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

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Sound of a Half Brain Flapping

From Newsday:
"Our children are not competing for jobs down the block or in the district or in the state -- they're competing against children in India or China, and they need to know how they stack up," Duncan said in the report.

. . . .

"What's going on, state after state, due to this tough economy, is devastating educationally. And we can't afford to get worse now. We have to get dramatically better," Duncan told CNN.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Coen Brothers on Clean Coal

With no time remaining to reverse CO2 emissions, the big guns are in the game.

President Obama Gets It Right on Student Loans: Direct Lending Is Back

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s budget proposal on education would for the first time index student-aid Pell Grant to inflation, guaranteeing low-income college students a stable grant amount, and pay for that expensive shift by eliminating $4 billion in annual subsidies to private banks who make student loans.

“The president has proposed the biggest change in the federal programs that help students finance a college education since the main higher education law was written in 1965,” said Terry Hartle, a vice president at the American Council on Education, which represents hundreds of colleges and universities.

Under the current system, college students in families with incomes low enough to qualify receive a Pell Grant, but the amount of the grant depends on how much Congress votes for the program, and in recent years that amount has not kept pace with inflation. The administration now proposes to guarantee not only that students will receive grants, but also that it will keep pace with inflation.

The current maximum grant is about $4,730, but beginning on July 1 that will rise to $5,350 as a result of the largest historical increase in the Pell program, already approved as part of the president’s economic stimulus bill. In 2010, the maximum grant is to rise to $5,550.

The budget blueprint also proposes sweeping changes in the way the federal government provides student loans. For nearly two decades, the government has run two parallel student loan programs, one based on subsidies to private lenders and another as a direct government lending program.

Under the Federal Family Education Loan Program, the government has paid a subsidy to banks and loan companies to make loans to students at a congressionally mandated interest rate. But during the turmoil in the financial markets last year, dozens of lenders withdrew from participation in the program, saying that they could not obtain capital at a cost that would make student lending profitable, forcing intervention by the Bush-era Department of Education to insure that student loans would continue to flow.

Education Secretary Arnie Duncan said on Thursday that the Family Education Loan Program program had for some time been “on life support.”

The Obama administration now proposes to eliminate it.

“That program has not only needlessly cost taxpayers billions of dollars, but has also subjected students to uncertainty because of turmoil in the financial markets,” the administration’s budget proposal says.

In its place, the administration seeks to originate all new loans through its direct lending program, first established in the Clinton adminstration. . . .

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Child Abuse at KIPP Violates State and Federal Laws

Anyone who has looked beneath the glassy stares of the KIPPsters in their enforced happiness camps could see the invitation for abuse that festers there in these cult-like environments. That much pressure to alter reality through the manipulation of children could not go long without a meltdown. Combine that with no public oversight or accountability for abusive behavior and you end up the current situation: years of abuse by a bully principal that went unchecked as children suffered.

That Fresno meltdown has now been documented in this report (PDF: Fresno Unified School District report on KIPP Academy). Read the first 10 pages, that's all. If this does not begin the end to these segregated hellholes, I cannot imagine what it might take.

The report offers a history of child abuse going back to 2004 by a principal who could not be stopped by a toothless and ignorant Board put in place by KIPP, Inc. First reported in the Fresno Bee last week, the fallout continues as the details emerge. Here is the story from last Friday:

Friday, Feb. 20, 2009

1:15 p.m.: KIPP Academy, a Fresno charter school, violated a variety of state and federal laws regarding student safety, Fresno Unified School District officials said at a news conference today.

Debra Odom, coordinator of charter schools for Fresno Unified, said a report prepared by the district is based on allegations from more than 50 individuals -- students and parents.

Much of the report focuses on principal Chi Tschang's "problem with anger." Tschang has resigned; his last day as principal was today.

The report said Tschang made a student crawl on his hands and knees while barking; forced students to stand outside, even in the rain; and screamed and yelled "all day" at students caught shoplifting near the campus.

11 a.m.: About 100 students and parents are protesting the resignation of the KIPP Academy principal, who founded the high-achieving west Fresno charter school.

Principal Chi Tschang’s last day is today; he said the protestors showed up before 7 a.m. today.

“It’s supposed to be a regular school day, but clearly because of the circumstances it’s an unusual day,” he said.

Tschang’s resignation comes as the Fresno Unified School District, which chartered the school in 2004, released a 63-page report detailing alleged mistreatment of students. The investigation was started after parents complained about the way Tschang disciplined students.

Tschang would not comment on the details of the report. Fresno Unified is holding a news conference at noon today to talk about the investigation.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Dope Crows in Brooklyn

The Secretary only visits charter schools, it seems. From the New York Times (ht to Ken Libby):

. . . .Mr. Duncan, who was joined by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and the teachers’ union president, Randi Weingarten, said increasing the use of testing across the country should also be a spending priority.

“We should be able to look every second grader in the eye and say, ‘You’re on track, you’re going to be able to go to a good college, or you’re not,’ ” he said. “Right now, in too many states, quite frankly, we lie to children. We lie to them and we lie to their families.”. . . .

What the hell is he talking about??

Obama's Okey-Doke #2: Iraq

"You all know the okey-doke," Obama told voters in Mississippi, "when someone's trying to bamboozle you, when they're trying to hoodwink you."
Apparently, the President's team has learned a goodly amount about the use of the okey-doke. As noted below by Bracey, the White House used some of the old Spellings okey-doke to push the Business Roundtable's agenda of creating 20 college graduates for every available job as a way to grow our own domestic version of exploited workers.

Did anyone notice that, just a couple of hours before yesterday's speech, the White House offered to add 3-6 months to the Iraq withdrawal timetable and to leave up to 55,000 GIs there after "bringing our troops home."

From the NYTimes

. . . .In recent weeks, Mr. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed the three withdrawal options — 16, 19 and 23 months — with the president. Pentagon officials characterized the talks as extensive and said that each option was presented with what Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen saw as the accompanying risks.

Both Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen made their own recommendations to the president about what they saw as the best option, but Pentagon officials declined to specify them. One senior defense official did say that Mr. Gates “has historically always been extremely deferential to his commanders in the field.”

The top two commanders responsible for Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno, have declined to say what options they preferred, but military officials have made it clear that the two were uncomfortable with the 16-month plan that Mr. Obama backed during the campaign.

Pentagon officials said Tuesday that they did not know what the size of the residual force in Iraq might be, although one of Mr. Obama’s national security advisers said during the campaign that it could number 30,000 to 55,000 troops. . . .

This is much more sophisticated than the Bush team, which dumped bad news on Friday afternoons. Much more.

Obama Parrots Spellings Progaganda

Dr. Bracey reminds us that Obama Blew It on education last evening:
I have not the expertise to address the merits of President Obama's speech to Congress on the issues of the economy. I do claim some expertise on education. He blew it.
He accepted the same garbage that the propagandists, fear mongers such as Lou Gerstner, Bill Gates, Roy Romer, Bob Wise, Craig Barrett and many others-God help us, Arne Duncan?--have been spewing for years.

Obama said, ""Right now, three quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma, and yet just over half of our citizens have that level of education. Scary, huh? Not really. This statistic was a favorite of ex secretary of education of education Margaret Spellings, about whom we can all express a sigh of relief that the operative word is, "ex."

If you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics stats on job projections, it is almost true (but not really) that what Obama said is right. But there are two hugely compromising factors that make this statistic much less fearsome that it first appears:

1.. The definition of "more than a high school diploma" is a weasel phrase, an incredibly slippery statistic. It does not mean a B. A., an Associates Degree, nor even a year of on-the-job training. The BLS projects that the overwhelming majority of jobs to be created between now and 2016 will require "short term on the job training." That's one week to three months.

