May 31, 2006

A case and a case study of academic freedom

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled in Garcetti v. Ceballos that public employees have less of a right to speak out on issues related to their employment than had generally been considered. Inside Higher Ed discusses the hedging in the opinion on academic freedom. Robert O'Neil has an important point, in his discussion with IHE's Doug Lederman: does this mean that public employees (including public-institution faculty) have fewer rights precisely in areas where we have the most expertise? Perverse consequences...

And the NY Times has a feature about Louisiana State University's attempt last fall to muzzle Ivor van Heerden, a nontenured leader of the university's hurricane research center, because of his criticism of the levee systems. Fortunately, colleagues supported him and LSU administrators backed down. As reporter John Schwartz notes, van Heerden "suspects that his critics may not be as upset about what he might have gotten wrong as about what he has gotten right." This is absolutely a case study of why academic freedom is important, and it's critical to keep in mind that these cases pop up in areas crucial to public safety.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:48 AM (Permalink) |

May 30, 2006

On the limits of reunions

Since my previous entry on Bryn Mawr's reunion drew a few responses, I should note that the entry wasn't about the broader reunion (of which I saw little) but more about folk cultures on residential campuses. I didn't see who showed up at every event, but I think that those alumnae who came back were disproportionately white compared to the graduating class as a whole—if my impression is correct, it is something that should worry a college in terms of having alumnae feeling connected with a college. That doesn't have to be the case—I know of several majority-white colleges where minority alumni networks are active. And I know that Haverford has an active gay/lesbian alumni network.

Then there is the other limitation of my observations, about the class makeup of a residential liberal-arts college. Bryn Mawr and Haverford have students disproportionately from wealthy families, which is both an inevitable dynamic and also a problem. Private colleges need money and thus have legacy admissions. They also need diverse student populations to work well. I know this from my own teaching—a class of reasonably well-off 20-year-olds learning about the history and organization of schools does not work nearly as well as a class where at least 4-5 students are over 30, where at least another 4-5 students are from the first generation in their family to go to college, etc.)

What happens to a campus culture as the population shifts is an interesting question. I don't know if anyone has studied that, but it would make for a great dissertation or book.

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Posted in Random comments at 9:28 AM (Permalink) |

O'Connor and French respond

Erin O'Connor (in her guise as ACTA blogger) and David French have responded to Timothy Burke's critique of the How Many Ward Churchills? paper essentially by saying, (1) asking the report to quantify is unfair and (2) it doesn't matter how infrequently professors design a course around a specific ideological bias (which is the claim in the report, from course descriptions)—any is wrong. Pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but when a report title includes the words "how many," it sets up a certain expectation about quantification.

O'Connor goes further by saying that Burke used the wrong standard:

Humanists, as Burke well knows, don't amass statistical data, but they do still make valid arguments by accumulating examples and by analyzing them; ACTA's approach, centered as it is on the rhetorically suggestive course descriptions posted by academic departments across the country, necessarily has far more in common with the humanist technique of assembling textual evidence in order to demonstrate the existence of telling linguistic patterns than it does with a number-crunching methodology, and Burke, himself a historian whose work hardly inhabits the hard data world, knows this.

O'Connor wants the ACTA report judged by humanistic rather than social-science standards? Fine. She's an English professor at Penn. Would she allow any student to write a paper using only blurbs on the covers of books, without ever cracking the covers? When someone tries to analyze what happens in a class through the course description, we're getting some fascimile equivalent of the literary analysis of book blurbs.

As I've commented elsewhere, I would be far more willing to grant ACTA credibility if it didn't have a history of deliberately distorting faculty views, whitewashing its errors, having no sense of accountability for its own activities, and rarely commenting on the broader university management issues that are tough on liberal arts. When an organization devotes a disproportionate amount of energy to portraying faculty as villains, why should anyone be surprised when faculty cast a skeptical eye at reports that distort what we do?

