February 1, 2008

At least Timothy Leary chose to drop out...

I think I understand Leary's choices, or at least the temptation: It's the end of two very tiring days, when I had a chance to talk for a few hours with one of the folks who tore down Florida's old Pork Chop Gang. Short story: an undergraduate I've been mentoring for a few semesters had an internship with the law firm of this Florida political hero, and after e-mailing back and forth, he needed some questions answered about the background of his senior thesis. So he proposed a joint meeting, first scheduled at the law firm and then moved to my office. I was expecting it to go about 90 minutes. It lasted 150 minutes instead. So we got off on various tangents, since he had the personal experience and I had the history, but the student said it was worth it. I had several meetings today (some planned, some impromptu, some deferred). Lots of things delayed, which is my life these days.

But even if deferred for a few days, the new English-language article of EPAA is out: Avoidable Losses: High-Stakes Accountability and the Dropout Crisis. Its authors combined interview work with following students in Texas as they were left behind in 9th grade and then dropped out. This is very difficult work to do, and the findings are provocative. Two stand out for me: that principals know that they are choosing between education and satisfying the test-score gods, and they reluctantly choose to satisfy the gods; and that to students, there is no distinction between accountability and all the practices that alienate many of them from high school. To the students in this Texas school district in the late 1990s and early 200s, there is a single massive bureaucracy that held them back, denied them opportunities in part to game the system, and never told them that their education was being sacrificed in the name of pressure whose putative goal was to ensure that they were not denied educational opportunities.

Whether you agree with the article's authors or not, I suspect it will be discussed vigorously, which is all to the good. A few years after Jennifer Booher-Jennings' article on triage in Texas, one of the models for NCLB continues to be a focus of criticism and debate.

(No, I've never taken illegal drugs, nor have I ever been tempted to, in reality. But I live on antihistamines when I have a cold...)

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on February 1, 2008 11:08 PM |