2.. The "fastest-growing occupations" account for very few jobs. For every systems engineer, we need about 15 sales people on the floor at Wal-Mart (and we have three newly minted scientists and engineers for every new job in those fields). The huge job numbers in this country are accounted for by retail sales, janitors, maids, food workers, waiters, truck drivers, home care assistants (low paid folk who come to take care those of us who are getting up in years), and similar low-trained, low-paid occupations. Note that I did not say these people are "low-skilled." As Barbara Ehrenreich showed after she spent two years working in "low-skilled" jobs, there really is no such thing (see her Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America).

"We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation, and half of our students who begin college never finish."

Because test scores no longer work to prove American school failure, the statistic of choice to prove what a lousy job we're doing is the graduation rate. How dare those European and Asian nations have the audacity to recover from World War II! The dropout rates across nations are, so far as I can tell, incomparable, since secondary school programs in other nations range from two to five years. In other nations, once students finish the equivalent of 8th grade, they are tracked into vocational, technical or precollege programs whereas American students go to comprehensive high schools (although, as we all know, there is plenty of informal tracking within those).

Many people do not complete college for many reasons. One of my major regrets as a researcher is a failure to follow up, in the late 60's, on groups of black students who failed to complete their education at Temple University, a center city school in Philadelphia vs. those who finished on time-at the time restrictions to access to personal data were much freer. The standout statistic in the data I looked at was that the SAT scores of those who finished in four years was only infinitesimally higher than those who had dropped out or been dismissed for academic reasons.

I also don't know much about college completion rates in Europe, but do know that you can hang around as a student at the Sorbonne in Paris forever. Incidentally, you want a riot in Europe? Try imposing college tuition.

The World Economic Forum, and the Institute for Management Development, two Swiss think tanks, rate the U. S. as the most globally competitive nation in the world, IMD using 50+ nations, WEF, 135. What things will look like when their new rankings emerge from the current catastrophe this fall is hard to say. But looking at tests, high-scoring Iceland is an economic basket case. High-scoring France is on strike. And even higher-scoring Japan, the idol that "A Nation At Risk" prostrated itself to in 1983 because its test scores surely ensured economic prosperity, endured a "lost decade" of recession starting around 1990 and, in 2007 was in recession once again. Japan's students still ace tests.

When will we ever learn?


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Roosevelt Economics, Reagan Education Policy

When Presidents require an easy outlet for taking some names and kicking some ass, they know the schools, the kids, and the teachers are always waiting to get beat up.

The President reminded us tonight that we are going to offer hundreds of billions more to bail out the banks AGAIN, but if the overpaid and lazy teachers expect a raise, they are going to have to prove they can wring out higher test scores for a couple of thousand dollars a year. And as the President reminds us, "from the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age," we are now ready to sacrifice that system for a ragged collection of cheap corporate charter schools without public governance.

Will national school walkouts be required to save public educations? Arne Duncan picketed at every public appearance? Refusal to give tests? Parents keeping their kids home on test days? It is clear that the President is listening to his Secretary, and we know he is listening to people who never listen. Drastic measures will no doubt be required.

Why Play Comes Naturally and KIPP Doesn't

The segregated KIPP brainwashing camps for poor children see recess as an intrusion to their constant control of each child's directed attention, all focused on the Feinberg-Levin point at a distant horizon that requires each child to give up his childhood if she is to have any chance of getting there. What old and new research tells us is that such play-scrubbed children as the KIPPsters have less of a chance to be high-performing and functional adults--if you mean by "functional" the ability to discern differences, solve problems, and navigate hierarchies. But then if you are looking to build drones . . .

From the NYTimes by Tara Parker-Pope:
The best way to improve children’s performance in the classroom may be to take them out of it.

New research suggests that play and down time may be as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades.

A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics studied the links between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 children age 8 and 9. Those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day showed better behavior in class than those who had little or none. Although disadvantaged children were more likely to be denied recess, the association between better behavior and recess time held up even after researchers controlled for a number of variables, including sex, ethnicity, public or private school and class size.

The lead researcher, Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and an assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the findings were important because many schools did not view recess as essential to education.

And many children are not getting that break. In the Pediatrics study, 30 percent were found to have little or no daily recess. Another report, from a children’s advocacy group, found that 40 percent of schools surveyed had cut back at least one daily recess period.

Also, teachers often punish children by taking away recess privileges. That strikes Dr. Barros as illogical. “Recess should be part of the curriculum,” she said. “You don’t punish a kid by having them miss math class, so kids shouldn’t be punished by not getting recess.”

Last month, Harvard researchers reported in The Journal of School Health that the more physical fitness tests children passed, the better they did on academic tests. The study, of 1,800 middle school students, suggests that children can benefit academically from physical activity during gym class and recess.

A small study of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder last year found that walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration. Notably, children who took walks in natural settings did better than those who walked in urban areas, according to the report, published online in August in The Journal of Attention Disorders. The researchers found that a dose of nature worked as well as a dose of medication to improve concentration, or even better.

Andrea Faber Taylor, a child environment and behavior researcher at the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, says other research suggests that all children, not just those with attention problems, can benefit from spending time in nature during the school day. In another study of children who live in public housing, girls who had access to green courtyards scored better on concentration tests than those who did not.

The reason may be that the brain uses two forms of attention. “Directed” attention allows us to concentrate on work, reading and tests, while “involuntary” attention takes over when we’re distracted by things like running water, crying babies, a beautiful view or a pet that crawls onto our lap.

Directed attention is a limited resource. Long hours in front of a computer or studying for a test can leave us feeling fatigued. But spending time in natural settings appears to activate involuntary attention, giving the brain’s directed attention time to rest.

“It’s pretty clear that all human beings experience attentional fatigue,” Dr. Faber Taylor said. “Our attention has to be restored from that fatigue, and there is a growing body of research evidence that nature is one way that seems particularly effective at doing it.”

Playtime and nature time are important not only for learning but also for health and development.

Young rats denied opportunities for rough-and-tumble play develop numerous social problems in adulthood. They fail to recognize social cues and the nuances of rat hierarchy; they aren’t able to mate. By the same token, people who play as children “learn to handle life in a much more resilient and vital way,” said Dr. Stuart Brown, the author of the new book “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul” (Avery).

Dr. Brown, a psychiatrist in Carmel Valley, Calif., has collected more than 6,000 “play histories” from human subjects. The founder of the National Institute for Play, he works with educators and legislators to promote the importance of preserving playtime in schools. He calls play “a fundamental biological process.” “From my viewpoint, it’s a major public health issue,” he said. “Teachers feel like they’re under huge pressures to get academic excellence to the exclusion of having much fun in the classroom. But playful learning leads to better academic success than the skills-and-drills approach.”

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Reform Blitzkrieg 0-3 in Indianapolis

A hundred years ago ed reformers were trying to build schools like factories. The Gates and Broad inspired movement in recent years has shifted to make schools resemble, not factories, but correctional facilities, with year-round sex-segregated pods and population densities that can be easily managed.

Sanity just struck back in Indianapolis:

District pulls small-school and same-sex classes and ends extra days for some schools

By Andy Gammill

Facing low graduation rates, declining enrollment and poor test scores, Indianapolis Public Schools unleashed a blitzkrieg of reforms, from dress codes and alternative schools to new magnet programs and reshaped high schools.

But three years later, the district is dropping several of those highly touted programs -- ones that never jelled or cost too much with too little to show for the effort -- while leaving in place many more that it says are working.

The programs to be ended were launched with high hopes but clashed with harsh realities:

» Carving out smaller groups of students at each high school was expected to boost test scores. Research now says the approach doesn't work.

» Teaching boys and girls in separate classes is believed to eliminate distractions. But only 100 students signed up.

» Teaching struggling students for an extra 25 days a year was supposed to help them catch up. But hundreds skipped out, and IPS had to pay the staff for added workdays.

Superintendent Eugene White had promoted all three of the initiatives as essential for student learning or for offering choices to parents. Now, he says they just didn't work out. . . .
Read the rest of the story here from the Indy Star.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kristof Gets the Gates Memo: Bracey Offers to Tutor

When you have billions available for postage stamps, everyone gets mail. Apparently Nick Kristof got his the other day, as he quickly responded to the Gates-Broad crusade against teachers and principals by offering his own broadside in favor of eliminating teacher training as a way to insure better teachers.

