Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Feature: Bill Gates's Deep Thoughts (BG's DTs)

Bill Gates is too full of educational, um, wisdom not to share it with the rest of the world in every way we can. Bill has been in Washington for the past few days helping Arne write his report that the President is making him write that will serve as the blueprint for federal education policy for the next several years.

One thing we know that Bill favors is constant surveillance in the classroom via cameras and constant surveillance of teacher and student performance via longitudinal data systems. Not only are such systems good for making schools accountable for the huge bonuses paid to teachers and principals, but these systems are the backbone of the 21st Century Microsoft, er, world economy. Without further ado, Bill Gates, speaking to some of the top U. S. Government folks on March 26, 2009 (ht to Ken Libby):
Computing is like the new literacy. So, any effort you made for books and literacy, there's a parallel here. Sometimes the Internet connectivity is hard, but it's well worth the effort.

And getting teachers to use that to connect up to each other, you know, I see a scenario where a teacher with a Web cam in their class can take some 15-minute segment where they wonder, did I teach that well, did I discipline the class and keep them calm in the best way, they could simply take that clip, send it off to a group of teachers, and get feedback, you know, no, I think you should have done this or looked at how I did the same thing. And so they're building learning from each other, and that average quality is continuing to go up, you know, making it easy to measure things, making it easy to know where students are falling behind.
And to show the world how Bill's ideas take hold and how the media responds to Bill's desire to keep children "calm in the best way" and for "making it easy to measure things" through the miracle of constant video surveillance with web cams, Bill and Melinda's favorite newspaper, the Washington Post, ran a story today on how the new technology can allow children with terrible diseases access to what is going on in the classroom. The tech hookup is managed by a non-profit 501c3 in Reston, Virginia called Hopecam.
Arlington County provides Becky with an at-home tutor who helps her with schoolwork when she misses class, but the webcam fills a social void by allowing her to interact with her classmates.

"She's a very bright child" who would probably have no trouble making up for schoolwork she had missed, said her mother, Lisa Wilson. "The webcam really just adds that extra dimension that she misses."

Becky's teacher, Lainie Ortiz, said the video link is good for the other students as well.

"They can see that she's okay. It's great for them," Ortiz said. When Becky calls in, the other students run up to the computer to greet her.

The camera in the classroom is set up so Becky has full view of all her classmates and the teacher. "It's like I'm there," Becky said.
Oh, by the way, this piece was prepared by Sindya Bhanoo, who "covers health and technology for The Industry Standard [a leading computer industry news source] and contributes to The Washington Post's health desk," but this special piece, which just coincidentally just coincides with Bill's push for computer surveillance in the classroom and his recent visit with the Editorial Board, appears in the education section of WaPo.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Where Will Be the 1st Class Action to Challenge the Testing Abuse of Children?

Which group of child psychologists or pediatricians will get the ACLU interested in pursuing the first class action against a district, a state, and the U. S. Government? The courts will have to deal with this--the legislators are owned by the testing industry, and the one who aren't are too much the coward to stand up against the madness.

From Emax Health:

Molly Holloway, a mother of twin kindergartners in Bowie, Maryland, can’t understand why her children must take standardized tests every month in math, reading, social studies, and science.

“One of the teachers has told me that the kindergarten curriculum is what used to be the first-grade curriculum,” Holloway wrote. “What evidence do we have that this pushing is beneficial? While some children can handle the pressure, others cannot. One of my daughters struggles to keep up and hates school.”[1]

A mother in Illinois writes, “In order to prepare kids ahead of time for the state tests, hard core curriculum must start in kindergarten. Our kids are not actually getting smarter. The scores are not increasing. And the rates of children with anxiety issues are increasing rapidly.”[2]

Recent studies in New York City and Los Angeles confirm what these and other parents have observed: standardized testing and test prep have become daily activities in many public kindergartens. Teachers say they are under pressure to get children ready for the third-grade tests. The 254 teachers surveyed in the studies said they spent an average of 20 to 30 minutes per day in test-related activity.

The findings are documented in a new report, Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School, released on March 20 by the nonprofit Alliance for Childhood (www.allianceforchildhood.org). The authors, Edward Miller and Joan Almon, say that kindergarten testing is “out of control.”

High-stakes testing and test preparation in kindergarten are proliferating, as schools increasingly are required to make decisions on promotion, retention, and placement in gifted programs or special education classes on the basis of test scores. In New York City, for example, kindergarten children take a standardized I.Q. test to determine whether they qualify for “gifted and talented” classes. The city is also implementing a plan to test kindergarten, first-, and second-grade children as part of schools’ performance evaluations. The test scores are used to assign letter grades, A to F, to all of the city’s public schools. The grades are then used to determine rewards and punishments, including cash bonuses for teachers and principals and whether principals will be fired and schools shut down.

“Rigid testing policies do not make sense in early childhood education,” states the Alliance for Childhood report. “Standardized testing of children under age eight, when used to make significant decisions about the child’s education, is in direct conflict with the professional standards of every educational testing organization.”

Young children are notoriously unreliable test takers. They can do well one day and poorly on the same test on another day.

“A major problem with kindergarten tests is that relatively few meet acceptable standards of reliability and validity,” says the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “The probability of a child being misplaced is fifty percent—the same odds as flipping a coin. … Flawed results lead to flawed decisions, wasted tax dollars, and misdiagnosed children.”

The National Association of School Psychologists agrees, saying that “evidence from research and practice in early childhood assessment indicates that issues of technical adequacy are more difficult to address with young children who have little test-taking experience, short attention spans, and whose development is rapid and variable.”

It’s not just parents who are up in arms over the tests for tots. Anthony Colannino, a Waltham, Massachusetts elementary school principal, is upset that his kindergartners are now required to take fill-in-the-right-bubble tests. “Now we’re all the way down to 5- and 6-year-olds taking a pencil and paper test,” he told his local newspaper. “My students and others across the state are being judged on reading material above their grade level.”[3]

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor early childhood education at Lesley University, said,
“The vast majority of kindergarten teachers now spend some time each day on testing and test preparation, an activity that would have been considered irrelevant and even harmful in the past.”

In Las Vegas, Nevada, kindergarten teachers report that last year they lost more than 30 days of school to mandatory assessments. They have organized to lobby the county school authorities to reduce the number of tests and “return to the implementation of developmentally appropriate standards.”[4]

And a kindergarten teacher in Zanesville, Ohio, wrote to her local paper, “All we are doing is stealing childhood from innocent children. Shame on our government for making us be thieves. Shame on them for not listening to what children really need.”[5]

Crisis in the Kindergarten calls for the use of observational and curriculum-embedded performance assessments in kindergarten instead of standardized tests. The argument that standardized testing takes less time and is therefore more efficient is called into question, argues the report, by the new data suggesting that teachers are now spending time each day prepping children for standardized tests.

The combination of unrealistic kindergarten standards and inappropriate testing results in two to three hours per day being devoted to teaching literacy and math in many of the kindergartens in the N.Y. and L.A. studies. As one Los Angeles teacher said, ““Our students spend most of the time trying to learn what they need in order to pass standardized testing. There is hardly enough time for activities like P.E, science, art, playtime.”

These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination, write the authors of the report.

The report makes the following recommendations to educators, policymakers, and parents for ending the inappropriate use of tests in kindergarten:

1. Use alternatives to standardized assessments in kindergarten, such as teacher observations and assessment of children’s work. Educate teachers in the use of these alternatives and in the risks and limitations of standardized testing of young children.

2. Do not make important decisions about young children, their teachers, or their schools based solely or primarily on standardized test scores.

[1] http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2009/03/extra_credit_dam...
[2] http://www.themotherhood.com/post.php?sid=339832
[3] http://www.dailynewstribune.com/news/x1537600536/Waltham-educators-not-h...
[4] http://uktlv.org/about.html
[5] http://www.journal-news.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/dayton/lakota...

