February 25, 2006

A palpable lie

In response to criticism of a recent special, ABC employee John Stossel has written a column, Myth: Schools Need More Money (or something similar depending on your local headline writer), with the following baloney:

The truth is, public schools are rolling in money. If you divide the U.S. Department of Education's figure for total spending on K-12 education by the department's count of K-12 students, it works out to about $10,000 per student.

The latest official per-pupil K-12 expenditures data shows $7,727 per fall enrollee current spending, on average (for 2001-02). I guess overestimating by almost 30% is Stossel's idea of accuracy. (It's 29.4% if you want to be exact, though it's only 21.1% if it's per-pupil counted as average daily attendance. But since teachers and others have to be hired for capacity, and you don't want kids to be sick or otherwise absent, it's better to look at per-pupil spending gauged against enrollment. Even if you include every drop of spending by K-12 agencies, even if not for K-12 students, and apportion it by enrollment, Stossel is still exaggerating by 11.2%.) And, yes, if one looks at average per-pupil expenditures in constant dollars, they've gone up consistently for most of the century (with a few exceptions: the early 30s, the early 40s, the late 70s, and the early 90s).

But that's not the whole story.

First, average expenditures hide considerable variation, both between states and within states. Some of that between-states variation is accounted for by salary differences from cost of living variation as well as differences in unionization rights and rates. Then there's the within-state variations, in some cases considerable (e.g., Illinois) and in other places dampened by equalization and adequacy court cases (California, New Jersey, Texas, and now New York, among other places, though New York's court opinion hasn't been implemented) or by statute (Florida).

Second, to say that education spending has increased ignores variations in those increases. Let's look at the per-pupil K-12 spending increases by decade (and you'll have to scroll down a bit):

Annualized per-pupil K-12 expenditure increases, 1919-20—1999-2000, U.S.
DecadeAverage per-pupil
spending increases (%)

(Average increases calculated as the log of the ratio of current expenditures per fall enrollee in 2001 dollars divided by 10. Education Department data starts with 1919-20 school year.)

The 90s data is skewed by six years (1989-90—1995-96) when spending increases averaged 0.1%; the following six years (through 2001-02) had 2.7% average increases. And one needs to be very cautious about interpreting time series when methods of data collection change every once in a while. Nonetheless, even counting just the higher increases in the period since 1989-90, the 90s and early 21st century had national per-pupil increases that were lower than common expectations—and, depending on how much the data-collection assumptions changed, possibly lower than any time since the Great Depression. That fact does not change when one looks at annual data, with the exception of a dip in funding increases in the late 70s and early 80s.

Now, there is considerable debate about how to spend that money, the extent to which the increasing expenses in the 1970s and 1980s were a consequence of commitments to educating students with disabilities, and the distribution question. But simplistic diatribes such as Stossel's deserve to be ridiculed, especially when supported by patently false factual claims. I fully expect Gerald Bracey to do a better job than I in some future writing on Stossel, though I vaguely remember Stossel's getting a Rotten Apple award in the past (or maybe two). Perhaps it's time for a Lifetime Achievement(?) Award.

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Posted in Education policy at 6:06 PM (Permalink) |

February 21, 2006

Summers of Discontent

Larry Summers has resigned, and the blogosphere is full of intemperate claims of political correctness. Tim Burke has the sensible view. No one's hands are particularly clean here (are they ever, at Harvard?), but Larry Summers had plenty of self-inflicted wounds.

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Posted in Random comments at 6:11 PM (Permalink) |

February 17, 2006

Viking raid on Georgia archives

With a family and Florida's odd school year (end in late May, teachers return in late July), I don't get to archives that often and schedule them in negotiations with my wonderful spouse. So after consulting our schedules, our kids' schedules, and the phases of Venus, I figured out about 2 years ago that I might just get away this weekend to the Georgia state archives. Okay, it was more like a month ago that we negotiated this, but here I am.

Completely, absolutely, totally exhausted. And satisfied...

Because of my reluctance to just spirit myself away for weeks at a time, I view visits to archives similar to Viking raids: get in, get stuff, and get out quickly (or you'll settle there). When I was in grad school and had a five-ton Toshiba T1000 with me, I spent every possible minute in the archives, squeezing every drop of concentration from my brain while the reading room was open. It was thrilling, and I have a cabinet-drawer full of notes from my dissertation with everything I took notes on. But the emphasis was on concentrated time in an archive.