Since Mr. Kristof apparently has decided to join those who would blame the current corrupt capitalist economic collapse on bad teaching and bad schools, Jerry Bracey offered this letter to Mr. Kristof as an introduction to bringing him up to speed (other excellent letters can be found today in the NYTimes):
Dear Mr. Kristof

As a psychologist with 42 years of post-doctoral experience in education, I hope that I might help you a bit on what you call the “steep part of the learning curve.”

First off, you start your blog saying, “the teacher outweighs everything.” Maybe. It depends very much on whether you are talking about level of achievement or changes in achievement. Your comment on the LA Study is about change and change is greatly affected by teachers and less so by socioeconomic factors (the report’s speculations on the closing of the test gap are indeed speculative). Level is affected by family and community. If you haven’t already, before long, you will come across James Coleman’s Equality of Educational Opportunity from 1966 which led many to throw up their hands and say “It’s ALL family.” This was a misinterpretation, but it is true that when speaking of level of achievement family background factorsare what count most.

I recently reviewed a manuscript which describes 10 “Out-of-School” factors that affect level of achievement. I just emailed the editor of the series,to see where we are in moving towards publication and to find out when it might be appropriate to send you a copy. The factors range from prenatal,nutrition, to medical problems, to the stress induced by poverty (which, affects the architecture of the developing brain), to enrichment program activities not available to poor kids.

My own new book, which I think will be out next month and might actually carry the title, Getting Out of Education Hell: Moving Beyond 50 Years of Failed Punish-the-Schools Reforms, contains a chapter “Poverty is Poison,” a title I’m sure you recognize as the headline over a Paul Krugman column (he is credited).

Then there is the matter of your comment on “best” and “worst” teachers. Do you have a set of criteria for identifying those? Test scores don’t work. Even the document in which you found the LA study admits that tests can’t evaluate teachers and don’t measure important things that kids should learn. A must-read at some point in time is Norman Frederiksen’s “The Real Test Bias” which appeared in the March 1984 issue of The American Psychologist.

Norm was one of the first to show that when instruction is oriented towards a test, kids learn what’s on the test but not much more. He also shows that multiple-choice tests don’t measure a lot of important things that performance tests do. But performance tests take time and are expensive compared to quick and cheap multiple-choice tests, so the real test bias is a variety of Gresham’s Law: bad tests drive out good.

Good teaching might very well be situational. If you take the “best” teachers and put them in the "worst" schools, they might very well fail miserably. Teaching is not something that inherently resides in a teacher.

Take Jaime Escalante. He had amazing success in LA, so much so that ETS accused his kids of cheating. But his success was much more muted in Sacramento. One big reason—in LA he often spoke to his all-Latino classes in a gruff street language which had power in that subculture. In Sacramento, the kids were about equally divided into black, white, Asian, and Latino so his motivational tactics worked only on a quarter of the kids.

I suggest you read Tested: One School Struggles to Make the Grade, by Linda Perlstein. Linda is a former Washington Post education reporter who spent over a year in a poor school, Tyler Heights, in a rich district in MD. She chronicles and describes the efforts of the principal and the teachers to prepare the kids to pass the state test. Here is an excerpt of my summary that can be found at www.huffingtonpost.com/gerald-bracey. This particular blog piece is called “Parents, Poverty, and Achieving in School:”

The kids get off to a bad start physically: they get sugar water or Oodles of Noodles as infants, Froot Loops as toddlers, and show up at school overweight, undernourished, their teeth rotting.

The academic beginnings aren’t healthy, either.

“Mrs. Facchine felt no small measure of distress when she asked what adding an ‘s’ does to and noun and every face in her class went blank. Ms. Milhoan was mortified when she handed out Post-it notes for questions about friendship and got back, ‘Ho do friend go yon’ and ‘The kestos is the kmbslo’ One girl doesn’t know what a paragraph is; one boy, asked the character trait that describes him said, ‘Word.’ Another, asked how much is between seven and eighteen answered ‘Four’.”

One teacher was baffled by a boy who farted all day and announced, “I smell like salad.” Then there was the boy who, complimented on his new sneakers said, “Thanks! My mom stole them!” During sharing time one girl spoke of speaking to her father through the glass using a phone. One girl, asked the meaning of “stray,” said “Like a homeless person.” “Is Mars a lifetime?” one boy wanted to know. On multiple-choice tests, kids answered the questions without reading the stems and quit early, beaming to be done even though segments of the test were unfinished. And we haven’t even talked about the many kids who don’t know English.

Part of my summary discusses Linda’s chapter comparing Tyler Heights with Crofton, a rich school down the road (these are both real names). The kids at Crofton arrive knowing most of what they need to learn in elementary school. What my summary doesn’t include, but Linda does, is a discussion ofhow the values of the school are in conflict with the values of the ‘hood. “Lying, aggression, and detachment got you in trouble by day, saved your ass at night” (p. 113). I bet if you took those “best” teachers from Crofton and plunked them down in Tyler Heights, the Heights’ kids would eat half of them alive and the other half would flee in terror after the first day.

Well, there is lots more, but two pages are enough for a start. Many of your columns begin with concrete situations in horrific settings. They read like anthropological notes from fieldwork, albeit with a moral to throw at the reader at the end. If you’re to climb that learning curve, in addition to reading all the reports cited in your column, you need to do some fieldwork in the schools. Observe some teachers, shadow a few principals. I predict you’ll end up writing more like Mike Rose’ Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America, than like Gordon, Kane & Staiger’s Identifying Effective Teachings Using Performance on the Job. The latter is about abstractions, the former is about real people like those Cambodian girls enslaved as prostitutes.

Gerald W. Bracey

PS: Education by itself does not produce jobs. Critics always emphasize the supply side saying the schools have to produce more of this, that and the other, but we have three new home-grown engineers and scientists for every new position in those fields and an attrition rate of 65% in two years (long hours, lousy pay, poor conditions for advancement turn them into real estate agents, investment advisors, etc). When you look on the demand side, who the hell wants to be a scientist or engineer—longtime science writer, Dan Greenberg, has created a new position, “post-doc emeritus.” Duncan is wrong—high scoring Iceland is a basket case. High scoring France is on strike. The test aces in Japan couldn’t keep it out of 20 years of recession and stagnation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bill Gates Loves KIPP, Too

See Clay Burell's coverage and discussion of the Bill Gates recent talk at TED, where Gates discussed four world problems: malaria, AIDS, pnemonia, and teachers. Then he gave everyone in his audience a copy of the celebratory screed on KIPP's Feinberg and Levin by Jay Mathews. Is there a Pulitzer category for history as soap opera?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

KIPP Reprise from 2006: Why Is Everyone Poor and Smiling?

I am in the process of writing a review for Jay Mathews' 300 page celebration of KIPP, that miscreant-mauling work camp for poor children that our new Secretary of Education seems ready to "take to scale," if we may take him seriously.

In digging around for stuff on KIPP, I came across this piece from late 2006 that I wrote on the heels of a Paul Tough gush for KIPP in the NY Times Magazine.

It should be noted that since I posted this piece, and since Paul Tough wrote so positively about Martin Seligman's positive psychology, Dr. Seligman, KIPP's mind control guru, seems to have inspired some of the recent work of interrogators at the CIA. Be really nice, work really hard.
KIPP as New Age Psychological Sterilization
December 8, 2006

I've seen several commentaries on the Tough New York Times Magazine KIPP ad from a week ago Sunday, but the following comments sent to EDDRA by Howard Berlak get very close, it seems to me, to the heart of the matter regarding KIPP:
I visited a local KIPP school about a year and a half ago after the SF Chronicle published a puff piece announcing KIPP as the answer to failing schools and the race gap --essentially the same story told in the recent NY Times article. When I was there children who followed all the rules were given points that could be exchanged for goodies at the school store. Those who resisted the rules or were slackers wore a large sign pinned to their clothes labeled "miscreant." Miscreants sat apart from the others at all times including lunch, were denied recess and participation in all other school projects and events. They could return to the regular population only after earning sufficent points. The school was orderly and quiet, teachers were working hard and were energetic. The arts and drama teacher was excellent and all classrooms were well provisioned. Several teachers confided that it was impossible to devote the time expected by KIPP and still have a family life. Though they were generally positive about their work , three teachers I spoke to said that could keep it up only for a few years.