Updates: Timothy Burke has more in reply to both O'Connor and French, as usual both substantive and written gracefully. Hiram Hover has more.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 9:17 AM (Permalink) |

May 29, 2006

Boycott

I feel a bit sick after hearing that the leadership of one of the UK's higher-ed faculty unions voted for a boycott of Israeli academics. See LabourStart's list of articles about the boycott. There is nothing specific yet about the dynamics in the hall or precisely what will happen when the two UK higher-ed unions merge on Wednesday. But this is not good news by any stretch of the imagination.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 5:40 PM (Permalink) |

Memorial Day and contingency

The uncle I never met, Leo Dorn, was the second child of Philip and Gertrude Dorn, about seven years younger than Murray and seven years older than Al (my father). As an adolescent, he never really got along with my grandfather, and he enlisted in WW2 in part as a way to get away from home.

He died March 25, 1945, in Belgium. I don't think there was a well-known battle there (the allies had recently crossed the Rhine after capturing the Remagen bridge). He was buried in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium, at the American Cemetery. My father was 12, almost 13, and my uncle was in his 20s at the time. Leo's death dramatically changed my father's life.


Not only did my father lose a brother that day, but my grandfather (along with several other family members) became determined not to see my father enlist and put himself in the same type of danger. Being a good student, my father was pushed to enroll in college (the first in his family) and go to medical school. At the time, college attendance and my father's later enrollment in medical school deferred his military service. (He entered the Air Force in the late 1950s and served his tour as the base pediatrician in the incredibly dangerous hotspot of the world, George AFB in Victorville, California, where my oldest sister was born.) The spouse of one of his relatives, Bernie Annenberg, had recommended the University of Vermont, where my father met my mother (and later attended medical school).

Sometimes on Memorial Day (and Veterans Day), we forget the ambiguities and contingencies involved in military service, even in a war clearly thought of as necessary at the time. Not all motives in joining were pure, and the deaths of soldiers had complex effects on their families. I'm sure my uncle was patriotic and joined in part because he wanted to do something for the war, but it was also to get away from his father. It's quite possible that my father would have gone to college without Leo's death, but my grandfather became contrite about his childrearing and how he valued (or undervalued) his sons in part because of it. I knew nothing about it when I was a young child. I only knew my grandfather as a doting man who loved us and whose enduring trait was always having a bag of M&Ms when he came (something that irritated my mother no end at the time—until she became a doting grandmother). And I knew my Uncle Bernie (Annenberg) as a retired high school science teacher who took the Radio Shack toy method of teaching us about science (oh, and taking some moderately explosive chemicals into my fourth-grade class to make a "volcano"). (Bernie Annenberg also taught me how to ride a bike, in part by trying to convince me that a spinning bicycle wheel would make a bike hard to fall over on its side—ever the science teacher.) Not until after their deaths did I learn of what happened before and after Leo's death to make possible my father's college attendance at the University of Vermont, his meeting my mother, and ultimately my own existence.

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Posted in History at 7:30 AM (Permalink) |

May 28, 2006

College folk cultures, formal and informal

I'm currently in Pennsylvania, having come up here with my family for my wife's 20th reunion at Bryn Mawr College. Last night we went to the reunion stepsing, which has its roots in a thrice-yearly ritual at the college of undergraduates' gathering in the evening to sing a bunch of songs. At one level, the ritual is fairly formal, with each class sitting together, led by a class songsmistress and, when all of them sing, by the senior songmistress. There are several songs that are de rigeur, starting with two in Greek. (Hey, this is Bryn Mawr, where significant minorities of students take Latin or Greek.) Even the parodies of college life can be fairly old. (The times when Haverford College students are welcomed to respond can be embarrassing. The one we alums were called on last night to sing includes the following verse:

Her suite will be occupied by ten cats
A parakeet, goldfish, and two white rats.
Mind's precocious, hair's atrocious;
If you get her in bed, she's ferocious