Fred Hiatt and the Horse's Orifices

Among the host of things that Fred Hiatt doesn't know, one of the more prominent would have to be which end of the horse to go to when trying to get the facts on education issues. To prove as much, the Editorial Board of WaPo invited Bill Gates for a private education summit last week, where Gates predictably delivered what we might expect from a, uh, horse's ass. Today Hiatt offers up some of the steaming remains of that private summit with the once-boyish oligarch--whose wife, by the way, sits on the Board of Directors for Fred's paper, the Washington Post. In so doing, the Post continues its unflagging advertising of the corporatist case for the new generation of education reform schools based on the KIPP punishment camps. A couple of clips:
The [Gates] foundation has spent about $4 billion seeking to improve high schools and promote college access since 2000, along the way gaining valuable experience on what does and doesn't work. Based on those lessons, Gates names two priorities: helping successful charter school organizations, such as KIPP, replicate as quickly as possible; and improving teacher effectiveness at every other school.
It remains entirely unclear what the connections may be between Gates's ambitious small high school project and the entirely unrelated phenomenon of KIPP or teacher effectiveness. If the connection has to do with size of the school, there is not much worth passing on in that regard, based on Gates's own research. The 25 million dollar small high school experiment in Portland is an example. From the Seattle Times last June:

. . . .Despite the smaller classes, key indicators of student success at Marshall and Roosevelt — test scores and attendance, for instance — haven't changed much since the campuses split into small schools.

At Marshall, students missed on average more than five weeks of school last year. At Roosevelt, the average was six weeks.

Students in two academies at Roosevelt and two at Marshall have shown improvement in reading since the change, but math performance declined. At Roosevelt, math performance remained flat.

Administrators say students at both schools pose special challenges to educate. Officials say many of these students enter high school less prepared than their counterparts at other high schools, and many work part time to help support their families.

Nevertheless, some students and parents say the small-school transformation overpromised and underdelivered for the class of 2008.

"The idea and the potential are great, but the actual execution has been less than great," said Cindy Adams, whose youngest son, Brandon, graduated this month from BizTech.

Gates Foundation leaders also have grown impatient at the uneven results when big schools break into small ones. This fall, Gates probably will switch the focus of its grants for fixing high schools to target teaching and raise teacher quality, says Vicki Phillips, who directs Gates' education initiatives.

But I am intruding on Fred's point, which is that public schools and teachers' unions stand in the way of the Gates vision of cheap chain gang charters, a never-ending stream of teacher temps, and pay-per-score schemes.
In both cases, institutions stand in the way. School boards resist the expansion of charter schools. Teachers unions resist measuring and rewarding effectiveness. In fact, Gates said, evidence shows no connection between teaching quality and most of the measures used in contracts to determine pay. Seniority, holding a master's degree or teacher's certification, and even, below 10th grade, having deep knowledge of a subject -- these all are mostly irrelevant. It follows that some of the money devoted to rewarding teachers who get higher degrees and to pensions accessible only to those who stay 10 or more years should go instead to keeping the best teachers from leaving in their fourth or fifth years.
Here Gates's unplumbed well of ignorance echoes the embarrassing lie that shills like Kate Walsh of NCTQ has been pushing into the media ever since she was busted for doing illegal propaganda during the Bush years. To suggest that teacher credentialing, certification, and subject area knowledge are irrelevant to teacher quality is an insult the intelligence of the American people--it's even an insult to Arne Duncan. It really shows the level of desperation for preserving the unsustainable and ridiculous lies upon which the education oligarchy and the Business Roundtable have chosen to base their assault on public education. And even though Fred Hiatt is eager to draw a straight line from Rhee to Gates to Duncan to Obama, it is hard to believe, even for a skeptic like myself, that Obama could be this disengaged or this stupid on an issue so important. So here, once more, is my digest of research to help freshen the air, one may hope:
Stronge, James H. (2007). Qualities of Effective Teachers (2nd Edition). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Teacher Certification
  • Fully prepared and certified teachers have a greater impact on gains in student learning than do uncertified or provisionally certified teachers, especially with minority populations and in urban and rural settings (DarlingHammond, Berry, & Thoreson, 2001; Goe, 2002; Laczko-Kerr & Berliner, 2002; Qu & Becker, 2003).
  • Teacher certification status and teaching within one’s field are positively related to student outcomes (Hawk, Coble, & Swanson, 1985).
  • Teachers with certification of some kind (standard, alternative, or provisional) tend to have higher-achieving students than do teachers working without certification (Goldhaber & Brewer, 2000).

  • Students of teachers who hold standard certification in their subjects score 7 to 10 points higher on 12th grade math tests than do students of teachers with probationary, emergency, or no certification (Goldhaber & Brewer, 2000).
  • Some studies have demonstrated relationships between standard certification and teacher practices (e.g., hands-on learning, connections to student experiences) (Darling-Hammond, 2000). These teacher practices have been found to be effective in supporting student achievement, thus illustrating a possible indirect relationship between traditional certification and student achievement.
  • Teachers assigned to the area in which they are certified have been found to have more influence on student learning than uncertified teachers (Darling-Hammond, 2000b; Darling-Hammond, Berry, & Thoreson, 2001; Goldhaber & Brewer, 2000; Hawk, Coble, & Swanson, 1985; Laczko-Kerr & Berliner, 2002). For example, in a study comparing certified teachers who were licensed to teach mathematics with those licensed in another area, students taught by teachers instructing in their licensed field had higher levels of achievement (Hawk et al., 1985).
Related Resources: Cavalluzzo, 2004; Darling-Hammond, 1996, 2000, 2001; DarlingHammond et al., 2001; Darling-Hammond et al., 2005; Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 2003; Dozier & Bertotti, 2000; Ferguson & Womack, 1993; Fetler, 1999; Fidler, 2002; Goe, 2002; Goldhaber & Anthony, 2004; Goldhaber & Brewer, 2000; Hawk et al., 1985; Ingersoll, 2001; Laczko-Kerr & Berliner, 2002; Lilly, 1992; Mathews, 1999; Miller et al., 1998; Qu & Becker, 2003; Scherer, 2001; Stronge et al., 2005; Vandevoort et al., 2004; Wise, 2000.

Content Area Knowledge
  • Teachers with a major or minor in their content area are associated with higher student achievement, especially in the areas of secondary science and mathematics (Wenglinsky, 2000).
  • Students, teachers, principals, and school board members have all emphasized the importance of subject-matter knowledge in describing effective teaching (Covino & Iwanicki, 1996; Johnson, 1997; National Association of Secondary School Principals [NASSP], 1997; Peart & Campbell, 1999).
  • The ability to convey content to students in a way that they can grasp, use, and remember is important, but it is not necessarily related to additional teacher knowledge or coursework in the content area (Begle, 1979; Monk, 1994; Monk & King, 1994).
  • Content-area preparation is positively related to student achievement within specific subjects, especially in mathematics (Hawk et al., 1985; Wenglinsky, 2002) and science (Druva & Anderson, 1983).
  • Several studies have illustrated that teachers with greater subject-matter knowledge tend to ask higher-level questions, involve students in the lessons, and allow more student-directed activities (Wenglinsky, 2000, 2002).
Related Resources: Berliner, 1986; Blair, 2000; Brookhart & Loadman, 1992; Carlsen, 1987; Carlsen & Wilson, 1988; Covino & Iwanicki, 1996; Darling-Hammond, 1996, 2000; Darling-Hammond et al., 2001; Druva & Anderson, 1983; Ferguson & Womack, 1993; Goldhaber & Brewer, 2000; Hill et al., 2005; Holt-Reynolds, 1999; Johnson, 1997; Mitchell, 1998; Monk & King, 1994; NASSP, 1997; National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, n.d.; Peart & Campbell, 1999; Rowan et al., 1997; Shellard & Protheroe, 2000; Shulman, 1987; Traina, 1999; Wenglinsky, 2000, 2002.

Teaching Experience
Experienced teachers have increased depth of understanding of the content and how to teach and apply it (Covino & Iwanicki, 1996). Additionally, experienced teachers are more effective with students due to their use of a wider variety of strategies (Glass, 2001). One study found that “schools with more experienced and more highly educated mathematics teachers tended to have higher achieving students” (Fetler, 1999, p. 9). This quality indicator does not necessarily mean that more years are better. Based on data from the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, Sanders and Rivers (1996) found that teachers’ effectiveness increased through the first seven years of teaching and became flat by around year 10. (Note: The minimal teaching experience in Sanders’ original work was three years.)

If students are to learn, they need to feel comfortable in their instructional environment. In that respect, the personal connection that an educator makes with students assists in creating a trusting and respectful relationship (Marzano, Pickering, & McTighe, 1993; McBer, 2000). The ability to relate to students and convey a sense that they are valued and that the teacher wants them to be there is vital (Haberman, 1995a). Effective teachers have been described as caring, enthusiastic, motivated, fair, respectful, reflective, and dedicated individuals with a sense of humor who interact well with students and colleagues (Black & Howard-Jones, 2000; Delaney, 1954; National Association of Secondary School Principals [NASSP], 1997; Peart & Campbell, 1999). In brief, teachers’ effect on student learning is increased when students are taught by well-prepared professionals who integrate their knowledge of instruction with a deep sense of caring about the individual students they teach. As Sizer (1999) puts it, “We cannot teach students well if we do not know them well” (p. 6).