I've spent many years in schools. This one felt like a humane, low security prison or something resembling a locked-down drug rehab program for adolescents run on reward and punishments by well-meaning people. Maybe a case can be made for such places, but I cannot imagine anyone (including the Times reporter) sending their kids there unless they have no other acceptable options. What is most disturbing is the apparent universal belief by KIPP staff and partisans that standardized tests scores are the singular and most important measure of a truly good education. The Times reporter appears to buy into this.

John Derbyshire in the New English Review has this take on KIPP:

The Knowledge is Power Program is a network of intensive . . . schools for inner-city kids started up in 1994 by two idealistic young teachers, David Levin and Michael Feinberg, in Houston. There are now 52 of these schools nationwide.

. . . .

even supposing you could establish a free market in public-school teachers, how could the worst schools—inner-city schools serving black neighborhoods—ever outbid leafy, affluent suburbs for those “best teachers”? And how many “best teachers” are there, anyway? As the Thernstroms point out, a lot of these prescriptions for school reform assume an unlimited supply of “saints and masochists”—teachers like those in the KIPPS schools, who, Mr. Tough tells us, work 15 to 16 hours a day. I am sure there are some people who enter the teaching profession with the desire to crunch their way daily across the crack-vial-littered streets of crime-wrecked inner-city neighborhoods in order to put in 15-hour working days, but I doubt there are many such.

. . . .

So what is Tough's favorite pick for a solution? A shortcut, of course--and a shortcut that focuses on the ideology of liberal wishful thinking as a remedy for symptoms of the large problems we have refused to acknowledge, much less solve. Tough's (and the New York Times's) kind of progressive idealism is nothing new, to be sure. It is the same patronizing do-gooderism that bound together both scientific and religious progressives, as well as conservatives and liberals, a hundred years ago in embracing eugenics as the way to engineer a society dominated by healthy, prosperous, and moral white Christan elites.

To be fair, most liberals of that earlier era were more supportive of the positive eugenics than they were of the more hard-nosed negative variety that social conservatives embraced. Positive eugenics focused on the need to breed, if you will, large numbers of white, patriotic, middle-class Christians in order that their numbers dominate the gene pools of the country. On the other hand, negative eugenics, which came to dominate the politics and policy of the movement in the early 20th Century, focused on controlling or eliminating the polluted "germ plasm" from the population by "scientific" social sorting via primitive IQ tests, by the passage of mandatory sterilization laws, and by segregating "defective" populations. In short, the race concerns among the elite could not be addressed simply by producing more citizens with their likenesses; the continuing waves of immigrants and the move by minorites to urban centers required solutions that postive eugenics could not offer.

Now a hundred years later, we are on the brink of falling prey to another pseudo-scientific solution driven by fear, self-imposed blindness, and unacknowledged racism. The present day methods are less dramatic, perhaps, than our eugenicist forefathers, but they are no less dangerous to the future of a democracy. Because we are unwilling or even blind to the need to end poverty, some, then, would change the way these kids think about their lives in poverty: let's, in fact, mess with their minds so that they start to parrot and act out the verbal and behavioral patterns of confident, bright-eyed middle class children who have every reason to expect that they will have happy and successful lives.

Peter Campbell recently had this in a post at his blog that asks a central question that cannot be ignored:

Michel Foucault's chapter on discipline in Discipline and Punish keeps coming to mind, "the body as object and target of power" and the notion of "docile bodies" that are "subjected, used, transformed, and improved."

These docile bodies in KIPP schools are uniformly brown and black. No white body is subjected to this same kind of disciplined transformation. Indeed, the school motto is "Be nice, work hard." What white, suburban, middle-class parents would want this to be the goal of their child's education?

This does not stop many solutions-by-eliminating-symptoms thinkers, both conservative and liberal, from embracing a kind of New Age eugenics that ignores the need to change sociological realities of poor children in favor of working feverishly to change their individual psychologies. Enter Martin Seligman and the power of positive non-thinking, er, psychology. Seligman is at the hub of an effort that links up the human capitalists of the John Templeton Foundation with the psychological capitalists and the academic drips from the Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi days of Flow, to form a potentially-lethal interdisciplinary matrix aimed at psychological engineering. This movement, in fact, provides the theoretical underpinning for KIPP, as Tough acknowledges in his piece:

Toll and Levin are influenced by the writings of a psychology professor from the University of Pennsylvania named Martin Seligman, the author of a series of books about positive psychology. Seligman, one of the first modern psychologists to study happiness, promotes a technique he calls learned optimism, and Toll and Levin consider it an essential part of the attitude they are trying to instill in their students. Last year, a graduate student of Seligman’s named Angela Duckworth published with Seligman a research paper that demonstrated a guiding principle of these charter schools: in many situations, attitude is just as important as ability.

Less crude, perhaps, than the biological and social engineering of the early 1900s, this new movement has all the potential to represent the contemporay new age equivalent of the eugenics movement applied to schooling. Make no mistake about it: attitude adjustment, or psychological sterilization, is the more important pedagogical goal at KIPP and at the other chain-gang scripted schools in poor neighborhoods. Work hard, be nice, indeed. In the hands of liberal idealists of the KIPP cult, the psychological capital movement stands to become a pernicious indoctrination strategy to alter the thoughts and behaviors of poor children to mimic middle class white children, while leaving them in communities where they serve as targets for gangs as they skip merrily all the way home, where they might or might not find there is something for dinner.

Just as the earlier eugenics movement had its postive and negative advocates, so does this current dystopic incarnation of futuristic mind management. There is the positve human capital group led by psychometric psychologists like Camilla Benbow at Vanderbilt. These folks are interested in accentuating the positive, if you will--by identifying talented and gifted children who can be identified early (with tests) and then provided the enriched learning experiences that their peculiar talents merit. As Benbow reminds us, children with IQs of 200 require different educational treatments than children with IQs of 140. Never mind the rest, who are involved, anyway, in learning to work hard, be nice.

Then, on the negative side, there is Seligman and his disciples, Toll and Levin, whose enthusiasm for the new positive psychology could easily be mistaken for preemptive interventions for imminent psychological abnormalities. Abnormal psychology was, after all, the focus of Seligman's work before he decided to shift to the sunny side of life, if you will.

Here are a couple of quotes from Seligman that put more light on his brave new world that resembles an unending happiness therapy session, where we all may become, regardless of our hunger pangs, capable of exercising mindless optimism over matters of fact that we are unwilling to change:

But perhaps we are blinded to the survival value of positive emotions precisely because they are so important. Like the fish who is unaware of the water in which it swims, we take for granted a certain amount of hope, love, enjoyment, and trust because these are the very conditions that allow us to go on living. They are the fundamental conditions of existence, and if they are present, any amount of objective obstacles can be faced with equanimity, and even joy. . . .

We predict that positive psychology in this new century will come to understand and build those factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish. Such a science will not need to start afresh. It requires for the most part just a redirecting of scientific energy. In the fifty years since psychology and psychiatry became healing disciplines, they developed a highly transferable science of mental illness. They developed a usable taxonomy as well as reliable and valid ways of measuring such fuzzy concepts as schizophrenia, anger, and depression. They developed sophisticated methods-both experimental and longitudinal-for understanding the causal pathways that lead to such undesirable outcomes. And most importantly they developed pharmacological and psychological interventions which have moved many of the mental disorders from "untreatable" to "highly treatable" and in a couple of cases, "curable." These same methods, and in many cases the same laboratories and the next generation of scientists, with a slight shift of emphasis and funding, will be used to measure, understand, and build those characteristics that make life most worth living.