This is to "The Girl That I Marry," from Annie Get Your Gun, and that's the least offensive verse, either in the version sung by Mawrters or the one down for Fords to sing. I'm assuming it was written in the 60s, and oh, is it dated. For one thing, Haverford has been coed for about a quarter-century, and I don't think the authors were that enlightened about same-sex marriage when the parody was written.) And yet the culture is clearly a folk process, even within the formality. The alumnae association reunion songbook includes a number of clever turns of phrase, such as the following from one of my wife's classmates (Claudia Ginanni, to the John Denver tune, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy"):

Well I haven't seen a man in 17 weeks;
The closest that I've come is a wimp and a geek.
Can't remember how they look, but I think they have beaks;
Thank God I'm a Mawrter Girl

I remember that from when I was an undergraduate, and it's still one of the best set of lines written by a student at that time. (Too bad it wasn't one of the songs chosen last night.) It's not surprising that an all-women's college would have parodies that poke fun at single-sex social life, but there are plenty that also poke fun at the strenuous workload, such as the parody of "How Lovely is the Morning" referring to early-morning classes and the way that the central building on campus tolls the hours (in round form):

Oh how ugly is the morning, is the morning.
Taylor Tower sounds its warning, sounds its warning.
Goddamned bell. Goddamned bell.

The larger context at Bryn Mawr is a single-sex residential liberal-arts college with a student-run honor code, a college that used to be affiliated with the Society of Friends (i.e., Quakers), and where there was a long history of informal group writings on campus well before blogs existed. So-called "backsmoker diaries" (group journals) survived for many years after the relevant dorms were declared no-smoking domains. There is no "gut" degree anywhere in the college, the only Greeks are those majoring in the subject, and while the college is not as physically isolated as some well-known liberal-arts colleges I could name, getting into or around Philadelphia isn't exactly easy for students without cars. Students respond to that isolated pressure in different ways. Many thrive. Some turn to individually-destructive actions. A few turn (and I hope as relatively few as I saw when I was a student at Haverford) to collective destructive actions when drinking. And those who aren't sure whether they're thriving often forge social support networks through creative endeavours.

The parody songs sung at stepsing (see how many forms of that verb we can use in a sentence...) are the most visible signs of that creative culture on the campus. The formality of the ritual should not obscure the informalities behind it. Part of the reasons why the students at Bryn Mawr continue stepsing is because a critical mass find value in a shared culture at precisely the time when they both want to demonstrate independent value in their lives and also when they realize how desperately they need social support in the tough environment of a liberal-arts college.

Disclosure: one of the songs I wrote as a Haverford student appears in the songbook, albeit uncredited. That's okay—folk processes tend to obscure authorship, especially when a lyric sheet is passed down as faded copies retyped over the years—it was rather nice to see it there.

Small-worlds note: I discovered this weekend that the advisor of my colleague Barbara Shircliffe—SUNY Buffalo professor emerita Maxine Sellers—was in Bryn Mawr's Class of 1956. I never did catch up with her to tell her that Barbara's new book, The Best of That World, is finally out. It's a history of the desegregation of Tampa, and I strongly recommend it. I'm biased, of course, but I'm also right here.

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Posted in Random comments at 11:59 PM (Permalink) |

May 26, 2006

Mendacity on the academic-freedom front

ACTA president Anne D. Neal finally responded to Tim Burke's criticism of the How Many Ward Churchills? report. Whew. Now we know that, according to Neal, Burke is illogical, solipsistic, unfair, and not paying attention to the incredible importance of course descriptions. According to Neal, "ACTA’s report is as friendly to institutional self-governance and academic freedom as it is possible for a watchdog organization to be."

I'm not convinced.


Let me narrow this down to the question of whether course descriptions are important indicators of much. Neal's language:

Course descriptions are designed to stand alone — if they are all a prospective student needs to know about a class, then they are also all tuition-paying parents, taxpayers, and concerned citizens need in order to form a preliminary judgment.

This objection is part of Burke’s larger criticism of the report’s reliance on course descriptions. But his claim that these documents — the main resource students use to decide whether or not to register for a class — do not tell us anything about what happens in the classes in question is illogical at best, disingenuous at worst. If true, this charge would mean either that professors routinely engage in false advertising or that the process by which students choose courses is a charade that fools no one but students themselves.... They matter because they are professors’ own public representations of what happens in their classrooms. That so many professors describe their pedagogical aims in ideologically loaded ways raises entirely legitimate questions about accountability and balance.