From Stronge, James H. (2006) Teacher Quality Index : A Protocol for Teacher Selection.
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2006.
Research supports the following findings related to teacher experience:
  • Teachers with more experience tend to show better planning skills, including a more hierarchical and organized structure in the presentation of their material (Borko & Livingston, 1989; Covino & Iwanicki, 1996; Jay, 2002; Yildirim, 2001).

  • Effective experienced teachers are better able to apply a range of teaching strategies, and they demonstrate more depth and differentiation in learning activities (Covino & Iwanicki, 1996).
  • Experienced teachers tend to know and understand their students’ learning needs, learning styles, prerequisite skills, and interests better than beginners do (Borko & Livingston, 1989; Covino & Iwanicki, 1996; Jay, 2002).
  • The classrooms of more experienced teachers are better organized around routines and plans for handling problems than are those of novices (Covino & Iwanicki, 1996; Cruickshank & Haefele, 2001).
  • Teachers with more than three years of experience are more effective than those with three years or fewer (Nye, Konstantopoulos, & Hedges, 2004), but these differences seem to level off after five to eight years (DarlingHammond, 2000; Scherer, 2001).
  • Teacher expertise as defined by experience (as well as education and scores on licensing exams) accounts for as much as 40 percent of the variation in student achievement, which is more than race and socioeconomic status (Ferguson, 1991; Virshup, 1997).
  • Schools with more beginning teachers tend to have lower student achievement (Betts, Rueben, & Danenberg, 2000; Fetler, 1999; Goe, 2002), and schools with student performance in the lowest quartile have more inexperienced teachers than those schools with student performance in the highest quartile (Esch et al., 2005). Related Resources: Betts, Rueben, & Danenberg, 2000; Borko & Livingston, 1989; Covino & Iwanicki, 1996; Cruickshank & Haefele, 2001; Darling-Hammond, 2000; Education Review Office, 1998; Esch et al., 2005; Fetler, 1999; Goe, 2002; Haycock, 2000, 2003; Jay, 2002; Kerrins & Cushing, 1998; Neilsen, 1999; Nye et al., 2004; Scherer, 2001; Tell, 2001; Virshup, 1997; Yildirim, 2001.
Stronge, James H. (2007). Qualities of Effective Teachers (2nd Edition).
Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

On the Growing Outcry Against KIPP, Charters, and the Oligarchs

Even Ed Week has noticed that Dunc's Department has been handed over to the Gates Foundation.

Tauna Rogers has a strong reaction to Mathews's latest propaganda piece.

And here is a clip from a post from Caroline Grannan:
. . . . Another public comment on the Mathews blog item points to an additional KIPP school under fire for alleged overly harsh discipline – KIPP South Fulton Academy near Atlanta, Ga. It’s creepy that reports from both KIPP South Fulton in Georgia and KIPP Fresno in California include charges that students were denied requests to use the rest room, and as a result, urinated and/or vomited on themselves. That’s a rather questionable disciplinary tactic in terms of pure humanity.

Yes, the schools are still high-performing and are vigorously defended by parents and students. I’m not forgetting to mention that.

**

New York City Education Examiner Lorri Giovinco-Harte posts a week’s roundup of edublogs, focusing on the increasing outcry about the influence of billionaires’ contributions on public schools and policy, citing this examiner and an array of other commentators.

There seems to be a great deal of backlash lately against what one blogger refers to as the "Billionaire Boys Club's" push towards the dismantling of public education.

Actually, the backlash has been occurring for some time, but the degree to which it is happening as well as the diversity of people who are reacting to it seems to have increased as of late.

**

On change.org, Education Editor Clay Burell posts about President Obama’s view of charter schools, which is wholeheartedly enthusiastic. But Burell responds:

[Charter schools] can expel students who don't excel or cause problems. And they can also say "no" when their enrollment caps are met. Public schools can't. Traditional public schools also have far more special needs and non-native English language learners than charters. And public schools also can't set parental involvement conditions. And public schools don't get the supplemental funds from the billionaires, so they spend less per student than charters.

Given all of that, still, if we're going to say charters should still be supported in order to serve as those "laboratories," the missing link in all of this talk centers on this question: "What's the mechanism that will allow for that 'duplication of success' in traditional public schools?"

And how will traditional public schools ever have the opportunity to duplicate charter successes when traditional public schools, as Obama acknowledges, are given neither the "flexibility" nor the extra funding enjoyed by charter schools? One dangerous answer to this is: Traditional public schools will have that "flexibility" when they are able to break union-negotiated teacher protections - to be union-free - and when they submit to the meddling of Gates, Broad, and the other billionaires at the Business Roundtable when they dangle their strings-attached money.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

KIPP Information Minister Continues to Ignore Abuses and Ethical Meltdown

When he is not shilling for Kaplan's dominance in the child testing industry (Kaplan being that part of the Washington Post Company that pays more than half of the company's profits), Jay Mathews functions as the chief propagandist for the mind and body control camps of KIPP, the new reform school choice among the corporate oligarchs, Gates and Broad, for providing the appropriate corporate schooling model to the urban poor--at least the urban poor who are manipulated into sacrificing their children to KIPP-notism and the psychological manipulations of Dr. Martin Seligman.

Mathews's recent book, Work Hard Be Nice, celebrates the excellent education adventures of KIPP's infantilized bully founders, Davey Levin and Mikey Feinberg, whose bare-knuckled pedagogy is presented as the innocent over-exuberance of two irrepressible young uber-educators. The moral lapses, ethical breaches, and illegal acts by the terrible twosome (at least the acts that have been publicly exposed) are given the Mathews treatment, which is to say a Cliff Notes version of reality done up in etherized prose.

Since the publication of Work Hard Be Nice, a whole new set of multiple horrors from KIPP Fresno have surfaced, as well as more recent atrocities in Georgia. Mathews's recent dissembling on the subject has been deconstructed by Thomas Mertz in a choice analysis that shouldn't be missed. The clip below from WaPo offers Mathews in his customary role as the unwavering apologizer and spare dissembler for KIPP, able to wrap an entire catalog of abuse, law-breaking, and moral meltdowns into a single dismissive sentence:
Some parents, including those in Atlanta and in Fresno, Calif., who recently lodged complaints that KIPP teachers had punished their children excessively, say that the academies sometimes run roughshod over them. KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg seemed to cross the line several years ago when he told a Houston mother that he would expel her TV-addicted fifth-grader unless she allowed him to remove the family's television set from their apartment. But the mother went along with the plan, and the TV sat in the girl's school homeroom until her steady improvement convinced Feinberg that he had broken the one-eyed monster's grip.

Mathews's convenient untruth would have the entire KIPP Fresno scandal swept under the rug as an example of disgruntled parents making overheated charges against a situation they don't understand. He ignores the fact that Fresno Unified's investigation (Fresno Report (pdf) of KIPP Fresno originated from a complaint by an official of the NAACP. He also ignores the fact that the catalog of abuses against children, as well as the other unethical and illegal actions at the school in regards to test security, copyright, teacher credentialing, and school funds, were documented by KIPP office staff, faculty, former administrators and, of course, parents who were often the victims, too, of the abuse.

It is evidence of Mathews's own moral blindness that he would use the example of an out-of-control Feinberg removing a TV from a student's home as a way to convey some ethical lesson on ends justifying any means. This is a perfect example of the kinds of ham-handed and brazen shortcuts that Feinberg and Levin repeatedly take, even though they rhetorically subscribe to the philosophy that "there are no shortcuts." If they were ethical educators, rather than a couple of hopped-up bullies, they would have acted like educators rather than stormtroopers. This is just another example of their "no excuses" excuse to wallow beyond the boundaries of decency, morality, and respect in order to manufacture, by force, a cheap and oppressive solution to the symptoms of a problem that the Boys and their oligarch supporters continue to ignore--which is poverty. Not only does KIPP offer an example of state-sanctioned child abuse for the benefit of the corporations that support it, but it brings front and center the moral nihilism of the oligarchs when their moral blindness is applied to the schooling of the most long-suffering victims of "free-market casino capitalism." A clip from the recent article by Chris Hedges is most appropriate here:

This moral nihilism would have terrified Adorno. He knew that radical evil was possible only with the collaboration of a timid, cowed and confused population, a system of propaganda and a press that offered little more than spectacle and entertainment and an educational system that did not transmit transcendent values or nurture the capacity for individual conscience. He feared a culture that banished the anxieties and complexities of moral choice and embraced a childish hyper-masculinity, one championed by ruthless capitalists (think of the brutal backstabbing and deception cheered by TV shows like “Survivor”) and Hollywood action heroes like the governor of California.

