelligent design. Of these, about one-half -- 12 percent of all teachers -- called creationism a "valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species," and the same number said that "many reputable scientists view these as valid alternatives to Darwinian theory." (The full study makes for interesting reading: Evolution and Creationism in America’s Classrooms: A National Portrait.

Longtime Wired Science readers know that I'm less bothered than many science writers at the possibility of evolution being under-taught in science and biology courses. So long as a teacher imparts a sense of wonder and curiosity, the details will follow. However, teaching creationism or intelligent design alongside evolution, as if religious explanations had even a fraction of the scientific validity of evolution, is unacceptable -- it promotes fatally flawed, uncritical thinking.

What to do?

The study's authors note that courtroom victories -- classroom creationism has consistently been struck down in U.S. courts -- is apparently insufficient to guarantee an accurate depiction of evolution. Nor will rigorous state science standards, like those recently passed in Florida, do the trick. Instead they recommend teacher certification requiring the completion of an evolutionary biology course. . . . .


More Debunking of the "Boys' Crisis"

From the NYTimes:
Published: May 20, 2008

The American Association of University Women, whose 1992 report on how girls are shortchanged in the classroom caused a national debate over gender equity, has turned its attention to debunking the idea of a “boys’ crisis.”

“Girls’ gains have not come at boys’ expense,” says a new report by the group, to be released on Tuesday in Washington.

Echoing research released two years ago by the American Council on Education and other groups, the report says that while girls have for years graduated from high school and college at a higher rate than boys, the largest disparities in educational achievement are not between boys and girls, but between those of different races, ethnicities and income levels.

In examining a range of standardized test scores, the report finds some intriguing nuggets about the interplay of family income, race, ethnicity and academic performance. For example, it finds that while boys generally outperform girls on both the math and verbal parts of the SAT, the male advantage on the verbal test is consistent only among low-income students, and that among black students, there was no consistent advantage by sex from 1994 to 2004.

And while boys of all races and ethnicities generally outscored girls of the same group on the math section, the gap by sex for black students was only about half as large as other groups.

The report points out that a greater proportion of men and women than ever before are graduating from high school and earning college degrees. But, it says, “perhaps the most compelling evidence against the existence of a boys’ crisis is that men continue to outearn women in the workplace.”

Linda Hallman, who became executive director of the university women’s group in January, when the work was well under way, said the report was an effort to refocus attention on what she said were the real problems of education for poor and minority children, and away from a distracting debate about a so-called boys’ crisis. Ms. Hallman said the group’s members were concerned about arguments by conservative commentators that boys had become disadvantaged and were being discriminated against in schools intended to favor girls.

“Many people remain uncomfortable with the educational and professional advances of girls and women, especially when they threaten to outdistance their male peers,” the report says , citing Christina Hoff Sommers’s 2000 book, “The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men.”

Ms. Hallman said, “To have this distracter out there, about the boys’ crisis, took away from our mission, from pushing forward for what we were trying to achieve, which is to be a leader in dealing with the education crisis that affects girls and boys without many resources.”

The report may provide new fodder in the battle over whether boys and girls need different methods of teaching.

“There’s still a lot of debate about whether there’s something we should be doing differently in teaching boys and girls,” said Sara Mead, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit research group in Washington, who has written on gender equity. “The people on the feminist-leaning side of the debate see the conversation about a boys’ crisis as a strategy to advance the single-sex education agenda. I’m not sure that’s correct. I don’t think the kind of data we have about boys’ and girls’ achievement tells us anything useful about single-sex education.”

The report finds that, generally, boys and girls of similar backgrounds have similar academic success. And the five states in which boys score highest on the tests known as the nation’s report card are also the highest-scoring states for girls, it says.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Watching Spellings

From Politico's blog, The Crypt:
May 16, 2008

Miller, Kennedy ask GAO to Watch Spellings on Student Loans

Congressional Democrats, who have been skeptical in the past at whether Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has taken sufficient action to protect student loans from the credit markets' woes, have asked the Government Accountability Office to monitor the Bush administration's management of the issue.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) who chairs the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions committee and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) who chairs the Education and Labor committee in the House, sent the letter to the GAO Thursday.