During the early enthusiasm for the new "science" of eugenics in the previous century, luminaries like Alexander Graham Bell and philanthropies such as the Carnegie Foundation gave their support to those wicked perversions of science. No one at the time could have known that just a few years later, a madman would inspire a nation to implement a killing machine based on that "science" that would end in the deaths of millions.

In this century, we have history to remind us of the capacities of our darker natures. It is worth recalling, I believe, what John Dewey noted way back in 1897, even though his truth then was no less neglected than it is today:
I believe that this educational process has two sides - one psychological and one sociological; and that neither can be subordinated to the other or neglected without evil results following.

Duncan's Record on Child Battering in Chicago Schools

From CBS in Chicago (ht to PEN):
Hundreds of students have allegedly been beaten by teachers, coaches and staff at Chicago Public Schools. 2 Investigator Dave Savini continues his ongoing investigation involving the illegal use corporal punishment.

Treveon Martin, 10, is afraid of a teacher at his school.

"I've seen him hit five of them in the classroom," Martin said.

Martin says he and others have been hit, grabbed and even struck with a belt.

"He's threatened almost all the kids in his classroom," Martin said.

He says it happened at Robert Emmet Academy in November but a Chicago Public School investigator didn't talk to him until last week - 70 days after the case was reported, and not until after we started asking questions.

"He holded my arms and he picked my body up, and then he just slammed me on the desk," Martin said.

An exclusive CBS 2 investigation discovered Treveon Martin is one of at least 818 Chicago Public School students, since 2003, to allege being battered by a teacher or an aide, coach, security guard, or even a principal. In most of those cases - 568 of them - Chicago Public School investigators determined the children were telling the truth.

"I'm thinking that I don't really feel safe," Martin said.

The 2 Investigators found reports of students beaten with broomsticks, whipped with belts, yard sticks, struck with staplers, choked, stomped on and pushed down stairs. One substitute teacher even fractured a student's neck.

But even more alarming, in the vast majority of cases, teachers found guilty were only given a slap on the wrist.

CBS 2 informed former Chicago Public School CEO Arne Duncan of our investigative findings shortly before he was promoted to U.S. Secretary of Education.

"If someone hits a student, they are going to be fired. It's very, very simple," Duncan said.

Before heading to Washington, he vowed to take action.

"Any founded allegation where an adult is hitting a child, hitting a student - they're going to be gone," Duncan said.

But that's not what happened under Duncan's watch. Of the 568 verified cases, only 24 led to termination. Records show one teacher who quote "battered students for several years" was simply given a "warning" by the Board of Education.

And another student was given "100 licks with a belt." The abuse was substantiated, but the records show the teacher was not terminated. . . . .

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Profit and the Imprisonment of Children

Our most recent passing era will be remembered as a time when it was common practice for elected and appointed government officials to use government to destroy government, i. e., to auction off public services to private companies willing to grease the palms of the public officials who have betrayed the public trust for the purposes of self-aggrandizement, ideology, or both.

Luzerne County, Pennslyvania has one public defender available for youth cases, even though the County processes 1,200 cases per year. And when youthful defendants, mostly poor, are found guilty, as they were almost certainly were in the courts of Judge Ciavarella or Judge Conahan, they were shunted off to corporate facilities like PA Childcare and Western PA Chidcare (both LLCs) to do their time, while they fell further and further behind their classmates back home in school. Saving the taxpayers money, you say? Not quite. A state audit found in 2005 that these outfits were charging the highest per diem in the Commonwealth of Pennslyvania, having struck a deal in 2005 for $58,000,000 to warehouse children who have been rounded up to fill the beds of these facilities, while filling the pockets of those who sent them there. From the NY Times:

. . . .The two judges, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan, pleaded guilty in Federal District Court in Scranton, Pa., to wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years in prison.

As many as 5,000 juveniles are believed to have appeared before Judge Ciavarella while the kickback scheme was going on. The judges are currently free on an unsecured $1 million bond, and they have surrendered their passports and a condominium in Florida. Neither is allowed out of the state without permission.

State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf, a Republican from Montgomery County who is the chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee, said he intended to hold a hearing to find ways to help the children and their families once the federal investigation was done. A spokesman in Mr. Greenleaf’s office said one option was to provide money from the crime victims compensation fund.

“Money is important, but my son’s life has already been completely destroyed,” said Ruby Cherise Uca, whose son, Chad, 18, was sentenced to three months of detention by Judge Ciavarella in 2005, when Chad was in eighth grade.

Chad, who had no prior offenses, was charged with simple assault after shoving a boy at school and causing him to cut his head on a locker. Chad returned to school his freshman year, but he was so far behind in classes and so stigmatized by his teachers and peers, his mother said, that he soon dropped out.

Federal investigators remained silent Friday about whether they would file charges against the operators of the detention centers or who else they were considering as possible conspirators. . . . .

Black History and the Shortest Month

Ten years ago when I was teaching in Louisiana and beginning a study of the state testing system, LEAP, it became obvious very quickly that having the state test in March totally preempted the celebration of black history in Februrary. Rather than engaging in black history celebrations, teachers and parents were more involved in "Lean on Jesus" prayer rallies in hopes of calling forth divine intervention for their fourth graders who had to pass the test or be left behind. Half the children in most Title I schools were left behind in 2000. Half were retained.

Black History Month has been fighting a losing battle ever since, despite legislation in a handful of states to mandate the teaching of African-American history. With social studies pushed further and further from the center of the curriculum by the demands of testing, black history, already ghettoized, becomes effectively nullified as just another one of those, you know, unintended consequences. From the Times:

Nearly four years after New York State passed a law creating a commission to promote the teaching of black history in public schools, the commission has never met, and 5 of its 19 seats have yet to be filled. For many educators and parents, the Amistad Commission, named after a slave ship seized by its captives, has become a modern-day symbol of bureaucratic inertia.

“New York, a pivotal state in African-American history, has not taken the lead here and we’re languishing,” said Manning Marable, a Columbia University professor of history and public affairs who was the first member appointed to the Amistad Commission. “It’s not just for black people, it’s for everyone. You can’t teach the history of this country effectively without teaching the contributions and experiences of black people.”

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Parental Appeal for Charter Moratorium in Oakland

Below is a letter posted by Perimeter Primate on February 11 by a concerned parent in Oakland. It sheds light on the anti-democratic blitzkrieg of Broad-inspired operatives, Jeanne Allen, Kevin Chavous, John Chubb, Chris Whittle, and other corporate socialists, who are still attempting to take over the clean up operation in Oakland after NCLB blew up the schools.

With the rest of the American economy effectively crippled by the unchecked gorging of corporate thieves, the public sector is increasingly attractive to those who would like to bring that same "free market" spirit to running your neighborhood schools.

My letter submitted today to members of the OUSD School Board and members of the Oakland Public School Parents Yahoo group.

Dear Community and Board Members,

I’ve recently discovered an unusually revealing document about the massive overhauling of
Oakland's school district during its occupation by the State. Its title is National Model or Temporary Opportunity? The Oakland Education Reform Story (pdf).

The report was issued in September 2007 by The Center for Education Reform, a national organization with the mission to drive “… the creation of better educational opportunities for all children by leading parents, policymakers and the media in boldly advocating for school choice, advancing the charter school movement, and challenging the education establishment.”

As OUSD moves forward under local control once again, it is extremely important for
Oakland citizens to be aware of the information in this 13-page report. It is a document about our recent history which explains, from the viewpoint of those who were in power during the state takeover, their premeditated intent upon arrival, and the pre-planned strategies which they immediately deployed. OUSD was definitely targeted to become an experiment.

Both Randy Ward (an early graduate from the
Broad Superintendents Academy) and Kevin Hall (Chief Operating Officer of the Broad Foundation who oversees the foundation’s development of innovative education initiatives and investments) were interviewed for the CER report.

