January 28, 2006

On tap this weekend

The tradeoffs of scheduling your own time: my son's after-care situation has been deteriorating (or maybe at a steady-state mediocre quality), and until a new after-care can open in early March, I've decided to pick him up early as many days a week as I can (which is the majority). I'm very relieved to have the ability to do that, as a faculty member who teaches in the morning. But combine that with my other default-chauffeuring duties in the week, and I'm spending much of my evenings and weekends doing work, at least for the next six weeks or so. On tap this weekend: finishing up a grant revision for NIH (yes, an historian applies to NIH—cool or just weird?), so I can get it in for the Feb. 1 cycle (after which there is electronic submission and who knows how that will go the first year); editing an article manuscript for uploading next week to EPAA; writing a few disposition letters for same; reading revisions for same; reading work a student did to finish an incomplete; grading a good part of an assignment from my classes; and (with luck) a date with my wife (the luck part referring to carving out a time when we won't be slumped over in exhaustion).

And those who expect an occasional entry on academic freedom, don't fret. I have a draft entry that's partly written, in response to the "Bruin Alumni Association" incident, and there is some good news on the academic-freedom front at USF, if only the paperwork will get done properly and promptly. But that all takes a back seat to other stuff, including time with my family.

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Posted in Random comments at 2:49 PM (Permalink) |

January 27, 2006

Academic freedom and Michael Bérubé

Today, Michael Bérubé's blog has an important essay on academic freedom. At several thousand words, it's considerably longer than most blog entries (such as this one), even from loquacious professors. And while I have a few minor quibbles, they're very close to my views, and, more importantly, he wrote them first. Kudos. Go read.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 11:29 AM (Permalink) |

January 19, 2006

Historical Statistics of the U.S.

Robert Samuelson's discussion of the new Historical Statistics of the United States says that there is an online version where access can be purchased by libraries (presumably so members of universities can use the materials). I hope so, because otherwise the volumes will be largely underutilized.

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Posted in Random comments at 5:50 AM (Permalink) |

January 16, 2006

The critical mass of information...

A former student of mine has a blog where she occasionally puts things down in free verse (something I needed an explanation of ... clueless me when she was an English grad student, right?). This morning, I responded with a sonnet. Awful, of course, but since her entry was vaguely about the problems of learning too much, I felt the need to point out that part of the role of grad student is to acquire enough information to put scholarly writings into perspective: what's new, what's a real contribution. Okay, with a twist at the end.

Historians claim that Los Alamos
was where the nascent sub-critical mass,
analyzed over poached eggs and dry toast,
was then declared a failure or a pass.
Those one percent, we ex-grad student fools,
know better. Reading we came upon ore,
mind through dross with our self-sharpening tools,
for nuggets of insight. The open doors
to that written, printed uranium
did not carry any red hazard sign,
warning us too much and a cranium
explodes or, worse, learns
. But now it's just fine.
Redrafted dissertations come and go,
deconstructing old Michaelangelo.

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Posted in Random comments at 8:12 AM (Permalink) |

January 14, 2006


I have a student from my alma mater shadowing me next week. While I wish my schedule allowed me to attend a candidate's presentation on Tuesday, I think the rest of the week has enough things to give her a sense of what one professor's life is like. I have the next Education Policy Analysis Archives article about 75% edited, giving the right amount to do jointly; some grants to draft/redraft a bit; student stuff to read; classes to prepare; committeework; a journal manuscript to review; and whatever else comes up as urgent or important (and the two aren't the same!).

And while my university hasn't listed anything for the MLK holiday on its website (which is rather strange, as we've typically had a bunch of activities this time of year commemorating King's legacy), we do have Desmond Tutu talking on Thursday evening and a Wednesday-evening movie-shown-on-the-student-union-wall (outside) that she can attend. And I may have a last-minute presentation to prepare for. (This is last-minute in terms of the invitation, not my procrastination! I usually wait a while before procrastinating...) So if she doesn't mind eating at least mostly vegetarian for the week, and the cot we have doesn't throw her for a loop, we'll have a busy week.