“This educational ideal of hardness, in which many may believe without reflecting about it, is utterly wrong,” Adorno wrote. “The idea that virility consists in the maximum degree of endurance long ago became a screen-image for masochism that, as psychology has demonstrated, aligns itself all too easily with sadism.”

Sadism is as much a part of popular culture as it is of corporate culture. It dominates pornography, runs like an electric current through reality television and trash-talk programs and is at the core of the compliant, corporate collective. Corporatism is about crushing the capacity for moral choice. And it has its logical fruition in Abu Ghraib, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our lack of compassion for the homeless, our poor, the mentally ill, the unemployed and the sick.

In the end, it is this kind of case-hardened callousness toward the poor and the children of the poor that allows the misanthropic elites, from the Fishers to the Dells to the Gatess, Broads, and Waltons, to embrace the "no excuses" model that is exemplified by KIPP and that now inspires the cheap knock-offs that will be funded by Dunc's $5 billion for such dehumanizing experiments on children. It is a moral travesty that history will regard in the same way that we look back at the "progressive" eugenicists of a hundred years ago, when Harvard, Yale, and Princeton all offered courses in the new science that would engineer a new and improved social order.

Friday, March 27, 2009

British Teachers Plan to End National Testing

While the spineless AFT and NEA join the Business Roundtable hustle to up the testing ante and thus continue the push to turn American children in helpless drones, the British teachers' unions have made it clear the child abuse through testing is about to come to a screeching halt in Britain. Thank God for professional teachers' organizations somewhere with guts. From The Guardian:
Polly Curtis, education editor
Thursday 26 March 2009

Teachers are threatening to bring the Sats system in England to a halt by boycotting next year's tests.

Two of the biggest education unions will ask their members to refuse to take part in the tests, which they say have become "unacceptable for the future of children's education".

It is a significant escalation in the teaching profession's opposition to the testing regime, and comes after ministers scrapped the tests for 14-year-olds last year. The two unions, representing more than 300,000 teachers and heads, say they will conduct this year's tests of all seven and 11-year-olds in May only on condition that they will be the last.

The National Union of Teachers will put the plans to its annual conference over Easter, while the National Association of Head Teachers will consider an identical plan at its conference at the end of April. Both organisations say the tests have damaged primary education and put children under unnecessary stress.

Mick Brookes, the NAHT general secretary, said: "Testing narrows the curriculum and makes learning shallow, because the tests are simply regurgitative. Then the results are published in league tables, and schools in the toughest areas, where you've got hardest to teach children, are ridiculed on an annual basis. There is high stress for children; some will already be spending up to 10 hours a week rehearsing these tests. It's a complete waste of time. It is unconscionable that we should simply stand by and allow the educational experience of children to be blighted."

Christine Blower, the NUT's acting general secretary, said: "Primary schools' patience in enduring the damage caused by the tests has been stretched to the limit, and beyond. Our deadline for the end of Sats by 2010 is reasonable, and our alternative is one that will enhance teaching and learning. Above all else, the government needs to understand that this year's national curriculum tests will be the last. . . . .

Texas Taliban Poisons the Science Teaching Well

This wouldn't be such a big deal if Texas did not have such an influence on the what shows up in science textbooks nationwide. Texas citizens should know that their State Board members have made Texas, once again, the laughingstock of the nation, while advancing the kinds of ignorance and superstition that would destroy the world just to prove its prophecy correct. From the NYTimes:

. . . . The board tentatively decided in January to drop the “strengths and weaknesses” language. On Thursday, Democrats and moderate Republicans on the board blocked a proposal by social conservatives to reinstate it. Even with one moderate board member missing, the measure was blocked with a preliminary 7-to-7 vote.

The full board is set to take a final vote on Friday.

Failing to overhaul the curriculum broadly, conservatives instead attached a series of measures specific to subjects like biology, where teachers would be newly required to “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell.”

In the earth-science curriculum, conservatives weakened language concerning “the concept of an expanding universe” to address instead “current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe.”

With protesters on both sides of the issue carrying signs outside its meetings, the board has heard impassioned testimony from science teachers, parents and others.

A conservative board member, Bob Craig of Lubbock, expressed satisfaction with the overall changes.

“I personally believe that language is good language,” Mr. Craig said in an interview. “It allows for full discussion of all sides of the issue.”

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that promotes the teaching of evolution, said the vote would not end the debate.

“If they don’t get the political strategy, they’ll go piecemeal,” Mr. Quinn said. “The State Board of Education pretty much slammed the door on ‘strengths and weaknesses,’ but then went around and opened all the windows in the house.”

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Unanimously Against Vouchers

Done.
Arizona high court rejects private school vouchers
March 25th, 2009 @ 10:12am
by Associated Press
PHOENIX - The state Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned two school voucher programs, saying they violated the Arizona Constitution.

The vouchers provided to foster children and disabled students under a 2006 law are cash grants in the form of state payment warrants provided to parents, who must sign them over to private schools their children attend.

The justices heard arguments in December on whether the programs violate the Arizona Constitution's bans on using tax dollars to support religion or to fund private schools.

The justices unanimously decided they did. Lower courts split on the issue. . . .

Dunc Goes After "Status Quos" with $5 Billion for Bribes

From WaPo:
"States that are simply investing in the status quo will put themselves at a tremendous competitive disadvantage for getting those additional funds," Duncan said in a conference call with reporters. "I can't emphasize strongly enough how important it is for states and districts to think very creatively and to think very differently about how they use this first set of money."
And if you have any difficulty in figuring out what kinds of "creatively" and "differently" could get you part of the $5 billion, it means bowing to the same reform orthodoxy of the oligarchs that was driving the Bush policy: teacher pay per score, data surveillance systems, summer school lockdowns in urban areas, and turning public schools into corporate charters. That's the same kind of differently that Dunc has in mind:

Duncan said that, in general, he supports efforts to extend the school day or year for disadvantaged children, new approaches to overhaul the low performing schools and performance pay programs. Duncan challenged educators and policymakers faced with shrinking budgets to "think differently" about school spending.

"Some of this has to do with resources, some of this has to do with thinking innovatively and having the political will and the courage to challenge some of these status quos," Duncan said.. . . .

More change you had better believe in.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bobbie Battista Is Back

KIPP: "It is not the solution to urban ills that Mathews proposes."

A clip from the piece in Slate (ht to the The Curmudgeon):
. . . .There is a lot of rote learning and test prep, born of the program's emphasis on demonstrable results. Enrichment programs exist (one Bronx school has a remarkable orchestra) but are necessarily limited, because precious time must also be devoted to teaching social skills that middle-class students take for granted—for example, how to follow a speaker with one's eyes and nod as one takes in information. In addition, KIPP includes an extended summer school. (Research has shown that middle-class students consolidate and even improve on their educational gains during the summer months, while underprivileged students slip backward, negating their progress during the academic year.)

As a result, KIPP teachers typically work 65-hour weeks and a longer school year. Recognizing that students need more out-of-school aid to supplement their educations, the program also requires its staff to be available to students by phone after hours for homework help and moral support. For this overtime (which represents 60 percent more time in the classroom alone, on average, than in regular public schools), teachers receive just 20 percent more pay. Unsurprisingly, turnover is high. The program has relied heavily on the ever-renewing supply of very young (and thus less expensive) Teach for America alums, whose numbers, while growing, are decidedly finite. Indeed, it's unclear whether KIPP would exist were it not for TFA (and its own philanthropic investment in recruitment and training, which has not come cheap).

For example, many of KIPP's now-lauded approaches were first developed not by Levin and Feinberg but by a career public-school teacher in Houston whose methods they admired back when they were TFAers. Levin and Feinberg tried to recruit their mentor to help launch KIPP, but as a middle-aged single mother, she felt she couldn't afford to join their revolution. If KIPP's success is ever to become widespread, it's going to have to find more room for such everyday heroes, who are not less talented than eager, young TFAers but who do have lives, families, and financial needs outside their jobs.