About 13 months ago, I began the process again with a new project and a focused set of records, in the Georgia archives. every few months or so, I've come back, getting a few more snippets of the necessary records. (Brief explanation: I'm collecting annual enrollment and graduation data for four clusters of counties in Georgia from the late 1930s through the mid-1960s: coastal lowlands, Black Belt near the Alabama border, northeastern hills, and urban counties. From this, I hope to get a better picture of how and where the attainment and secondary-ed experience gap between Whites and African-Americans shrank in the middle of the 20th century.) This was scheduled to be my last trip funded by a mini-grant from my college, with the promise that it'll turn into several grant proposals (which it already has, in combination with a few other items). I knew I had to scarf down four years' worth of data on 23 counties (plus 3 city systems inside those counties), and then catch up with four years in one county I had missed my last time here (ouch!).

A day and a half, I figured. Fly up late on a Friday morning, hope that the archives staff will pull the boxes I start on, and then work madly through Friday afternoon and all Saturday. Sleep over in Atlanta Saturday night and hop a plane back Sunday. That's enough time for if things don't break my way.

Well, things broke my way. One of the archivists familiar with my work answered the phone this morning when I was at the rental-car counter (yes, I had called earlier in the week, but no one had answered), and he agreed to have the first five boxes pulled. Then the formats for these years are more amenable to photocopying than in the mid- to late 1950s. Then there were precious few examples of reports with paper clips I pointed out to staff to replace. (Rusting paper clips are evil things for records with archival value.) And I had a bit more energy for working efficiently.

The result is that I got a boatload of work done today. With any luck, I can finish the job early enough tomorrow that I can spend a few hours consulting with a colleague who lives and works in Atlanta. That's the good part. The frustrating bit is that because I went all-out at the end of the day to get through one last box, I'm completely exhausted right now. I can type brainlessly (witness this entry), but do anything that requires concentration? Not a chance!

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Posted in Research at 8:11 PM (Permalink) |

February 14, 2006

Vicarous Johari/Nohari

The Johari window meme has been circulating among the blogs of personal friends and my academic blogroll, so I'm going to twist it a bit: Johari for historical figures! This is more a matter of comparing shallow impressions, but isn't this what the internets are for?

So let's start with Lincoln, since there's plenty of material for both a Johari and Nohari. (View the current results for the Johari and Nohari.)

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Posted in History at 5:47 AM (Permalink) |

February 11, 2006

On wonks and institutions

Andrew Rotherham has decided to publicly nominate three individuals he thinks would be good presidents of Teachers College, in the context of a discussion of colleges of education:

Doesn't this seem like a great opportunity to really bring in someone dynamic who can work to put an academic institution like TC on the front burner of educational debates as well as tend to the traditional academic responsibilities? ... TC (and other big name ed schools) aren't exactly in the mix on a lot of stuff that's happening in education today. TC’s not even engaged on some of the most exciting stuff even in New York City. Let's hope they cast a wide net beyond folks in traditional academic jobs today. Here are three names that Eduwonk thinks should be in the mix because they could take things to the next level: Jane Hannaway, Kim Smith, Eva Moskowitz.... Schools of Ed are teetering on the edge of becoming completely irrelevant except to the extent they survive by regulatory capture at the state level. Regardless of what one thinks of Ed Schools today, this isn't good for the profession.... going with one of the usual suspects and turning the place into a bunker for the dead-enders seems guaranteed not only to be bad for TC but bad for Ed Schools overall.


I'm not sure if one should judge ed schools by how well they're involved in education politics. Many of them are underfunded places primarily geared towards initial certification of teachers and training of administrators. Regardless of how well you think they're doing their job, judging your local public ed school by how often local politicos look to them is like judging med schools by what happens to Medicaid and Medicare Part D. Many med and ed schools do have faculty who are interested in policy and politics, but the career rewards for individual faculty generally don't lie in schmoozing with city council members and legislators. For public institutions, as well, there are often arcane state regulations that mandate a schizophrenic approach to teacher education in a state: weedy bureaucracy in public colleges and universities and complete lack of regulation in other spheres.

I say this, incidentally, as someone keenly interested in education policy, firmly believing that academics need to reach out to the public much more effectively. Yet I'm also aware of the barriers to doing so effectively, for most faculty.

A successful education dean either has to know how such an institution operates or be willing to pick associate deans who do know the job. Of the names Rotherham mentions, Hannaway would be the only one I think could be successful as a college administrator, from her experience.

Oh, Andrew—"dead-enders" isn't exactly the way to someone's heart. I'm pretty thick-skinned, but I'd better appreciate insults that actually come from your reading my stuff or that of my fellow historians of education (or at least the work of some of us since 1974).