The document reveals that, “A group of Oakland small school creators, activists, technocrats, and philanthropists decided that the conditions were indeed ripe to try something big.” They had been waiting for a “politics free zone” to push their agenda; it was created once the state obtained control of the district. The speed at which they worked is evident today, as our district is, quite frankly, in a state of disarray. The morale of parents and OUSD staff has been deeply affected. In combination with the demands of NCLB, relief from the stress is desperately needed.

The report states: “Speed was important,” said Hall, who noted that all of the conditions that were in place in
Oakland convinced the foundation [Broad’s] it was a good investment. “We felt that if this happened slowly, you would give the forces of opposition too many opportunities to stop it in its tracks.”

It is bluntly revealed in this document that OUSD was a test case for the pro-charter movement, so much so, that OUSD worked with the New Schools Venture Fund to create a charter management organization which specialized in converting schools in need of Program Improvement to charter schools. Today this organization is Education for Change (http://www.efcps.org/) located on
Hegenberger Road. EFC was founded in 2005 by Kevin Wooldridge (also current CEO) who had been an elementary school Executive Director [or officer as in NExO?] in OUSD. This organization immediately obtained approval from OUSD as the manager for Cox Academy, Education for Change World Academy, and Education for Change Achieve Academy.

The CDE lists 79 schools for OUSD during the 1998-99 school year when the enrollment was 54,256. Several of the elementary schools were enormous and had to operate on year-round schedules. Our local small schools movement was created 1. to remedy that situation, and 2. because it was felt that even older kids would benefit from a smaller school community. With the support of then Superintendent Chaconas, additional OUSD schools were opened to relieve the overcrowding. By 2003-04 (the school year immediately before Randy Ward’s first) OUSD had 117 schools. At that time, none of the original schools had yet been closed.

The 79 schools for 54,256 students in 1998-99 contrasts with 2007-08 school year, when the CDE lists 145 OUSD schools for 46,431 students. Of those 145 schools, 32 are charter schools which enroll 16% of OUSD's students (= 7,845). This is far more than most any other community. A June 2007 demographic report stated, “…between 2000 and 2004, 37 percent of the District’s enrollment loss was due to the growth of charter enrollments, and between 2004 and 2006, the percentage grew to 58.” (www.urbanstrategies.org/programs/schools/documents/DemographicupdateforOUSD6.18.07.pdf)

Since the state takeover, approximately forty OUSD schools have been closed. Most have been reopened as new, different schools. On the campuses of six original comprehensive middle and high schools are now 15 small schools. On the campuses of seventeen [closed] original elementary schools are nearly as many new elementary schools, including charter schools. Approximately 12 of the “new” schools that had opened since 1999 have now been closed.

This is the legacy of the Broad-originated operation in OUSD. The CER report concludes that there are lessons the charter school movement could learn from what was done in
Oakland. It admits that the “reform” attempt here was less than successful, mostly because it was too aggressive and fast, and that the academic “outputs” (test scores) never measured up to the program’s “inputs” (the money that was spent). However, the reform movement hopes the root of their project here has extended deep enough into our community so it can continue to live. They aren't particularly confident that it has.

Undeterred, the pro-charter forces have recently deployed a piece of propaganda to keep pushing their agenda and this is what the article in the Oakland Tribune today is all about. Of course, there is no reason to trust a pro-charter report issued by the California Charter Schools Association.

After being subjected to years of turmoil at the hands of the State administrators, I urge members of the school board to declare a moratorium on granting new charters and proceed to determine a tolerable and fair charter school cap. I urge the district to focus on restoring stability, and to channel the energy into improving the schools we now have, rather than subjecting the community to the emotional pain and expense of closing and reopening more schools.

Sharon Higgins
OUSD Parent (Skyline HS)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Union Files Complaint With State On Behalf of KIPP Teachers

The KIPP Schools' chain gang pedagogy is built upon bullying, intimidation and brainwashing. There is reason such methods are amusingly referred to as KIPP-notizing by those admirers who prefer their African-American children docile and compliant, rather than assertive and questioning.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the same techniques of intimidation and bullying would be used against KIPP employees who have the audacity to challenge the cult leaders, Levine or Feinberg. The NYTimes reports now that Levine has refused to recognize teachers' legal request to seek union protection, thus assuring an ongoing legal battle that, ironically, could allow the world to see the KIPP reality that exists beyond the edupreneurs' PR machine paid for by Gates and Broad. Have a sneak peek:

. . . .The city’s teachers’ union also filed a complaint with the state’s labor board on Thursday, claiming that the administration intimidated employees at KIPP AMP and used staff meetings to discourage them from forming a union.

According to the complaint, Mr. Levin attended a mandatory staff meeting and said that the teachers’ current retirement, maternity and private pension benefits would be “potentially in jeopardy” and “all of that goes away,” if they formed a union. At the meeting, Mr. Levin distributed a letter with instructions on how to revoke their support for a union, union officials said.

George Arzt, a spokesman for KIPP, said that Mr. Levin was simply responding to inquiries from teachers about their options under state law, and added that the same information was available on the Web site of the state’s labor board.

Union officials said that they have received signatures supporting a union from 16 of the school’s 20 teachers and that no teacher has revoked support since the meeting with Mr. Levin on Feb. 6.

While two of the KIPP schools are formally represented by the teachers’ union, neither school has its own union contract, although one is subject to the city’s contract under a quirk of state law. Teachers at New York City KIPP schools are generally paid about 20 percent more than teachers with similar credentials in traditional public schools, in exchange for working longer hours and a longer school year.. . .

Bracey on WASL

The results of years of grassroots activity in Washington by a persistent and brave group of parents and educators has led to big changes in the assessment scene in the state of Washington. Jerry Bracey has this op-ed in the Seattle Times that, if heeded, could bring sanity to the scene:
Washington schools chief Randy Dorn's plan to replace the Washington Assessment of Student Learning is a good one, but school-testing expert Gerald W. Bracey says the specific plan to replace it with shorter, multiple-choice tests is a bad one. What Washington should pursue is a course like Nebraska's, where testing ideas originated with teachers and evolved into something we might call instruction-driven measurement. Right now, what we have is measurement-driven instruction and it is a disaster, both in Washington and in the nation at large.
By Gerald W. Bracey
Special to The Times

WASHINGTON Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn wants to dump the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. Good idea. Dorn wants to replace the WASL with shorter, multiple-choice tests. Bad idea. And he wants the tests to be more "diagnostic." Dorn's impossible dream.

First off, in a KUOW interview, Dorn said the new tests would still be valid. He cannot know that. Validity is always an empirical question. Usually, if you make a test shorter, it becomes less valid. Of course, I've oversimplified in that statement. The question really is, valid for what? It's relatively easy to judge the content validity of test items — do they measure what they claim to measure? From the released WASL items I've seen, I'm not certain those items do.

In addition, a shorter test will cover less material. And even if it covers as much, rising test scores don't mean much. About 20 years ago, some researchers tracked test scores in a district that had changed tests. In the first year after the change, scores plummeted. Then they gradually rose over a four-year period back to where they had been. Then the sneaky researchers came in and gave the kids the original test, the one that four years earlier had been the official test. Test scores plummeted. The message: Kids learn what's on the test, but that learning doesn't generalize and generalization of learning, after all, is the point of education.

But the bigger validity question is: Does the test make any difference? Are college professors more pleased with students who have passed the test? Are employers? The answer is a resounding, "We don't know." States are afraid to ask this question because, if the answer comes up, "No," they will be seen to have spent millions, even billions, of dollars for nothing. But informal studies by journalists have yet to turn up a positive instance. So forget all the fear-mongering rhetoric that we need these tests in order to compete with China and in the global economy.

The political risk in trying to answer that validity question is too great. In Virginia, the state Board of Education assembled a first-rate Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of well-known testing experts from all over the nation. The TAC repeatedly advised the board to conduct an evaluation to determine if the testing program made a difference in the quality of graduates. The board dissolved the TAC.