Parents or guardians, too, must be hardy souls at KIPP. They have to sign a contract saying they agree to KIPP's exacting schedule, which serves, intentionally or not, to eliminate kids from less involved or determined families. While KIPP does have outreach efforts to broaden its applicant pool, only the most determined parents are likely to respond to such overtures and sign KIPP's demanding contract. This dedication suggests a higher value on education within these families, and thus kids better able or willing to learn. And the weakest students, not surprisingly, get disproportionately winnowed. In KIPP's schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, the worst-performing kids have dropped out (or been expelled) in greater numbers in the higher grades; the result has been to inflate the schools' grade-to-grade improvement.

Such a regimen isn't for everyone, but KIPP has shown that with the right underprivileged population, it can make a significant, consistent difference—which is a lot more than most charter programs can say. (A 2006 report by the Education Department—i.e., under a Republican administration—revealed that traditional public schools significantly outperform charter programs in reading and math.) Far from finding the boot-camp atmosphere dispiriting, kids—at least, those who stay—clearly adore KIPP. This may be the program's singular accomplishment: It's made "back to basics" fun. However, even Mathews, the KIPP champion, describes an approach to discipline that sometimes seems unduly harsh; in less expert hands, such an approach could easily deteriorate into something more disturbing, and if implemented on a wide scale, might well turn off as many students and parents as it helps. Finally, even with such gargantuan efforts, KIPP helps to close, but does not remotely eliminate, the achievement gap in the inner city. It is not the answer to urban ills that Mathews proposes. . . .

Bloomberg's Autocracy Sued: Parents and Teachers on the Move to Resist

From the NYTimes:
Published: March 25, 2009

The United Federation of Teachers and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging that the city’s Department of Education violated state law by moving to replace traditional public schools with charter schools without proper consultation of neighborhood school boards.

The suit, filed in State Supreme Court on behalf of the teachers’ union and parents with children at Manhattan and Brooklyn schools, argues that the city needed approval from local school boards before it decided to close neighborhood schools and hand their buildings over to charters. Those schools are publicly financed but managed independently, and generally admit students via lottery. . . .

And this from Education Notes Online:
Will charter schools and small elite schools drain away the highest performing students, leaving the public schools and the teachers in them to be branded as failures because they are working with the students who need the most help but are denied the resources to do an effective job? Have we seen the end of the zoned neighborhood school in poor urban school systems? (See today's NY Times on how parents can't get their kids into kindergarten in their own neighborhood schools.)

Conference/Strategy Session on fighting testing/school closings/ATR

We see this conference as a first step in building a coalition of teachers, parents and students to plan campaigns to take back public education from the privateers.

When: Sat. March 28, 12 pm
Where: John Jay College, Room 1311 North Hall Building
445 W 59th St Manhattan

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Duncan: To "offer every child in this country the chance to out-compete any worker worldwide"

There is something in how Arne Duncan writes and speaks that conveys the same kind of ivy-jock attention deficit that would be totally appropriate for a hurried after-game interview in which the reluctant star utters a few bromides about teamwork and playing hard and listening to the coach. As if in a hurry to get to the showers, Duncan, when wound up, dumps a fusilade of platitudes along a desolate stretch of disordered sentences that are too impatient to hold separate ideas apart, that roll out of his mouth or onto the page as instant bundled cliches that would have been better off had they never been put into a position to need forgetting. The latest example from an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News:
President Barack Obama recently challenged all Americans to overcome the stale debates that have paralyzed progress on education so that we can offer every child in this country the chance to out-compete any worker worldwide.
"Offer every child in this country a chance to out-compete any worker worldwide?" What the hell! Does Arne not have a secretary? Oh, I forgot--he is the Secretary.

If we could just dispense with this childhood stuff and get right to the worker stuff. Just a couple of weeks ago, he was offering to come up with a super test let to second graders know if they were or were not destined for college:
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,’ Right now, in too many states, quite frankly, we lie to children. We lie to them and we lie to their families.
I know, I know, I shouldn't be too hard on Arne. What he says doesn't matter, anyway--it's what Coach Broad and Coach Gates say that really matters, and they are only talking to Arne.

Chris Hedges On Casino Capitalism and Moral Bankruptcy

From Truthdig.com:

America Is in Need of a Moral Bailout

Posted on Mar 23, 2009

By Chris Hedges

In decaying societies, politics become theater. The elite, who have hollowed out the democratic system to serve the corporate state, rule through image and presentation. They express indignation at AIG bonuses and empathy with a working class they have spent the last few decades disenfranchising, and make promises to desperate families that they know will never be fulfilled. Once the spotlights go on they read their lines with appropriate emotion. Once the lights go off, they make sure Goldman Sachs and a host of other large corporations have the hundreds of billions of dollars in losses they incurred playing casino capitalism repaid with taxpayer money.

We live in an age of moral nihilism. We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding. The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be self-reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered. Our press, which should promote such intellectual and moral questioning, confuses bread and circus with news and refuses to give a voice to critics who challenge not this bonus payment or that bailout but the pernicious superstructure of the corporate state itself. We kneel before a cult of the self, elaborately constructed by the architects of our consumer society, which dismisses compassion, sacrifice for the less fortunate, and honesty. The methods used to attain what we want, we are told by reality television programs, business schools and self-help gurus, are irrelevant. Success, always defined in terms of money and power, is its own justification. The capacity for manipulation is what is most highly prized. And our moral collapse is as terrifying, and as dangerous, as our economic collapse.

Theodor Adorno in 1967 wrote an essay called “Education After Auschwitz.” He argued that the moral corruption that made the Holocaust possible remained “largely unchanged.” He wrote that “the mechanisms that render people capable of such deeds” must be made visible. Schools had to teach more than skills. They had to teach values. If they did not, another Auschwitz was always possible.

“All political instruction finally should be centered upon the idea that Auschwitz should never happen again,” he wrote. “This would be possible only when it devotes itself openly, without fear of offending any authorities, to this most important of problems. To do this, education must transform itself into sociology, that is, it must teach about the societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms.”

Our elites are imploding. Their fraud and corruption are slowly being exposed as the disparity between their words and our reality becomes wider and more apparent. The rage that is bubbling up across the country will have to be countered by the elite with less subtle forms of control. But unless we grasp the “societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms” we will be cursed with a more ruthless form of corporate power, one that does away with artifice and the seduction of a consumer society and instead wields power through naked repression.

I had lunch a few days ago in Toronto with Henry Giroux, professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University in Canada and who for many years was the Waterbury Chair Professor at Penn State. Giroux, who has been one of the most prescient and vocal critics of the corporate state and the systematic destruction of American education, was driven to the margins of academia because he kept asking the uncomfortable questions Adorno knew should be asked by university professors. He left the United States in 2004 for Canada.

“The emergence of what Eisenhower had called the military-industrial-academic complex had secured a grip on higher education that may have exceeded even what he had anticipated and most feared,” Giroux, who wrote “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex,” told me. “Universities, in general, especially following the events of 9/11, were under assault by Christian nationalists, reactionary neoconservatives and market fundamentalists for allegedly representing the weak link in the war on terrorism. Right-wing students were encouraged to spy on the classes of progressive professors, the corporate grip on the university was tightening as made clear not only in the emergence of business models of governance, but also in the money being pumped into research and programs that blatantly favored corporate interests. And at Penn State, where I was located at the time, the university had joined itself at the hip with corporate and military power. Put differently, corporate and Pentagon money was now funding research projects and increasingly knowledge was being militarized in the service of developing weapons of destruction, surveillance and death. Couple this assault with the fact that faculty were becoming irrelevant as an oppositional force. Many disappeared into discourses that threatened no one, some simply were too scared to raise critical issues in their classrooms for fear of being fired, and many simply no longer had the conviction to uphold the university as a democratic public sphere.”

Frank Donoghue, the author of “The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities,” details how liberal arts education has been dismantled. Any form of learning that is not strictly vocational has at best been marginalized and in many schools has been abolished. Students are steered away from asking the broad, disturbing questions that challenge the assumptions of the power elite or an economic system that serves the corporate state. This has led many bright graduates into the arms of corporate entities they do not examine morally or ethically. They accept the assumptions of corporate culture because they have never been taught to think.