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Posted in Education policy at 2:16 PM (Permalink) |

Murdered student

I found out this morning that one of my former students was murdered at USF's campus late one night this week. Ronald Stem was a student in my masters-level history of education class a few years ago. Fundamentally a nice guy, he was a Vietnam veteran who loved history and was hoping to become a teacher. He left USF without finishing his studies, and this is just horrible news. For a large campus with 43,000 students, in many ways we're lucky that his death is the first on-campus murder since 1994, but it's still awful, and I hope the campus police and county homicide investigators find his killers quickly.

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Posted in Teaching at 7:31 AM (Permalink) |

February 10, 2006

'WT..." AAUP and other tidbits

I'm simply befuddled with the delayed conference that the AAUP first sponsored and has now put on hiatus, about academic boycotts. I'm simply too tired right now to attempt untangling the different threads, so I'll ask you just to read the article and the responses on IHE. What's especially sad are the comments by Joan Scott, an historian and past chair of AAUP's Committee A.

More beyond the jump.

This is the second embarrassing operational mistake by AAUP in the last year, coming after last summer's endorsement of the ACE statement on academic freedom (and the dissent that followed quickly on that statement).

In the good- or at least no-news category, Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) has not (yet) filed a bill this year to enshrine Horowitz's ABOR in law. He's told elected leaders of the United Faculty of Florida that he's waiting until our state legislative research service returns an analysis of university policies and practices. While the report itself will be public, the original documents are not covered by Florida's public-records laws. But it's a good sign that no bill has been filed after what I expect has been the production of at least a draft report (which almost surely has been described to Baxley, if the unit's folks are competent, which in my experience they are). I could be wrong, of course.

And in the "this requires watching" category, South Dakota's lower house has passed HB 1222, a bill that ACTA is pushing. In theory, there's nothing wrong with requiring that institutions produce a variety of reports, including qualitative descriptions of their actions in various realms, including academic freedom. However, the bill notably did not cover academic freedom per se but intellectual diversity with a rather odd definition: "the foundation of a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological, and other perspectives." My concerns with intellectual diversity tie into to disciplinary issues, not really ideology, but I understand the other arguments about it. Nonetheless, I am curious why this peculiarly political and ideological definition ignores things like conflicts in disciplinary literatures.

Moreover, academic freedom includes and goes well beyond whatever that encompasses. There's nothing in the bill's definition of intellectual diversity that mentions research or the general environment on a campus, or the insulation of institutional personnel decisions from undue external political pressures. There's nothing about academic due process for faculty, or for students.

We'll see what happens as this goes to the SD upper chamber.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 9:53 PM (Permalink) |

February 9, 2006

Bruised Bruins and egos

UCLA law professor Jerry Kang has a concise legal analysis of the imbroglio surrounding the "Bruin Alumni Association" blacklisting scheme. Greg James Robinson, who pointed out Kang's observations, is concerned about the chilling effects on campus as a consequence of such snitching efforts. We have some time and space to consider the issues in abstract since it appears that "BAA" head Andrew Jones is having his handed to him on a platter, by his own advisors, just a short time after David Horowitz had to retract a bunch of his allegations. Pardon me while I reach for my handkerchief, and I'll continue after a decent interval and the jump.

The fundamental question raised in a few places online (most clearly on the Volokh Conspiracy) is the question of what actually chills speech. All who write or speak publicly are opening themselves to criticism. As academics, we're supposed to be provocative and thick-skinned. I write an article, and someone disagrees with me. People cite the stuff, discuss it, argue its significance, and then buy an oversweetened latté. (Sometimes they buy the latté before writing.) Readers sort out the truth, or what they think the truth is. In class, we're supposed to foster discussion. That doesn't work well when everyone agrees on one position. Students disagree, and they're supposed to be thick-skinned enough to withstand criticism of their positions and listen to other perspectives. They're also supposed to be thick-skinned enough to withstand criticism and grading by faculty without wilting.

A critic outside a field crosses the line into coercion with a threat or pressure to eliminate an academic job or program based on what faculty write and say. The most obvious violations of academic freedom in this regard comprise crude, explicit pressure: "The university should fire so-and-so." I'm willing to give ignorant lawmakers one threatening remark as a good excuse to educate them about academic freedom, because education is part of my job. But that education needs to be direct and firm and should come publicly from faculty and administrators. The response needs to be immediate and forceful, because extended pressures or threats create a well-recognized attempt to chill speech that extend far beyond the give and take of general criticism.

Threats and pressure can be indirect, where the context of the pressure is similar to historical violations of academic freedom. The "Bruin Alumni Association" effort reminded too many of us of the Cold War efforts to find anyone who would inform authorities of politically incorrect behavior or attitudes of faculty. The scope of this program was designed to range far beyond the collection of anecdotal student reports on Rate My Professors and targeted individual faculty for opprobrium. It's a plausible conclusion that Jones was (and probably still is) hoping that he could pressure UCLA administrators to fire the faculty he hated.