As a consequence, we have, in all states, meaningless passing scores. They are both arbitrary and, often, politically driven. The Virginia Board of Education, and some other boards, has had to lower passing scores because they failed politically unacceptable numbers of students. There is no technically sound, scientifically defensible method for setting a passing score.

Passing scores can be used for all kinds of political mischief. In Texas, the scores were set initially so that many blacks and Hispanics failed, but not by much. When these groups did better (and raising test scores is not rocket science; raising achievement is), many more passed and it looked like, well, a miracle.

We now know it was a mirage, all smoke and mirrors. A passing score tells you only how many kids jumped over the barrier you put in their path. It does not tell you how high they jumped.

The plan as presented by Dorn perpetuates two false dichotomies. The first, represented most clearly by the federal No Child Left Behind law, is that you are proficient or you are left behind. Any educator, psychologist or cognitive scientist knows this is absurd. If the passing score on a test is 80 and your child gets 79, is he or she "left behind?" The question answers itself.

The worst of the false dichotomies is that Dorn's proposal perpetuates the notion that testing is something you do after you stop teaching. The reasons this notion took hold are too complex to detail here, but it need not be the case.

What Washington should pursue is a course like Nebraska's, where testing ideas originated with teachers (remember them?) and evolved into something we might call instruction-driven measurement. Right now, what we have is measurement-driven instruction and it is a disaster, both in Washington and in the nation at large.

Gerald W. Bracey is an independent researcher and writer living in Port Townsend. He headed up the Virginia testing programs for nine years and those in Cherry Creek Schools in Colorado for five. He is the author of "Put to the Test: An Educator's and Consumer's Guide to Standardized Testing" and of the forthcoming "Getting Out of Education Hell: Moving Beyond 50 Years of Failed Punish-the-Schools Reforms."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thank You, Governor Strickland

For years David Brennan of White Hat Management, Inc. has run some of the most notorious for-profit charter "schools" in the country--and definitely the worst in Ohio. That is about to end:
. . . .Stanford noted that this budget does not seek a moratorium on charters, unlike two years ago when such an attempt failed to win support from legislators.

But it does once again go after the for-profit management companies that some charters hire. New contracts would be prohibited, and existing ones wouldn't be renewed.

The companies would include White Hat Management, which is headed by Akron businessman David Brennan, a long-time contributor to Republican candidates. White Hat runs Brennan's Life Skills centers, Hope academies and an online charter, the Ohio Distance and Electronic Learning Academy.

The ban on for-profit management companies goes too far for Terry Ryan, who heads the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Ohio office. The related Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is a nonprofit sponsor of charter schools.

"Quite frankly, some of the for-profits are good and some are bad," Ryan said. "But let's not throw out the baby with the bath water."

Strickland, however, is adamant. The day after his State of the State speech, he was asked about his stand during an appearance at Cleveland's Louisa May Alcott Elementary School.

"I do not believe injecting the profit motive into public education is a good thing," he said.
When the profit motive of the "non-profit" charter schools is understood by politicians who stupidly praise them, perhaps we will see a similar phenomenon. The tax-dodging non-profit corporations are definitely the more prominent threat to public education.

Just Before the Revolt

Two stories that make such great bookends in WaPo today on the American oligarchs and their minions. Not only have the oligarchs' front men paid for the executive salary caps to be taken out of the Stimulus bill, but now the oligarchs and their lawyers are waging war on those who are losing their jobs due to the excess, greed, and thievery of these same oligarchs. The corporate target: unemployment benefits of their former employees.

First, the end of the empty rhetoric on compensation caps:
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 2009; Page D05

Congressional efforts to impose stringent restrictions on executive compensation appeared to be evaporating yesterday as House and Senate negotiators worked to fine-tune the compromise stimulus bill.

Provisions to impose a penalty on banks that paid hefty bonuses and to cap pay at $400,000 for all employees at firms applying for additional government funds did not survive the compromise, sources said.. . .

And then this:

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 2009; A01

It's hard enough to lose a job. But for a growing proportion of U.S. workers, the troubles really set in when they apply for unemployment benefits.

More than a quarter of people applying for such claims have their rights to the benefit challenged as employers increasingly act to block payouts to former workers.

The proportion of claims disputed by former employers and state agencies has reached record levels in recent years, according to the Labor Department numbers tallied by the Urban Institute. . . .

. . . . "I couldn't believe it," said Kenneth M. Brown, who lost his job as a hotel electrician in October.

He began collecting benefits of $380 a week but then discovered that his former employer, the owners of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, were appealing to block his unemployment benefits. The hotel alleged that he had been fired for being deceptive with a supervisor.

"A big corporation like that. . . . It was hard enough to be terminated," he said. "But for them to try to take away the unemployment benefits -- I just thought that was heartless."

After a Post reporter turned up at the hearing, the hotel's representative withdrew the appeal and declined to comment. A hotel spokesperson later said the company does not comment on legal matters. Brown will continue to collect benefits, which he, his wife and three young children rely on to make monthly mortgage payments on their Upper Marlboro home. . . .

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

School Construction Funds Cut From Stimulus

As I noted in an earlier post, one of the last things the Business Roundtable crowd wanted to see in the Stimulus was enough money to carry forward a national building renewal plan for public education, or enough state education assistance to remove the incentive from cash-starved states to accept Duncan's upcoming federal bribes to open more charter chain gangs. After all, who wants a charter school in a strip mall when you have s shiny, renovated public school to attend? Lost in the axing was $20 billion for school construction.

Will Secretary Duncan, or the Chief School Portfolio Manager as he likes to call himself, prevail with his plans to turn over American schools to business interests to do for public education what they have done for their own domain of expertise--business? Are we ready to accept the bankrupt notion that children's education should be treated as a business, or are we really ready to swallow the phony free-market rhetoric that would allow CEOs to replace public governance in the institutions that contain our most precious assets? Are we ready to allow the tax-dodging edupreneurs to bring down a public education system and a teaching profession that took almost 200 years to build up?

And what's with the President's lip service to school construction during his press conference the other night? Couldn't he manage a few nickels to at least offer a pretense that renewal of public schools has a chance?

In the meantime, here is a clip from Raw Story on the backlog of corporate fraud investigations that will take years to get through. More unaccountable lawyers and CEOs in charge, anyone? Anyone?

WASHINGTON — The FBI is conducting more than 500 investigations of corporate fraud amid the financial meltdown, FBI Deputy Director John Pistole told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, and there is an even bigger mountain of mortgage fraud cases in which hundreds of millions of dollars may have been swindled from the system.

Pistole says there are 530 active corporate fraud investigations, and 38 of them involve corporate fraud and financial institution matters directly related to the economic crisis.

Additionally, the FBI has more than 1,800 mortgage fraud investigations, more than double the number of such cases just two years ago.

There are so many mortgage fraud cases, he said, that the bureau is not focusing on individual purchasers, but industry professionals generating fraud schemes that could total as much as hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It is a matter of lawyers, brokers or real estate professionals that are systematically trying to defraud the system," Pistole said. . . .

How Finland Triggers the Selective Perception of Sandy Kress

When Sandy Kress sat down with Margaret Spellings (remember her?) to cobble together the improvised education explosive device (IEED) that has terrorized educators, children, and parents since 2002, he knew less about education than than he does now--which is truly a scary thought when one considers what Kress and his field trip pal, Tom Luce, have not learned by looking at the Finnish educational system.

Kress and Luce are prominently quoted in a Dallas Morning News piece on what we might learn from Finland to advance the Kress agenda for higher test standards and a national curriculum to go with his national test that will be festooned with his bargain basement version of growth models. A couple of prominent clips to demonstrate that some people are really slow learners when it comes to school reform:
State demographer Steve Murdock, now head of the U.S. Census Bureau, has shown that Texas will see a decline in household income of more than $5,000 a year by 2040 unless the public schools can do a better job of educating minority students.