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Posted in Random comments at 10:54 PM (Permalink) |

January 11, 2006

Sideways looks at ed policy

On the cryptic-note front (move along, move along, there's nothing to see here), I want to set down briefly what I discovered from trying to explain my sideways looks at ed policy to undergraduates last semester. While this doesn't quite capture my disciplinary (history) background, I tried to explain a bit about my political legacy of school accountability article and extract a few cynical questions from it:

  1. Why does this policy exist? Answers could cover different ground:
    • the explicit rationale
    • the implicit theory of action
    • The organizational purpose/role
    • The history
    • Whose ox is gored

  2. What are the consequences of this policy?
    • It's a tool for ...
    • How does this policy change questions raised about ed (and reframe debate in the future)?
    • What forms does dissent take, and what are the reactions?

I'm not entirely pleased with this reductionism, but it's a first stab.

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Posted in Teaching at 9:43 AM (Permalink) |

January 9, 2006

On mediocre reporting of research

Another article on the sleep research involving adolescents today. As is typical, the interviewed researchers claim that teens' diurnal clocks run later than either younger children or adults. And as is typical, this article doesn't mention whether the researchers controlled for the schedules of the teens. Without doing so, it's tough to say whether the biological measures are a cause or consequence of behavioral structures such as after-school activities and jobs. Does anyone reading my blog know this literature well enough to answer that question?

Without knowing more, I'm agnostic on the research and any policy implications. Since I have a teenager in the household, I will readily admit to my older child's wanting the world to run later. But so does my 10-year-old! And for that matter, I'd appreciate not waking up before 5:30, either. This doesn't say anything about the research, of course, but then again neither does the article's discussion of school schedules! This strikes me as the 2005/2006 equivalent of articles about uniforms—changing schedules, like requiring uniforms, would largely be window dressing on the structure of schools, unless there's some rigorous evaluation of the scheduling experiments. And maybe we could try other things, such as forbidding teens from working past 8 pm on schoolnights, as part of child-labor restrictions?

Maybe instruction might be important, too. I could always wake up for a good teacher at 8 am.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:38 PM (Permalink) |

Bush v. Holmes 2005

I've now had a chance to look at Bush v. Holmes, the voucher decision in Florida. There are some hidden bombs in here (past the jump):

  1. A key aspect of the program, according to the majority analysis, is the diversion of funds from local school districts to the vouchers (pp. 25-27). I don't know if a voucher program that didn't divert resources would be constitutional, but it would require different analysis in any case.
  2. The majority's reasoning on uniformity (pp. 27-30) largely mirrors my analysis of a double-standard in accountability in 2004.
  3. The reasoning on uniformity does not appear to define what would be constitutional variations in rules. To be fair, the dissent (curiously) failed to discuss the uniformity provision entirely, so it looks like all the justices fell down on this point. That doesn't mean, unlike some newspaper editorials I've read, that charter schools are necessarily unconstitutional because they receive some waivers from state regulation. It just means that there is no guidance in this ruling for what constitutes acceptable uniformity.
  4. Florida's Supreme Court just announced that it will look favorably on funding-adequacy lawsuits, commenting on 1998 amendments to the state constitution: "After the 1998 revision restoring the 'paramount duty' language, Florida’s education article is again classified as a Category IV clause, imposing a maximum duty on the state to provide for public education that is uniform and of high quality" (p. 6). This is a dramatic change in the attitude of the Florida court, which has generally shied away from school-funding cases.

The obvious question now is what will happen to the larger voucher programs in Florida—the students-with-disabilities voucher program and the corporate income-tax-shift voucher program. I suspect that plaintiffs could easily prevail on these programs. But there are two possible routes:

  • Insist that the courts disband the programs, using the analysis of the state supreme court.
  • Insist that the courts remedy the constitutional flaws in the programs by changing the funding mechanisms and by imposing accountability requirements that are substantially similar to those which apply to local public schools.
No predictions here as to who will try what.
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Posted in Education policy at 11:57 AM (Permalink) |

Beginning of semester

Tomorrow's my first teaching day, but the semester begins today for USF, and after several days of combining a research trip with seeing friends, I need to switch directions. Finish syllabus revision, toss things on the web, etc.

Update (11 am): Perhaps I shouldn't have done my weekly volunteering gig at my son's elementary school. By the time I drove to campus, every parking space was occupied. So I'm ensconsed in Local Café, doing a bit of work and hoping that I can find some parking at lunchtime, when many faculty and staff leave for off-campus munching. I know: you could have guessed it, right? So go ahead and laugh at me.