Miller and Kennedy co-authored the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act to make certain that students are not prevented from attending college next fall due to unavailability of private loans for tuition.

The letter requests that the GAO monitor the administration's oversight of school's transitioning from the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) into the Direct Loan Program which is federally run.

A request for comment from the Department of Education has not yet been returned.

UPDATE: Education Department spokeswoman Samara Yudof e-mails:, "[We] are working across the administration on an efficient and effective approach that can be implemented as quickly as possible to ensure that students continue to have access to Federal student aid to help pay for college."

Florida's Subterfuge

From Americans United for Separation of Church and State:
May 15th 2008
These initiatives never use the word “voucher.”
Florida’s upcoming vote on private school vouchers and other forms of aid to religion is starting to attract national attention – and early signs are that this is going to be a hard-fought battle.

The Washington Post ran a story on the fight today. Although several Florida newspapers have covered the issue in depth, this is the first piece I’m aware of that puts it in national context.

If you’re joining us late, here’s what’s going on: Florida, like about 37 other states, has a provision in its state constitution barring the diversion of tax funds for religious schools and institutions. The state also has a provision mandating a high-quality free public school system.

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, used an obscure state tax commission to engineer two initiatives onto the November ballot that would rewrite those provisions and legalize school vouchers and other forms of aid to religion in the state.

Every poll I’ve seen on vouchers shows that they are unpopular. Thus, these initiatives never use the word “voucher.” Instead, voucher proponents are arguing that unless this provision is removed, the state won’t be able to work with religious groups to help those in need.

Patricia Levesque, the tax commission member (and Bob Jones University graduate) who promoted the ballot initiatives on Bush’s behalf, told The Post that the current constitution threatens the state’s ability to work with religious groups to provide social programs like substance-abuse education, prisoner reentry and foster care.

“[W]e’re going to have hundreds of millions of dollars of programs that the state will have to take over because we won’t have faith-based providers participating anymore,” Levesque said.

These are scare tactics, pure and simple. Voucher opponents point out that the state has worked with religious groups on secular social service projects for years with no problems. Levesque, who served as Bush’s education policy chief and now runs two pro-voucher groups for Bush, is trying to slip a massive voucher plan past the voters by disguising it as a benign “faith-based” program.

Voucher supporters don’t have a very good track record when it comes to rewriting state constitutions. Voters have repeatedly rejected voucher referenda at the polls, usually by sweeping margins. But the voucher gang has learned from past defeats and is getting a lot more devious, promoting language that never mentions the “v-word” and portraying themselves as defenders of religion.

To make matters worse, they’ve packaged one of the initiatives with a school funding requirement designed to mislead voters into thinking public school classrooms will get more money if the proposal passes. What a scam!

If the Bush crew gets away with this in Florida, you can bet they’ll move on to other states and eviscerate church-state language there.

The voucher boosters have signaled they intend to play hardball in Florida. They won’t hesitate to use deception. Our challenge is to make sure Sunshine State residents have the facts and understand all that is at stake.

By Rob Boston

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Freddy Krueger of School Reform Dies Once Again

From Arizona, read all about it:
A state appellate court ruled Thursday that two voucher programs for foster and disabled children attending private schools violate the Arizona Constitution by using public money to help private and religious schools.

The 3-0 ruling Thursday by a Court of Appeals panel in Tucson reverses a trial judge's ruling that upheld the programs enacted in 2006 at the urging of “school choice” supporters. . . .

Friday, May 16, 2008

Obama Closer to Daley than to Wright

by George Schmidt
4/30/08

Rev. Jeremiah Wright is speaking for the majority of Black people who live in America's most segregated city, Chicago. Let's just put this in a few additional perspectives. Chicago, today (2008) has more all-black public schools than all of the cities of the Old Confederacy combined. There are 300 segregated all-black pubic elementary and high schools in Chicago today. That is the product of the policies of 50 generations of Daleys -- and of the people who ally themselves with the Daleys to rule this city in a certain way.

As we've shared with people here, Barack Obama has had more than enough time to distance himself from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's corporate version of "school reform." He has not done so. But since the Clintons have praised Daley's "school reform" work going back a decade now, it simply means that Obama and Clinton take the same practical position regarding these realities. Bill Clinton praised Daley's teacher bashing union busting test based privatization oriented "school reform" in two state of the union addresses; Hillary was often with President Clinton when he came to Chicago to meeting with Mayor Daley and praise the rampages against the public schools that were then going on under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas.