Gauging indirect pressure and threats is and will always remain a judgment call. That is why we need to learn and remember the history of academic freedom (violations), so we can tell the difference between bona fide efforts that chill speech, on the one hand, and legitimate public debate, on the other.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 10:00 PM (Permalink) |

February 4, 2006

The Clintonization of Bush

The State of the Union speech this year demonstrated the downsizing of Bush's political capital. It had a bunch of platitudes about Iraq and the war on terrorism and a bunch of small-program stuff, things that would never have received play in prior years when Bush was feeling his oats. But his oats have become cornfeed, he's in sad shape politically, and he's so desperate that he even mentioned switchgrass and math and science education. At least he didn't mention the ultimate in Clintonization via school uniforms.

I suspect that the minor mention of switchgrass will push up investment in that at least briefly, but I'm just not sure about the math/science initiative. Officials at NSF (and any grant-giving agency) are well aware of the political dynamics: to justify more appropriations, you always have to have some new initiative in the works. So the president didn't need to say anything. What really matters on the ground in terms of research support is what the White House supports in the hard, backroom negotiations with Congressional leaders. With $120 billion more to be sunk shortly into our wars, will there even be an extra $5 or $10 billion for grants? Who knows.

And then there's the educational sideshow here. Will Congressional leaders be interested in K-12 math and science or in rewarding those who major or head to grad school in math and science? Unfortunately, it is a sideshow to everything else in Washington, relatively speaking. Given the political turmoil over NCLB, the elevation of Boehnert to majority leader, and the crippling federal deficit, this looks like the politics of symbolism.

Let me lay the cards on the line: I love calculus (and swoon to the fundamental theorem). I want everyone to adore math and be intrigued by science (and vice versa). But there are serious questions to debate about what math and science education are for (citizenship? economics? aesthetics?), let alone how to tackle the teacher-shortage problem, curriculum issues, and professional development necessary to boost math and science education.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:50 AM (Permalink) |

And on the right side of publishing competence ...

Our edited book Schools as Imagined Communities is out! I'm so happy. This is one of the two edited collections I've been working on for the last few years. The other one is still in press, but the imagined communities book has been a labor of love, especially since it involves other people's labor. Go buy! Assign it to classes! Deirdre Cobb-Roberts, Barbara Shircliffe, and I don't get a single red cent, since all of the royalties are donated to three organizations (the History of Education Society, the American Educational Studies Association, and Bealsville, Inc., a local preservationist society—see the obituary of Carrie Johnston for a bit of the background).

And, unlooked for, Palgrave Macmillan corrected a minor error that I thought was going to be preserved in the book. We had asked that Deirdre be first author, but when we saw the cover, it came back with me as first author, and then the galleys had Deirdre as first author. Yikes! It's a minor inconsistency but a bit embarrassing. So we told them we didn't really care who was listed first (we don't, really), but that it needed to be consistent. The next version I saw (including the one on Amazon) had me listed as first editor, so that's how we gave the citation to our chair. And then we got our copies in the mail. They fixed it!

It's a minor thing, really, but a point of professionalism in favor of the press. (And, if you have the chance to work with Palgrave Macmillan, I recommend them. We received the copyedited MS and the galleys electronically, which speeds the work on a collaborative project dramatically.)

Incidentally, the link to the book is for Amazon—Powell's doesn't yet have it listed. But I don't care where you buy the book.

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Posted in Random comments at 8:14 AM (Permalink) |

February 3, 2006

A preposition! My kingdom of a preposition!

Well, I've been misquoted in the press again, if mildly. Ed Week reporter Debra Viadero wrote a generally nice article about Rob Warren's EPAA article comparing different graduation measures, and she quoted from an e-mail I had sent her after a misdirected missive (that came to me though intended for someone else). I had written (in part),

My gut sense as an editor and someone who has written before on the topic is that Warren has the best look thus far at the different measures, his idea is a definite if marginal improvement, and that migration continues to be the greatest problem for estimating graduation accurately at the local level.

That came out as...
“Warren has the best look thus far of the different measures,” Sherman Dorn, the journal’s editor, said in an e-mail message last week. “His idea is a definite if marginal improvement.” (emphasis added)

At, of—what's the difference? It makes me look a little less literate, but it's more amusing than anything else. The article is at least 70% correct, so that's pretty good for education reporting.

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Posted in Random comments at 10:11 AM (Permalink) |