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Posted in Teaching at 8:19 AM (Permalink) |

January 6, 2006

Back in the archives

I'm back at the Georgia Archives today and tomorrow (started yesterday), with luck finishing the photographing of the reports I've chosen from the late 1950s and early 1960s. (This series starts in the late 1930s.) Usually, historians don't use the term data collection, because sifting through primary documents is a much more active cognitive process when you're in an archive. But when you're standing there taking snapshots and turning pages, what else do you call it? If I have time tomorrow, I'll also go through the state reports and see how early there is decent age-grade data.

This is the historical pilot for the tools I'm developing on graduation and attrition. Here, the historical question is where and how secondary-school experience grew in the South at mid-century. Did it grow primarily in urban areas or in both urban and rural areas? So I've selected about 20 (of Georgia's 159) counties to follow in a time series, divided into groups: urban counties, Georgia northeastern rural counties, coastal counties south of Savannah, and rural counties in the Black Belt along the Alabama border.

There are a few related measures I'm using. One is a growth-adjusted estimate of the proportion of time schoolchildren spend in secondary school. A second is an estimate of grade progression rates for elementary ages. A third is a profile of attrition. The last is the trickiest, because it depends so highly on accurate migration data. I'm using an average of a residual flow for ages 7-10 as the assumed average for the student population, but that doesn't capture age-to-age differences, and that's likely to make things tricky for ages 16-17. For many of the rural historical populations, the attrition begins well before 16. Because I have the other measures now, I'm less worried about this one, but it's such a nasty thing to get right, and it affects everything about graduation estimates as well as attrition.

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Posted in Research at 8:04 AM (Permalink) |

Florida vouchers

I haven't had time yet to read the Florida Supreme Court decision striking down Gov. Bush's first voucher program. Apparently it was based on the uniform public education clause in the state constitution. Ironically, the question is close to the issue that was disposed of first in this long-lived lawsuit, whether the state can spend any public funding on private education, and the state supreme court decided not to take the case after the First District Court of Appeals had sided with the state in 2000.

The governor will almost certainly try an end-run around this decision, in one of two ways. First, they'll consider putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot for 2006 or 2008 to end the uniform bit. I suspect they'll decide in the end that it's a losing proposition, politically, and won't put it on. Second, they'll try to recreate the voucher programs through the corporate tax-credit scheme they've already established. But I don't think that's going to secure any more funding than already exists (and I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that corporate donations to the tax-credit scheme are quasi-political, with the motivation, supposition, or assumption that donations to the tax-credit scheme are a way of gaining political access, akin to donating to non-profits that federal legislators are associated with).

But court decisions are more than legal—they're also political—and the Florida supreme court has made the double-standard in accountability with voucher schools very, very visible. It won't go away, and it's very tough to explain with a straight face why local public schools have to have their kids tested, with scores revealed for the whole world, while private schools receiving vouchers don't.

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Posted in Education policy at 7:36 AM (Permalink) |

January 3, 2006

Nichols, Glass, and Berliner

Today, Education Policy Analysis Archives publishes High-Stakes Testing and Student Achievement by Sharon L. Nichols (U. Texas San Antonio), Gene V Glass, and David C. Berliner (both of Arizona State University). It's a provocative article that argues that an extensive effort to look for relationships between high-stakes testing and state-level performance on NAEP from the late 1980s through a few years ago found evidence that high-stakes testing increased achievement only for fourth-grade math and in a limited fashion. Because I commented on an earlier draft of this document, one that appeared as a report in September (my name's in black and white as a reviewer on the last page of the appendices), readers may well be curious of the process followed on receipt of the manuscript. There needs to be some care when members of a board submit a manuscript to the journal and when an editor has seen a manuscript before.

I received the manuscript in late March and assigned it to five reviewers (sending them each a blinded copy). Because of the manuscript's length, I gave reviewers a considerable part of the summer to return remarks. After receiving them, I stripped the names off the comments and sent the compilation to a trusted member of the editorial board who knew the identity neither of the authors nor of the reviewers, and I asked the board member to make a decision on publication as a proxy editor: publish essentially as is, ask the authors to revise and resubmit, or reject. Based on the comments and his or her own sense of the manuscript, the proxy editor for this manuscript decided to ask for a revision. I conveyed the proxy editor's statement, comment, and all of the reviews (a total of 18 pages) to the authors in early September.

When the authors returned a revised version to me in the fall, I was removed by several revisions from the version I had commented on earlier in the process and decided that it would be acceptable on balance to make a decision, based on the revisions and the earlier comments of reviewers and my proxy editor, Les McLean of the University of Toronto. (There is also a question of how fair it would have been to Professor McLean to ask him to continue to serve as a proxy editor for such a long manuscript.) The result is a long article but one that is considerably tighter and stronger than either the report that I saw in draft form or any of the versions in between. I take full responsibility for the decisions first to remove myself from the initial review and then to make a final publication decision.