I don't know if Neal ever taught a college course, but if she asked any college teacher, she'd hear evidence that students do more than rely on course descriptions when picking courses and from among multiple sections of the same course. Every semester, students ask me for syllabi during registration time (even though past syllabi are available on my website). We know they also talk to each other about courses and, usually, are concerned more with the faculty's competence than with the content of the course. Course descriptions are limited, in part because universities set word limits on them. My university's course proposal form limits course descriptions to 255 characters. Period. Someday (and in some universities today, perhaps), catalogues will have links from course listings to syllabi. But that lack of operating transparency (something Tim Burke and I both would like to see) does not mean that course descriptions are "all a prospective student needs to know about a class."

Moreover, the defense of course-description analysis is mendacity in action, on several levels. Neal neatly ignored Burke's specific criticism of their use of Duke's History 75 as an example, both their cherry-picking one course from the Duke history department and also the overinterpretation of the course description itself.

But, at another level, it is mendacious to avoid the obvious point: ACTA chose course descriptions because they're publicly available and easy to get an employee to track down, not because they're great indicators, and ACTA attacked course descriptions because criticizing them is at least slightly more substantive than criticizing course titles. All academics are keenly aware of the problems with using variables that really are not indicators of what we really need to know but are used by sloppy colleagues because they're available. It's the academic equivalent of looking for a lost key under the streetlamp because the light's better. That's essentially what ACTA has done. It's a sign of sloth, because ACTA could have simply gone to a state with a public-records law (e.g., Florida) and asked for copies of syllabi. Or they could have gone to the MIT website, where there is a whole slew of information on every course in the university, to discover more meat. But they didn't.

But let's not use a scholar's standards of care with research (since Neal explicitly eschews that in her column). When I've talked to or corresponded with journalists about their choice of information, almost universally the response has been, "Well, yes, I know it's imperfect, but it was available." They're forthright about the limits of their work. I don't think you can say the same about Neal.

And, since we're talking about the amazing refusal to acknowledge reality, IHE also published a piece by Dennis Baron, arguing as John K. Wilson did last Friday that the most important fact about the Churchill affair is the political pressure on the university. Those of us who have read the committee's report and found its conclusions on Churchill's scholarship rather impressive are fully aware of the political context but cannot ignore the real problems uncovered in Churchill's scholarship. Baron's claim, "I don’t know enough about the situation to support or challenge the panel’s unanimous findings" is just absurd. We know that Baron has read the report, since he criticizes the committee's reasoning on its framing of the work. The report is written for nonspecialists; why can't Baron decide if the committee had a point?

The problem here is that both the political context and the substantive errors in Churchill's scholarship are relevant. It's just not true, as Baron claims, that "the committee’s 125-page report signals a chilling warning to academics: If you want to stay below the radar, keep your politics and your scholarship to yourself." There are very serious concerns that the committee and others have raised about the context of the investigation, but we don't do ourselves any good by oversimplifying the threats to academic freedom. Local context is important. The leadership at the University of Colorado has done a far better of insulating the investigative process from political interference than my own university did in the case of Al-Arian, doing so even while the administration was (quite legitimately) reeling from the football-team scandal. And even here at USF, the administration has several times backed away from foolish errors. I've criticized the governor's education policies, openly and in testimony in the state capitol, and I'm still here. I co-wrote an article on the Al-Arian affair, one criticizing the university administration, and I am still here. In January 2002, one week after my tenure file went to the central administration offices, I stood up in front of the faculty senate, with the press capturing every second of the meeting, and laid out the criteria by which the administration's and board's actions would be judged, clearly implying that it would be seen as a violation of academic freedom, and I still got tenure and a promotion. As far as I'm aware, no one has tried to sick some imaginary research-misconduct police on me in retaliation for anything I've said. That doesn't vitiate the concerns we have about academic freedom, but it does mean we should be vigilant, not paranoid.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 10:55 AM (Permalink) |

TFA as trendy

Inside Higher Ed has a story in today's edition on a jump in applicants to Teach for America. It now claims it accepts fewer than 20% of applicants.