In Chicago, the Business Roundtable has been around for more than 100 years in the form of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club. They have always been part of the attack on democratic equitable public schools here. They wrote "Renaissance 2010," which for the past five years has provided the script for the privatization of more than 50 Chicago public schools (most turned into charters after enormous teacher bashing using phony "data").

Barack Obama has been silent on all of those teacher bashing (and union busting) crimes against public education, and on all of the privatization that began in 1995 here and is accelerating to this day.

From a Chicago point of view, it is one thing to perhaps make nice with Mayor Daley in order to garner votes (and delegates) but quite another thing to publicly criticize Jeremiah Wright and not ever say one word critical of all of the corruption of the Daley administration -- of which corporate "school reform" is just one piece.

Sorry.

The record is getting more and more clear. Those of us who have voted for Barack Obama before and are likely to do so again should at least go into the polling places with a clear eye.

When I heard and read Barack Obama's attack (and it's an attack, people, read it carefully) on Rev. Jeremiah Wright (and the pile on from the media -- "left" to right -- after Barack gave everybody the green light to attack Wright), I was reminded of the attacks (that's a plural) in the media on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in 1967 and 1968, after King came out clearly against the Vietnam War and clearly on the side of working people.

Jeremiah Wright, not Barack Obama, is now in the presence of Dr. King and Dr. King's traditions.

Barack Obama is in the presence of the traditions of Chicago's Daley family, which attacked Dr. King in 1966, 1967 and 1968 here in Chicago (both directly and through media).

Let's just go into this next iteration of "Election 2008" with a clear eye. I write this as a person who has met Barack Obama on numerous occasions, who has voted for him and supported him in many other ways, and who is saddened by the fact that in Barack Obama we are going to elect a corporate Neoliberal, University of Chicago ideologue, who has never opposed Chicago's monstrous neoliberal attacks on working class and poor people -- corporate "housing reform" and corporate "school reform."

We have reasons to oppose some of the work of Jeremiah Wright here at Substance. Wright, for example, is now sponsoring a charter school that will open in September in CPS, part of the overall attack on the city's public schools. But there can be little doubt among people who read what Wright actually said at the National Press Clubs, the NAACP, and to Bill Moyers during the past week that Wright's tradition is more in the traditions of Martin Luther King than Barack Obama's. That may be fine with many people. It brings great sadness to many of the rest of us.

George N. Schmidt
Editor, Substance
www.substancenews.net

Tearing at the Inadequate Spending Pie in NJ

From Our Children/Our Schools:
A campaign to support high quality education for all New Jersey children
OC/OS Calls for Accountability, Not Posturing, on School Spending

The Our Children, Our Schools campaign supports strong, transparent fiscal accountability for school spending for all districts. OC/OS opposes political posturing about "waste" when it is only used to justify reductions in needed spending for school children. Recent reporting by the Star Ledger and recent statements by some New Jersey legislators appear to fall into this category.

The headline on the Star Ledger’s May 11 front page story, "Audits Find Waste in Abbott Spending: 29% of expenditures found not ‘reasonable’," is not supported by the facts in the story itself or by the recently released audits of Abbott districts (and, significantly, only Abbott districts).

According to the Star Ledger report, auditors hired by the NJ Department of Education examined purchase orders for $290 million out of the total $4 billion that Abbott districts spend. That means they looked closely at about 7% of all Abbott spending. The auditors labeled $83 million of the spending that was reviewed "discretionary" or "inconclusive." It was the Star Ledger, not the auditors, that labeled this spending "waste," "unnecessary" or "not reasonable." It was also the Star Ledger, not the auditors, who projected from this limited review of spending in the Abbott districts that 29% of all spending in those districts was "unnecessary, excessive or lacking documentation."

OC/OS supports full and open examination of all public spending, including the items flagged by the DOE’s auditors. But it is outrageous to declare 29% of spending in the state’s neediest school districts "unnecessary" without public examination of the standards being applied and how they are being applied. Money that is misspent or misused needs to be redirected to student needs, not labeled as "waste" and taken away. Sensationalizing or misrepresenting the problem of "waste" encourages political attacks and harmful budget cuts on our most vulnerable schools and students. It does nothing to improve oversight of school spending.