This article continues a debate over the effects of high-stakes testing, in the forum of a professional journal where the merits of the research can properly be debated. Nichols, Glass, and Berliner develop two new measures of pressure—a cross-sectional measure relying on accumulated ratings of many reviewers, what they call the APR, and a proxy longitudinal measure using an expert whose cross-sectional ratings correlate positively with their APR. This article will not end the debate, and I don't think that the authors expect it to. But it continues the development of rating high-stakes pressure in an new direction, and it contributes significantly to this literature. I look forward to the continued debate.

Update (3:16 pm EST): Thanks to A.G. Rud, a member of the editorial board who caught a misspelling.

January 1, 2006


Six years ago (minus one day), my article America Y2K predicted that the obsolescence of the "America 2000" national education goals would mean neither the absence of political pressure on schools nor necessarily thoughtful reflection about what expectations we should hold of schools. I think those predictions have been validated by the first five years of George W. Bush's administration and NCLB's fantasy goal of 100% proficiency for all students by 2014.

More after the jump.

As I wrote in the article, the nominal unreasonableness of a goal is not inherently silly but should be a subject of analysis:

First, one should measure a policy discussion not only by the realities one can observe on the ground but also in the agenda it sets for the future. Whether one agrees with the specific goals or the notion of a national education agenda, the summit in 1989 did help frame the policy debate that has ensued. Second, the deadline itself was primarily an instrument of political rhetoric, in the eyes of its creators a useful goad for change....

Still, the deadline reflects what the rest of the world often sees as prototypically optimistic boasting of the United States.... We in the U.S. often feel pressured by the assumption of affluence to individual and collective acts of hype and disappointment.... The failure to meet the national education goals was the result of a common dynamic in school reform. The problem with the national education goals was not that they set virtually unreachable goals but that they were not unusual in attempting to push change by setting impossible standards.

With the potential erosion of political support for NCLB and pressures by administrators and state politicians for waivers and other modifications, the debate has turned to how those legal expectations should change (e.g., growth models), not whether they should. And while I've been out of town, some of Andrew Rotherham's correspondents (Emily and Bryan Hassel) have hit on an idea similar (in some ways—added 1/4/06)) to that proposed by Bob Linn last year. In both cases, the proposal is for two sets of expectations, a rock-bottom all must meet this standard requirement, on the one hand, and a bonus if you can jump higher part. In the case of the Hassels, NCLB would retain the AYP standard but also give bonuses to schools who can show growth for the highest-achieving students. In Linn's case, NCLB would adjust AYP standards to have improvement pegged to the growth of the best-achieving schools in a state (who then presumably could be encouraged with carrots to push themselves further—I'm extrapolating here from Linn's article).

On the one hand, there is much to be said for this split approach, especially Linn's implicitly inductive way of setting expectations. It's the policy application of the old Ron Edwards school-effectiveness argument: if students in some schools can achieve well, then we can expect the same of all schools. It also defuses the fantasy of 100% proficiency by a set date and could replace it with a healthier long-term expectation: whatever students in the better schools do today, we should expect students in all schools to do in the medium term (say, 6-10 years down the road), and we should expect some schools to continue to improve and set the standard for the next cohorts of students.

On the other hand, there are two equity concerns from such differentiation. One is how it would cater to and reward predominantly already-advantaged communities. You're still special will be the message to the schools who are identified as the educational vanguard, and unfortunately it fits all too well into U.S. education's history of differentiation (see the David Labaree 1988 history of Philadelphia's Central High School for the best explanation). The other equity concern is with the potential for such identified "vanguard" schools to be hiding considerable inequality within the school. If a school in a wealthy community has relatively few students with disabilities, few students from non-English-speaking households, few poor students, and few students of color, then in many states the school is not AYP-accountable for those sub-populations. In other words, differentiation could reward segregation.

No solutions—I have a serious head cold and can't think straight today. But I think I'm right on some of the key political and institutional dilemmas involved here.

Update (January 4): In retrospect, it may not have been clear in the original post that I do understand the difference between proposals to add on rewards for some schools to the AYP construct, on the one hand, and Bob Linn's suggestions for changing it. I side more with Linn than with the Hassels.

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Posted in Education policy at 1:34 PM (Permalink) |