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Posted in Education policy at 6:20 AM (Permalink) |

May 25, 2006

Hot grad-rate discussion in comments!

We have the first extended thread of comments in this blog, on the grad-rate debate, with an active debate between Dan Losen and Joydeep Roy. My thanks to both of them for continuing the discussion. (I usually let comments stand on their own but wanted to point to this, since it's extended and quite substantive.)

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Posted in Research at 4:29 PM (Permalink) |

Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch

Go, Thou, and read the Ed Week column written jointly by Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch. Update: It's behind a subscription wall. Grump.

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Posted in Education policy at 6:42 AM (Permalink) |

Banning travel to Cuba

Inside Higher Ed has finally reported on the Florida bill that would ban travel to countries labeled as supporting terrorism using funds that go through public colleges or universities. I've heard conflicting responses from fellow faculty around the state—not about the wisdom of the policy, which most would recognize is an infringement on several areas of research, but about whether the university faculty's collective bargaining agreements would protect such activities. Obviously, from the article, the sponsor in the Florida House does not particularly care to hear from academics. I suspect that if it were insurance companies or utilities, he'd be far more respectful.

I had been wondering whether such rules would also prohibit bringing one's university laptop or equipment to Cuba to conduct research, even if the purchase was not primarily for research in Cuba, and then I realized that laptops might fall into technology export restrictions (a long explanation from University of Chicago's research office regarding export restrictions that apply to research conducted in Iran, Cuba, etc.). Then that raises another question: if a faculty member goes through the official, rather severe federal filters for bringing a laptop to Cuba or Iran, why would the state not be willing to let the university handle the money? I guess Rep. Rivera just doesn't trust the federal government.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 6:35 AM (Permalink) |

Ward Churchill's response

Via Inside Higher Ed and Churchill defender John Moredock comes news of Ward Churchill's response to the investigating committee's report. A little over one page of the six-page response concerns the substantive allegations. Readers can judge for themselves whether this is a great scholar responding to a witchhunt or a continuation of the mendacity that the investigating committee claimed.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 6:02 AM (Permalink) |

May 24, 2006

Peace! Peace!

True to form, my May has been utterly crazy-busy, enough that I am both relieved I am not teaching this summer and a bit ashamed that I haven't done more writing. (It comes from my children's birthdays, my wife's and my anniversary, the end of the K-12 school year in Tampa, and my need to repay my wife for her having done the runaround while I was out of town several times in the spring.) Today, I went to my son's fifth-grade award ceremony (mostly for awarding good-citizenship certificates to the majority of the students), missed the department meeting with the dean about our chair vacancy (because our chair is being pulled downstairs as an associate dean), talked with colleagues a bit, rushed to the central administration building for a short meeting with the president's representative on union affairs over a grievance that I'm the representative for (not my grievance, in other words), then ran to my daughter's school to pick her up from school and drive her to my wife's school, where she's currently playing violin for a post-graduation reception, and then back here to work on a few tidbits before my son gets home, at which point I'll clean the public space of the house and start baking the cake for my daughter's birthday party.

The month's been like that.


That fact may explain why I begged and pleaded for a few hours of peace in a café last night, just to get one significant task done uninterrupted. I didn't even care what it was. So I spent the time analyzing Virginia's enrollment and graduation data from 1996-97 through 2003-04, since they have kindly posted online all sorts of useful information, including age-grade tables (which I use in my current project). There was one obviously incorrect estimate (I think 15-year-old enrollment for 1997-98, which had to have been about 5,000 students short of the real figure), but the rest is going to allow me to demonstrate how changing migration estimates affect graduation statistics. There's overlapping data on Virginia, as well, from others studying graduation rates.

All in all, a nice three hours of work. I wonder when I'll get that uninterrupted time next...