Only 8 percent of U.S. college graduates now receive degrees in the humanities, about 110,000 students. Between 1970 and 2001, bachelor’s degrees in English declined from 7.6 percent to 4 percent, as did degrees in foreign languages (2.4 percent to 1 percent), mathematics (3 percent to 1 percent), social science and history (18.4 percent to 10 percent). Bachelor’s degrees in business, which promise the accumulation of wealth, have skyrocketed. Business majors since 1970-1971 have risen from 13.6 percent of the graduation population to 21.7 percent. Business has now replaced education, which has fallen from 21 percent to 8.2 percent, as the most popular major.

The values that sustain an open society have been crushed. A university, as John Ralston Saul writes, now “actively seeks students who suffer from the appropriate imbalance and then sets out to exaggerate it. Imagination, creativity, moral balance, knowledge, common sense, a social view—all these things wither. Competitiveness, having an ever-ready answer, a talent for manipulating situations—all these things are encouraged to grow. As a result amorality also grows; as does extreme aggressivity when they are questioned by outsiders; as does a confusion between the nature of good versus having a ready answer to all questions. Above all, what is encouraged is the growth of an undisciplined form of self-interest, in which winning is what counts.”

This moral nihilism would have terrified Adorno. He knew that radical evil was possible only with the collaboration of a timid, cowed and confused population, a system of propaganda and a press that offered little more than spectacle and entertainment and an educational system that did not transmit transcendent values or nurture the capacity for individual conscience. He feared a culture that banished the anxieties and complexities of moral choice and embraced a childish hyper-masculinity, one championed by ruthless capitalists (think of the brutal backstabbing and deception cheered by TV shows like “Survivor”) and Hollywood action heroes like the governor of California.

“This educational ideal of hardness, in which many may believe without reflecting about it, is utterly wrong,” Adorno wrote. “The idea that virility consists in the maximum degree of endurance long ago became a screen-image for masochism that, as psychology has demonstrated, aligns itself all too easily with sadism.”

Sadism is as much a part of popular culture as it is of corporate culture. It dominates pornography, runs like an electric current through reality television and trash-talk programs and is at the core of the compliant, corporate collective. Corporatism is about crushing the capacity for moral choice. And it has its logical fruition in Abu Ghraib, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our lack of compassion for the homeless, our poor, the mentally ill, the unemployed and the sick.

“The political and economic forces fuelling such crimes against humanity—whether they are unlawful wars, systemic torture, practiced indifference to chronic starvation and disease or genocidal acts—are always mediated by educational forces,” Giroux said. “Resistance to such acts cannot take place without a degree of knowledge and self-reflection. We have to name these acts and transform moral outrage into concrete attempts to prevent such human violations from taking place in the first place.”

The single most important quality needed to resist evil is moral autonomy. Moral autonomy, as Immanuel Kant wrote, is possible only through reflection, self-determination and the courage not to cooperate.

Moral autonomy is what the corporate state, with all its attacks on liberal institutions and “leftist” professors, has really set out to destroy. The corporate state holds up as our ideal what Adorno called “the manipulative character.” The manipulative character has superb organizational skills and the inability to have authentic human experiences. He or she is an emotional cripple and driven by an overvalued realism. The manipulative character is a systems manager. He or she exclusively trained to sustain the corporate structure, which is why our elites are wasting mind-blowing amounts of our money on corporations like Goldman Sachs and AIG. “He makes a cult of action, activity, of so-called efficiency as such which reappears in the advertising image of the active person,” Adorno wrote of this personality type. These manipulative characters, people like Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson, Robert Rubin, Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, AIG’s Edward Liddy and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, along with most of our ruling class, have used corporate money and power to determine the narrow parameters of the debate in our classrooms, on the airwaves and in the halls of Congress while they looted the country.

“It is especially difficult to fight against it,” warned Adorno, “because those manipulative people, who actually are incapable of true experience, for that very reason manifest an unresponsiveness that associates them with certain mentally ill or psychotic characters, namely schizoids.”

Arkansas State Takes the Randy Best Diploma Mill Route for Teacher Preparation

Best Associates has a strong commitment to the education industry and a track record of exceptional results. The market is huge, with the U.S. spending more than $700 billion annually. --Best Associates Website
While Arne Duncan was running Chicago Public Schools, he shepherded hundreds of Chicago teachers through Randy Best's for-profit diploma mill, the American College of Education. Now it appears that the oligarchs and their puppet are getting ready to scale up for delivery of their alternative teacher ed programs, even though the preparation offered by such programs does not come close even to the level of rigor of the traditional teacher ed programs, which have been repeatedly attacked over the years by the same corporationists who now want to offer something that is an insult to the notion of academic integrity.

This new strategy of the cheap online diploma mill ed degree will help generate a vast oversupply of "teachers," which can be used in the urban school chain gangs and then discarded for other eager recruits as soon they burn out from the ten hour work days that are being planned for the new KIPPs and KIPP knock-offs based on "no excuses." The skill level and benefits will be reduced to those of prison guards, which will be quite good enough to suit the oligarchs whose children, after all, will never encounter one of the Arkansas State or Lamar University or American College of Education alums. For the corporate welfare charter schools and the charity publics that will remain, where all the unwanted special populations will be warehoused, the key to manning them is volume, volume, volume.

Any university faculty member in a school of education who believes that there is something called faculty governance or even union membership that will protect you from the onslaught of corporate bottom feeders like Randy Best, you should have a look at what is happening at Arkansas State. If you want to save your profession, you need to take a break from your post-post-structuralist text long enough to get organized.

Some clips from a nice piece of reporting from Inside Higher Ed:

For some in higher education, what happened at the University of Toledo earlier this month was a small victory in a simmering war. For others, it was an illustration of academe’s resistance to a future that is coming, ready or not.

Faced with the prospect of partnering with a private company to deliver online master's degrees in education, the faculty at Toledo rose up in protest and managed to kill the deal. But the story of Higher Ed Holdings -- an ambitious Texas-based company selling distance learning support to universities -- didn’t begin in Ohio, and it’s not likely to end there. Moreover, a growing debate about how universities will be forced to change in the coming decades -- and the extent to which the private sector will play a role -- is a subject that’s not going to die with the Toledo deal.

At Arkansas State University, where a recent partnership with Higher Ed Holdings is getting decidedly mixed reviews, fissures are quickly forming. Just last week, a faculty member resigned from an academic committee in protest, proclaiming: “I simply refuse to be part of this HEH scam.” The professor’s e-mail is emblematic of the passion with which some faculty are resisting the company, even as others characterize its approach as “the wave of the future.”. . . .

. . . .

. . . .Prospective Arkansas students who visit the Academic Partnership's Web site are greeted by video of a company spokeswoman who springs forth from the bottom of the page hologram-style. The spokeswoman hits the high notes of the marketing campaign: Low price, quick completion. The degrees cost a total of $4,950, which is as much as 60 percent less than comparable degrees cost. The time to degree is as little as 18 months for a degrees that can traditionally take 24 months to complete.

Borrowing a marketing technique that's traditionally employed in infomercials, Higher Ed Holdings is also pushing a "limited time" offer. The first 500 students accepted into the Arkansas State master's program are given the "First Course FREE!" -- a $495 value. The discount is given in the form of a "scholarship" to the "first 500 qualified and accepted applicants."

In exchange for Higher Ed Holdings’ services, universities typically give the company 80 percent of tuition revenues, according to three contracts provided to Inside Higher Ed. While the universities forfeit significant dollars in the deal, state appropriations are rising in tandem. Public universities typically receive state appropriations based party on credit hour production, and that number is rising steadily, even though the enrollment growth hasn’t required any new brick and mortar.. . . .

So, in effect, state dollars go out the door to Randy Best, while a replacement supply of state dollars comes through the other door from the taxpayers.

. . . .

. . . .What unquestionably changes in a partnership with Higher Ed Holdings is enrollment, and some argue that this change alone has an affect on quality. At Lamar, where the partnership with Higher Ed Holdings is in full swing, classes have grown to as large as 2,000 students.

The large enrollments have raised questions in the minds of some professors about how they could possibly develop any kind of relationship or dialogue with their students. While Higher Ed Holdings officials maintain that faculty control curriculum, they don’t dispute that the large classes require faculty to rely more heavily on standardized testing than essays or other assignments that require more grading time.

“You’ve got to do your course to incorporate quite a bit of auto-grading, and strike a balance as to how much high-touch grading you have,” said Robert Riggs, a newly-hired spokesman for the company. “That’s a fact of life of doing it online; there has to be a pretty good component of auto grading.” . . . .