Many of the items questioned by the audits appear to be legitimate expenses. For example, the Trenton audit cited missing documentation for a $1.2 million payment to a Puerto Rican Community Day Care center. The center houses part of the district’s pre-school program. While inadequate documentation is a problem that needs correction, it does not make the expenditure "wasteful" or "unnecessary." Similarly, the Trenton audit challenged a $25,803 payment for dues to the New Jersey School Boards Association. State law requires districts to belong to the association.

Other items were categorized as "inconclusive" or "discretionary" because the auditors decided the price paid was too high, or the items were deemed not an educational necessity. Examples include:

$106 for a floral arrangement for a Trenton high school graduation ceremony
$596 for a software packaged titled "Final Cut" for Burlington’s Audio Visual Department
$504 to rent an ice skating rink for an outing for 144 Plainfield students
$1,383 for a field trip to send 13 Bridgeton students to compete in a national Double Dutch Competition
Bridgeton Superintendent Victor Gilson spoke for many in Abbott districts when he challenged the claim that field trips and modest items like T-shirts for school clubs and flowers for graduation were examples of "waste."

"Tell the parents of the double-dutch kids that it's a waste," Gilson told The Atlantic City Press. "We have a major gang issue in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland. And luckily, we don't have it in the schools. And we don't have it in the schools because we have students engaged in meaningful, active activities. I'd rather kids be in double-dutch than out in gangs in the evening."

Gilson also noted that auditors labeled some items "inconclusive" because they lacked paperwork that wasn't required when the purchases were made. "They went back over two years and held the district accountable for abiding by rules that weren't in place at the time the transaction occurred," Gilson told The Atlantic City Press. "Since that time, the district has followed the rules, but you can't expect someone to follow a bookkeeping rule that wasn't in place."

The misrepresentation of district spending practices reinforces the impression that the audits are being used for political purposes to support elimination of the Abbott remedies, which are once again before the NJ Supreme Court. OC/OS especially thought the timing, front-page position and misleading headlines on the Star Ledger report seemed calculated to do maximum political damage to Abbott districts, coming, as it did, one week after the Education Law Center filed a response to the State’s request that the Court eliminate all Abbott mandates.

The misleading report provided ammunition for Abbott opponents in the NJ legislature. Republican Assemblyman David Rible, R-Monmouth, issued a press release declaring, "While it has never been demonstrated that the spending in these districts actually results in a better education for students, it has clearly been demonstrated that it results in poor spending decisions and rampant waste and abuse of tax dollars."

Such claims are demonstrably false. After many years of Court battles and decades of separate and unequal school funding, the Abbott rulings brought funding equity to over 300,000 poor urban school children for only the past ten years. During that time, more than 40,000, 3- and 4-year olds have been enrolled in high quality pre-K programs, test score gaps between urban and suburban 4th graders have been significantly reduced, and New Jersey has maintained one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country, including some of the highest rates for African American and Hispanic students, despite persistent gaps among groups and communities. Much remains to be done, but these are significant accomplishments that would be seriously undermined by elimination of the Abbott mandates.

One reason OC/OS opposed the new School Funding and Reform Act is precisely because the SFRA reduces accountability for the use of state school aid. It fails to ensure that such aid is directed to proven programs or to support special needs students.

The fundamental problem in our state’s school funding system is that ALL NJ schools receive too little support from state and federal sources. That’s why NJ’s local property taxes are too high, and why urban and suburban school districts are pitted against each other in competition for an inadequate pool of funds.

The new School Funding and Reform Act reinforces these problems instead of solving them. SFRA’s funding formulas are tied to state budget pressures, not to the needs of schoolchildren. It makes schools less accountable for the funds they receive, and removes requirements that aid be used for specific programs and to support students with special needs.

OC/OS calls for improved oversight and public examination of all school spending and for better evaluation of school programs by both the DOE and districts to make sure the educational needs of all New Jersey’s children are being met.

For more information, please contact Sharon Krengel at (973) 624-1815, x 24.

Prepared: May 15, 2008