And I hear my son's bus pulling up outside.

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Posted in Research at 2:39 PM (Permalink) |

May 23, 2006

Data and noise in high-stakes testing

Via Eduwonk, a thoughtful reflection on the graduation-exam lawsuit in California. The blogger, T.M.A.O., has a response that's full of interesting tensions. For example, there's the criticism of problematic high-stakes testing...

Like the outcome of a presidential election with pervasive voter fraud, the results of a high school exit exam emerging from a grossly unjust system provide no basis for forward thinking, only evidence of the need for reform.

... and then something on the obligations of schools ...
Lack of motivation, poverty, ELL status, family troubles—there is no excuse for the failure to educate kids, only poor attempts to rationalize and explain away that failure.

Kudos to her or him for expressing the tensions so well.

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Posted in Education policy at 4:55 PM (Permalink) |

More grad rates debates

Via NCLBlog comes the tip of Jay Mathews's story today on the grad-rate debate, along with sidebars by Mishel and Roy and Greene and Winters, respectively. Greene and Winters are pegging most of their rebuttal on an accounting argument that asks where about half a million graduates are, if you accept their claims about how many should be graduating given Mishel's and Roy's arguments.

I finally had a chance to listen to the April 27 live debate between Mishel and Greene at the National Press Club. For most of it, I think Mishel ate Greene's lunch. But that's about debating points.

In the long run, Mishel's argument has some serious weaknesses. In terms of the National Educational Longitudinal Sample that started in 1988, it's well-known that the sample exclusion was about 5 percent of the population. Assuming a small problem in attrition of 1-2 percent, and it's plausible that the NELS graduation stats are overestimated for that cohort by 6-8 percent. Then there's the question of cohort effects. The federal statistics suggest that for its semi-official rates (event dropout rate, status dropout rate, and completion rate), this cohort was unusually likely to graduate and unusually unlikely to drop out. So I'm not sure that looking to NELS really says that much.

Here is where being slow and cautious is a professional disadvantage. I haven't had the time to turn any analysis from my perspective into an article, but I think I need to, at least with regard to the effects of migration on estimates of graduation.

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Posted in Research at 4:33 PM (Permalink) |

FCAT data released

The Florida Department of Education released another year's batch of FCAT scores. Reporters will rush to the media packet to mine it for details. Page 36 will get some attention, as it shows that a lower proportion of 10th graders have been passing the reading section of the FCAT (for graduation purposes) in the last two years than in the prior three. Update: The first story from the St. Pete Times calls the report a mixed bag, and you can find other stories via Google News search for "fcat". As I expected, reporters are digging below the data aggregated across grades (bad stats use) to find where the patterns are different.

I nominate page 31 for the Most Misleading Page award for the packet. While low-performing students who were retained in third grade scored higher in fourth grade (two years after finishing third for the first time) than those who were promoted to fourth grade (and took the fourth-grade test one year after finishing third), that's not exactly an unpredictable response. I'd love to see what the developmental scores are when compared for students at the same age. In related news, the Pinellas county school board is considering a policy to seriously consider retention for 5th and 8th graders with low reading FCAT scores, essentially applying the statewide standard for 3rd-grade promotion gates to 5th and 8th.

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Posted in Education policy at 3:10 PM (Permalink) |

May 22, 2006

On NCLB and goals

It is a frequent criticism of the No Child Left Behind Act that a goal of 100% of students' reaching proficiency in reading and math is unattainable (new link—11:30 am). The counterargument is that unattainable goals are nonetheless useful. In 2014, no matter what the achievement of the country's students, there will be defenders of the original 100% goal who will say that it was necessary to prod schools to improve the education of everyone. The argument is essentially, "Even if it is impossible to reach, it's important to have a goal that's motivating."

The implied "theory of action" here—that one needs to have an official "stretch goal" for education policy that is consistent with our best ideals while still unrealistic—requires a straightforward matching of actions to goals and an understanding by educators of how to improve achievement dramatically. It also assumes a naïve response to such stretch goals, as if they had never been put in place in the past, as if there is no "side effect" of an unattainable goal.