In a workshop for professors at Arkansas State, Higher Ed Holdings officials explained that coaches could only devote five to eight minutes per student, per week to grading, according to two faculty members who were present. Company officials also encouraged faculty to consider breaking down large essays into smaller pieces, say 150 words each or about a paragraph at a time, so they could be more easily graded, the faculty said.

Julie Grady, an assistant professor for curriculum at Arkansas State, said she felt the company was placing restrictions on assignments and content, even though they repeatedly said faculty could “absolutely … absolutely … absolutely” (they said it a lot) do whatever they wanted.

“It was ‘Oh yes, you have absolute control over the assessment. But it has to be something the coaches can grade,’ ” Grady recalls from the meeting. “‘Yes, you have control, but you’ve got to make sure it’s something the coaches can grade quickly.’ We can do whatever we want, but we have to make sure the coaches can handle 100 to 125 students each.” . . . .

. . . .

The compressed time frame is not dissimiliar from the way summer courses are offered at Arkansas State. Moreover, distance learning models are often arranged so students can take a series of shorter, intensive online courses -- as opposed to taking several longer courses at once. Even so, some faculty say they're unconvinced quality is retained in the Higher Ed Holdings model. Summer sessions involve longer, more frequent class periods where 14 weeks of content can be compressed into five weeks. With the Higher Ed Holdings model, where all courses are online and coaches have limited grading time for hundreds of students, faculty say there's less assurance that the five week courses will be equivalent to the 14 week courses.

Even as the numbers of students grow in classes, faculty may be expected to do less work. An internal Higher Ed Holdings document, which the company provided to Inside Higher Ed in a slightly redacted form, indicates that faculty can expect to spend three to five hours a week managing a class. Developing the course typically takes one to two weeks, according to the document.. . . .


Monday, March 23, 2009

Letters to the NYTimes

The recent coverage by the Times on ELL students in American schools produced these insightful responses (ht to Bob Schaeffer at ARN):
To the Editor:

Applying one-size-fits-all state exams and the No Child Left Behind law to immigrant children results in narrowed curriculums, endless test prep and arbitrary declarations of school failure. Increasing percentages of students are denied a quality education, which benefits neither the students nor society.

Policy makers must face the reality of the country’s public school population and revise testing mandates accordingly. In particular, the law’s goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 is impossible when so many non-English-speakers enter our schools every year.

President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should consider these realities when proposing legislation to “fix the failures of No Child Left Behind” as promised in last fall’s campaign.

Jesse Mermell
Executive Director, FairTest
Boston, March 15, 2009



To the Editor:

What a disgrace that the talented Ginette Cain, who directs the high school program for English learners in your article, needs to waste valuable class time teaching immigrant students how to memorize disjointed facts so they will pass required standardized tests.

Public education in the United States has so much to offer students — from social assimilation to the ability to achieve personal and economic success — yet these opportunities are being lost because of high-stakes testing.

This is the time to return to the education of the whole student.

Elizabeth Ball
Glenview, Ill., March 15, 2009



To the Editor:

I thought we’d pretty well settled in 1954 that segregation’s stigma was not something American schools should perpetuate. But your article’s more distressing image was the teacher informing her charges: “You don’t really need to know anything more about the Battle of Britain, except that it was an air strike. ... If you see a question about the Battle of Britain on the test, look for an answer that refers to air strikes.”

No wonder dropout rates are high. It appears that the testocracy that runs our schools has turned even the most vital, engaging stories of human history into an exercise akin to memorizing phone books.

If I were still in high school, I might find something better to do with my time, too.

Sara Mayeux
Palo Alto, Calif., March 15, 2009

The Age of the Education Oligarchs: Nip It in the Bud

Last updated: 12:55 pm

(U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the misanthropist Eli Broad at an inauguration party courtesy of Broad (and the taxpayers). (Via Flickr))

The many millions that the neo-liberal oligarchs have pumped into the Democratic Party Machine have paid off handsomely in every area of government, especially education. Darling-Hammond, the only Obama advisor who had any understanding of education issues and educational solutions (as distinct from business solutions), was banished early on in favor of the Harvard business guys, economists, lawyers, recycled sychophants from the Clinton years, testing industry leeches, and most importantly, the new superclass of education entrepreneurial parasites and tax evaders, who have their non-profits and foundations in place to launder their hoarded, dirty money so that American taxpayers will end up funding the planned takeover of public schools for corporate interests.

Education by and for the oligarchs is intended to be achieved while making the education-industrial complex deliriously wealthy for putting in place a system that drains any remaining creativity from the schools and for instituting an oppressive, omnipresent surveillance system so that students and teachers are monitored K-20. The most galling part of all this is that the inherent evil of this neo-fascism is shrouded for its perpetrators and press offices by a rosy, inpenetrable fog of arrogance, hubris, and an overweaning air of unacknowledged privilege and superiority. What tiny bit of liberal guilt or glimmer of awareness that does register to this new superclass of super A-holes is quickly glossed over, then, by a bullying rhetoric that has been only slightly tweaked since the recent reign of the Decider.

Remember when Bush attacked anyone who might resist the inherently classist and racist testing plans as engaging in the bigotry of low expectations? Well, that sentiment survives and takes on new life in the Age of the Education Oligarchs, as recently evidenced in the speech by the new President of the ASCD corporation, who promises to maintain the advertising campaign to have educators drink another cup of Kool-Aid:
. . . .We can foster a world in which learning transcends geographic and cultural barriers.
A world in which poverty caused by economic conditions and poverty of racial inequities, and the most sinister of all, the poverty of low expectations - all can be overcome by learning. . . .
And so it goes--if your homeless students aren't learning like Seth and Caitlin or the Obama girls, well, there is something you need to fix about your expectations, Mr. Teacher Man.

Meanwhile, the same strategy of lying about the public schools continues, too, under the new regime. FactCheck.org is now in the game:
Summary
Last year, the president touted U.S. gains in education, saying that our "fourth- and eighth-graders achieved the highest math scores on record." He bragged that "African-American and Hispanic students posted all-time highs." Last week, the president said those eighth-graders weren't so great at math after all. He claimed they had "fallen to ninth place" in the world, and he bemoaned a high school dropout rate that had "tripled" over three decades.

What a difference a year makes.

Last year President Bush was talking up improvements that had occurred since his No Child Left Behind Act was implemented. This year President Obama is making a case for spending more on teachers' salaries, early education and more as part of his new agenda. We certainly wouldn't argue that education can't be improved, but some of the figures Obama used painted a bleaker picture than actually exists:

The high school dropout rate hasn't "tripled in the past 30 years," as Obama claimed. According to the Department of Education, it has actually declined by a third.

Eighth-grade math scores haven't "fallen" to ninth place compared with other countries. U.S. scores have climbed to that ranking from as low as 28th place in 1995.

Obama also set a goal "of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world" by 2020. But in terms of bachelor's degrees, we're nearly there. The U.S. is already second only to Norway in the percentage of adults age 25 to 64 with a four-year degree, and trails by just 1 percentage point. . . .
It is unfortunate for Broad, Gates, Dell, the Waltons, and Fisher, etc. that their ascendancy would come at a time when the bankruptcy of their Greed Model has come into sharp relief against a world of struggling workers and unemployed people living in tents. And yet the U. S. Department of Education still doesn't get it, for it reflects more every day a single viewpoint that has been entrusted to the rapacious raptors of unrestrained greed who continue to feed on American taxpayers, while ensconsing themselves in the highest seats of political power.

But exposure, alone, will do nothing to stop the imminent takeover. This will take something equivalent to everyone in America stopping payment on everything. The politicians had best pay attention--denial of any authority, i. e., anarchy, is not so far-fetched, and the anger that was building during the 8 years of Bush is ready to explode on an already-out-of-touch Adminstration that believes it can play the same tune, only faster. A clip form Matt Taibbi's piece in Rolling Stone that is a must read:

. . . .People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they're not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve — "our partners in the government," as Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout.

The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers. . . .

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Obama: Just the Latest Misleader on Education

From the St. Petersburg Times:
In his first major education speech, President Obama endorsed charter schools, merit pay for teachers and increases in school spending. He justified his agenda partly by saying American students are slipping compared to counterparts around the world.

"We've let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us," Obama said in the March 10 speech to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "In eighth grade math, we've fallen to ninth place."

Since Obama brought up math, we decided to check his. Turns out we had to pull out the red pen.