"We have to demand a hell of a lot more from our schools than we did 20 years ago," said Luce, a leader in the fight for No Child Left Behind and other equity causes in Texas and U.S. public schools for more than 20 years. "The schools say, 'You are being unrealistic, woe is me,' and I understand that ...

"But in Finland, they've really had a national buy-in to high standards of public education. I want to know what they're doing to create that environment," Luce said, citing a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Finland's test results.

Education and innovation are considered crucial to Finland's identity as a knowledge-based economy. Science and math are integral to this consensus. Even in the worst economic times, Finland has maintained spending for education in order to enhance its economic future.
A couple of things, Mr. Murdock and Mr. Luce and Mr. Kress: Have you bothered to do any analysis on how much household income might decline over the next 30 years if the thieves who have bankrupted our nation are left in charge of the banks, the stock markets, the financial industry, the credit card companies, the major corporations, most of the national government, and the corporate media? Any analyis of that, or are you just focused on schools doing "a hell of a lot more" to mysteriously create conditions that generate prosperity rather than widespread calamity that we now witness and which has nothing to do with schools?

What the Finns "are doing to create that environment" of success, Mr. Luce, is to stop making such absurd, diversionary demands as yours on schools, demands based on embarrassingly-flimsy economic analyses pasted together by right-wing think tanks. You may learn something, too, from the Finnish mission for basic education: it is not to prepare children to absorb some simplistic and distantly-irrelevant economic catechism about preparing to compete in the global economy but, rather, it is simply to "to give everybody a good start in life," says Reijo Laukkanen, counselor to Finland's National Board of Education." That's all.

More from DMNews:
Teaching honored
Kress, another adviser on former President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind effort, spoke admiringly of Finland's teachers.

"The sweet spot is the professionalism of teaching," he said. "Teaching in Finland is a true profession. It's honored. It's highly regarded. And it takes a lot to become a teacher."

Teaching carries so much prestige that only one in 10 applicants seeking to major in education are accepted at Finland's universities. Finland's public school teachers are paid less than American teachers, but they have greater classroom autonomy about how to meet the goals of the national curriculum.
Not true. A lie.

Based on the latest available date from OECD and cited by IB, Finland pays its teachers 146% of per capita GDP, while the U. S. pays its teachers 101%--which, by the way, is fourth from the bottom on OECD's list. According to our own own CIA Factbook (2008), the U. S. spent 5.3% of GDP for education, while Finland spent 6.4%. Another 1% of our total GDP of $14 trillion would have to be added to get us close the Finnish contribution for their education system, which would mean another $140 billion per year for education in the
U. S.

So what were the big bullet point takeaways for Kress and Luce from their field trip to Finland? The importance of

•Establishing a single, straightforward curriculum for all schools

•Expecting good results from all students and providing extra teaching resources to get those results

•Giving well-trained teachers respect and freedom to teach

It may be of interest to Kress and Luce that Finland's physical size and cultural diversity are quite different from the U. S. Two Finlands, in fact, would fit cozily within Kress's home state of Texas, and Finland has 0.73 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.), whereas the U. S. has 2.92 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.). And studying coastal biomes might make more sense in Maine than it does, let's say, in Arizona. Just as Hispanic cultures might be more prominently studied in L. A. than American Indian cultures, which are aa primary focus in South Dakota. A national curriculum designed by monocultural nabobs does not make sense for a country like the U. S. Other differences:

The U. S.:
Ethnic groups:
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate)
note: a separate listing for Hispanic is not included because the US Census Bureau considers Hispanic to mean a person of Latin American descent (including persons of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin) living in the US who may be of any race or ethnic group (white, black, Asian, etc.); about 15.1% of the total US population is Hispanic
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%, Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
note: Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii
And Finland:
Ethnic groups:
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
Finn 93.4%, Swede 5.6%, Russian 0.5%, Estonian 0.3%, Roma (Gypsy) 0.1%, Sami 0.1% (2006)
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
Lutheran Church of Finland 82.5%, Orthodox Church 1.1%, other Christian 1.1%, other 0.1%, none 15.1% (2006)
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
Finnish 91.5% (official), Swedish 5.5% (official), other 3% (small Sami- and Russian-speaking minorities) (2006)
The most devastatingly obvious, though ignored, aspect of Finland's educational system is, of course, that Finland does not use high-stakes tests or, as the Brits call them, league tables, to punish schools, teachers, and children. Or for any other reason, for that matter. Why would Kress and Luce not notice or think that we would not notice that they did not point out this most prominent and relevant of facts about Finland's education system? From The Guardian on the Finnish model:
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 7 December 2004 16.43 GMT

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international Paris-based thinktank, Finnish education is the best in the world. The study of test results from 250,000 15-year-olds in 41 countries ranked it number one in science and reading and second only to Hong Kong in maths.

The UK, meanwhile, did not submit enough information to be included in the study. However, a crude analysis, which was dismissed by the Department for Education and Skills as incomparable and relegated to the annexes of the 400-page report, suggested that in the three years since the survey was last undertaken, the UK has dropped from fourth place to 11th in science, seventh to 11th in reading and eighth to 18th in maths.

So what is Finland doing right?

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, says just about everything. "They have no league tables, no Ofsted, no literacy/numeracy hours, no heavy government interference generally.

"The lessons from that is screamingly self-evident; dismantle much of the intervention machinery and have just a thin outline of policy."

Which is what the Finns do. There is a national curriculum, but it's more of a guide on which teachers base their lessons around. The only national exams are the school-leaving ones at 18. In comparison, English children are tested on a national basis at seven, 11, 14, 16, 17 and 18. Instead of national tests and the school league tables constructed from them, the Finns do an annual sample test to gauge school standards. Essentially, schools are given much more autonomy.

Erno Lehtinen, a professor of education at the University of Turku, the second largest university in Finland, and policy advisor to an influential thinktank of the Finnish parliament, says the idea that schools should be run from the centre, or even have their test results published, is unthinkable in Finland.

"Apart from those at 18 all the examinations are local so that teachers themselves are not controlled. They [the government] are not allowed to publish the results of individual schools, because according to our policy all that will do is increase the differences between the schools and it doesn't help very much," he says.

What is unique about the Finn system, says Professor Lehtinen, is that in the 1960s a decision was made to have a comprehensive system - a decision that has been stuck to. "There is very little variation in standards. There are differences in achievement because of background, but the quality of teaching is as good in inner city working class areas as in upper class areas."

This is made easier partly because there is less social variation in Finland. The country has a more homogenous population, but even where deprivation does exist, school standards are maintained. There is practically no private system to drain-off the brighter pupils, and where private schools do exist it is because they are specialist - such as Steiners, foreign language and the odd Christian school - but all are state subsidised, meaning all children have access to them.

But there may be an even simpler reason why Finnish education is such a success. "There is a very strong support for education. It's very highly valued in the culture," says Professor Lehtinen. "In the lower social groups, among the working class, education is very highly valued. That's one very important reason that means across the whole society there is very strong support for schools."

This is particularly felt towards teachers; the profession is seen on a par with law and medicine, although still not as well paid. In Finland, even primary school teachers have to be educated to masters level. Professor Wragg says this is a marked difference from the UK. "I'm afraid that teachers are paying the price of being rubbished by successive governments."

Both professors agree there's a lot to learn from the Finnish system, although the social differences are, in many ways, harder to overcome - a more diverse population in the UK, for example.

But Professor Wragg adds: "The 2002 Education Act stipulates that teachers are supposed to apply in writing to ministers with their plans to innovate. In Finland the idea that you should have to ask to innovate and fill in a form is unthinkable. In Finland you're permitted organic growth. You try to improve and if it works better you carry on. I think we've got the wrong educational climate."

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009
Finally, there is something else that Kress and Luce might learn from the Finns if they were so inclined: The Finnish education system, including its curriculum and its instructional design, was created by educators, not lawyers or eonomists. If Luce and Kress really want to do something productive regarding education, they will acknowledge this fact and get the hell of the way of people who know something about learning environments, children, and the cultures. Go play some canasta or something--I heard W. was looking for a game.