We asked the White House to defend Obama's claim, and received no response. His claim that eighth grade math students in the United States are in ninth place internationally almost certainly comes from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a periodic comparison of math and science achievement carried out since 1995 by research institutions and government agencies worldwide.

The most recent study , published in 2007, did indeed show U.S. eighth graders in ninth place behind five East Asian countries and Hungary, England and Russia.

But it was misleading to say they had "fallen" to ninth place. In 1995, they came in 28th . In 1999, they moved up to 19th . In 2003, they climbed to 15th . So rather than falling, U.S. students have actually improved in the past decade.

We considered giving the president partial credit since American students did come in ninth. But the point of his statement was that they had "fallen" to that position and that mathematics performance in the United States is getting worse relative to other countries. And that's just plain False.

New KIPP Abuses Reported in Fulton County

What will it take before the oligarchs have something to say about the chain gang abuse that they have put their tax-dodging millions behind? From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
By HEATHER VOGELL

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A south Fulton County charter school following one of the most lauded education programs nationwide is embroiled in a dispute over discipline that has led at least seven parents to yank their children out midyear.

The parents were so angry at what they saw as excessive punishment at KIPP South Fulton Academy that they complained to several agencies, including the Fulton school board and state Department of Education.

The parents said a group of children were mistreated by teachers who separated them from their peers in class and at lunch. The students, parents said, reported sitting on the floor and said one girl urinated on herself after not being allowed to use the restroom immediately.

School administrators said they erred in not calling parents as soon as their children got in trouble. First-year principal Jondré Pryor said he also should have done more to warn parents about the high expectations for conduct, as well as academics.

“I’m really saddened that the kids are gone,” Pryor said.

David Jernigan, executive director of KIPP Metro Atlanta, said the group has no plans to remove the administrators or teachers involved, adding, “We sincerely have learned from this mistake.”

Parents file complaints about Georgia’s 113 publicly funded charters infrequently, state Associate Superintendent Andrew Broy said. The schools, approved by local district boards or the state, are excused from some state mandates so they can try innovative approaches.

This is the first parent complaint the state has received about KIPP South Fulton, which opened in 2003 and teaches about 300 students in grades five through eight in an old public school building in East Point.

Discipline is a hallmark of the Knowledge Is Power Program, which operates 66 schools nationwide. KIPP is known for bringing high test scores and college-prep skills to children at higher risk of academic failure. The school is a big commitment, with long weekdays and Saturday and summer sessions.

The dispute erupted in December, after a teacher made a group of fifth-graders she said had been disrupting class sit in the back of the room. Kofi Kinney, who is also dean of operations, dubbed the group “The Little Rock Nine,” a reference to the African-American children who were blocked from, then allowed into, high school in Arkansas in 1957. The KIPP students, who are African-American like most of their classmates, later became the “KIPP Nine.”

The punishment continued in several other teachers’ classes. Kinney and the parents disagree on how long it lasted, but they say it was at least seven school days. The students — 17, eventually — ate lunch in silence and missed some school activities.

Parents said when they found out about the punishment, they demanded it end and asked for an apology.

Parent India Wood withdrew her son in February after he told her, ” ‘I can’t take them yelling at me 10 hours today.’ “

“They cannot be emotionally abused,” she said.

Some parents said their children needed counseling afterward.

“I just feel like these kids have been mistreated,” said Cordelia Johnson, who withdrew her son in January. “They shouldn’t have to sacrifice the emotional for the academic. . . .

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Class Economic Rape--Enough!

Creativity and Education: Contradictory Impulses?

From The Hindu:
ANURADHA KHATI RAJIVAN

If education is seen and practised as an activity of regimentation, then creativity, by definition, would have no place in it. Is that what we want for our children?

This anecdote is based on a real life incident. Teachers in a school found a seven-year-old boy quite odd. Though he was well mannered and never got into fights, his answers were often seen as “different”. So the teachers tried their best to “educate” him.

Teacher: What does the cow give us?

Boy: The cow gives us cow dung.

Teacher: That’s not a good answer. You should say “the cow gives us milk”.

Boy: But why, Miss? Does the cow not give us dung?

Teacher: Stop acting over-smart! Why can’t you be like a normal child? I will send a note to your parents! You are the fellow who drew an amoeba in art class, right?

Boy: Yes, Miss. We were asked to draw an animal. I picked an amoeba that my big sister told me about! You see, I liked it because it has no fixed shape! And it moves about using pretend feet…

Teacher: Enough! Why do I get these oddballs in my class!?

Is “creativity” in opposition to “education”? Education is commonly treated as a standardised and sequential activity — like training, providing identical skills and transmitting predetermined information. Students are fed received doctrines, positions and views. First standard followed by second, third…tenth board exams, plus-two and then preparing for college admissions…

Notion of educaion
How many times have you heard young students say something like, “I byhearted and byhearted all the expected questions but the question paper was different …even our teachers agreed!” Or parents say “… the American system is different…children have to think. No use just learning things.” Teachers and even parents sometimes find creative children difficult to handle. They might even consider a creative child too fruity, a trouble maker, hard to “educate” like the boy in the story above. Of course, there are a few “alternate” schools that allow “creativity” to flower. But as the child comes closer to the eighth or ninth standard, many parents start to become uncomfortable about their choice of “alternate” schooling systems. The pressures of board exams cannot be wished away. Some switch — at times with a bit of reluctance — putting their children through regular “education” rather than “creativity”.

Examinations and standardised testing techniques tend to incentivise homogeneity and undermine creativity. That does not, of course, mean that standardised testing has no value. In the medical field, for example, standardised tests can be very useful. Such tests can provide information on whether your red blood corpuscles count is within the normal range or not or whether your body mass index, or BMI, is within acceptable limits. However, the problem arises when doing well on a standardised test becomes the ultimate aim of learning.

Is creativity really in opposition to education? Let us think again. There is quite a lot of misunderstanding about creativity. Creativity is not haphazard — creative work requires system and discipline to actually produce something. Take musicians for example. How do you think A.R. Rahman produces such superb music? Not by being haphazard! You need to be very good in your field and also have the freedom to speculate and innovate. Creativity is not limited to specific fields like art or music, creativity is seen in all fields. Medicine, physics, cooking, and even policing, benefit from creative input. Creativity is not opposed to intelligence — it is organically linked to intelligence. Top mathematicians and writers are highly intelligent people. That is how they think of new ways of doing things. Creativity does not make you do your work badly. In fact, if you are good at something and like what you do, you will not just find fulfilment, you will also be able to contribute by innovation and resourcefulness. Thus we need to counter at least three popular myths that surround creativity:

Myth 1: Creativity is limited to special fields, like art or music so it is no use trying to be creative if you are an electrician or a journalist; in fact all fields have the inherent potential for creativity.

Myth 2: Creativity is limited to special people; in fact all people have a streak of creativity in them.

Myth 3: Creativity is what it is, you either have it or not and there is not much one can do about it; in fact you can develop and build upon your creativity.

Education experts have argued that the old model of sequential and standardised education can, in fact, “train students out of their creativity”. Learning by rote, memorising and reproducing preset information is not the essence of education. It can help in doing well in standardised tests, but not much more. Once you actually start to work, you may find that it is people who are resourceful, who innovate, can find ingenious ways of doing things that are much in demand.

Encouraging diversity
Standard education may try to suppress diversity and inspiration (including in fields like art or music seen as inherently creative) but it is very difficult to eliminate them. Cars or bottle caps can be manufactured. It is much harder to “manufacture” people. Nor should education attempt to do so. On the contrary, teachers should be equipped to build and encourage creativity as part of their professional training. And how is that to be done? Teachers and parents should further not just knowledge about the subject, but also nurture divergent thinking, many different angles and answers to a question. They should build confidence among students to speculate, to experiment, to think differently, however unorthodox it may seem. It does not mean that they should be ignorant in the subjects. Students need to be on top of a discipline and also speculate, innovate, explore many different angles, as an inherent part of learning the discipline. Young children can have enormous confidence in doing things that may seem different — going ahead without any fear of failure. Adults can quite easily undermine this confidence by discouraging them.

Here is an example of a little girl in class two and her art teacher.

Teacher: What are you doing?

Girl: Making a picture of God.

Teacher: But no one knows what God looks like!

Girl: They will, in five minutes…as soon as I am done.

Now, do we really want to discourage this little girl? And the little boy at the beginning of this piece?

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