The problem is that all of those assumptions are incorrect.


1) Educators don't know how to help 100% of students reach proficiency, no matter how defined except in a trivial manner (e.g., proficiency gauged by how many students are breathing). There are certainly ways to improve achievement, but most teachers are doing the best they currently know how to do. (Except for the occasional lazy [expletive], bad teaching requires energy, and I'd argue that bad teaching is often more exhausting than good teaching.) And while there is quite a bit of good research on improving reading and math skills for elementary students (so there are plenty of ways that teachers can pick up and apply new skills), I'm far less sanguine about upper grades. It's much harder to move achievement at secondary levels for a variety of reasons—academic problems are cumulative; academic issues are complicated by the logistical demands of juggling classes; and kids get ornery (read: they hit adolescence) in ways that are less tractable than most garden-variety disaffection at elementary ages. In addition, my impression (though will be happy to be proven wrong) is that there is less applied research on adolescent learning in content areas.

2) School responses are not entirely geared towards improving achievement. There is always a certain amount of gaming the system, either at the state level (with proficiency levels that are considerably lower in effect for some states than others) or at local levels (with test-prep in its different flavors, pushing students out, etc.). For a variety of reasons, I don't think you can stuff the gaming-the-system genie back in the bottle. So anyone who talks about goals and sanctions better be prepared to talk about how they intend to ameliorate such gaming.

3) Historically, goal-setting has a mediocre track record, and its legacy is a distrust of current and future goal-setting. Anyone remember the 6 and later 8 national goals for education, that we were to reach by 2000? More prosaically, we've had many times in the past where reforms have been oversold. In the mid-19th century, we had the overselling of things like reform schools. In the mid-20th century, we had the overselling of Head Start. As Michael Katz argued in one of the lesser-discussed parts of his The Irony of Early School Reform (1968), these waves of optimism and overselling are frequently followed by periods of vicious reaction and pessimism (with Social Darwinism and Arthur Jensen's notoriety as the example reactions to the two bits of overselling mentioned above). To my knowledge, no advocate of high-stakes accountability to date has acknowledged the consequences of overselling.

What depresses me most in classroom discussions these days is when I hear undergraduate students react to NCLB and accountability with the "not every child can learn" cavil. It's a political response, and especially with students not a particularly well-thought-out one.

My first week in a postdoc in Tennessee, I heard probably the wisest perspective on this from Sam Dempsey, currently the special-ed director in Winston-Salem's schools. We were talking about teachers' attitudes towards children with disabilities, including his experiences with teachers whose low expectations for students limited what they were willing to do, and Sam said, We can't guarantee a child can learn, but it is our job to keep applying different tactics and not to give up.

That iterative approach is worlds apart from both NCLB and also many hostile reactions to accountability. I think it's a way out (and it's a micro version of Robert Linn's analysis of and alternative to AYP), but I fear that our current world of accountability, in addition to everything else, will sour educators and parents to this. And because NCLB sets a politically high bar, any variation will be hit with the cavil about "lowering standards," without understanding incrementalism as the higher realistic standard.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:05 AM (Permalink) |

May 21, 2006

Shameful principal priorities

Someone who wants to see the incredibly high priorities that some principals still have for their teacher recruitment should look at the list of openings and job descriptions for the high school that is the closest to my home. There are nine openings listed this evening. How many of them do you think have, as written job descriptions, that a classroom teaching post requires coaching a team as well?

The job list is below the cut-line.

Position Title
Comments
English English 3 Fuse/ Newspaper w/softball coach
English English/Yearbook w/baseball coach
Family and Consumer ScienceNutrition/Food Prep/ Sewing/ w/girls soccer coach
Family and Consumer ScienceChild Dev./Sewing Family Dynamics
MathA.P. Statistics/Alg.1/ College Alg (must have Masters in Math)Dual with HCC
MathAlg.1a/Alg. 1b Intensive Math w/cheerleading sponsor
ReadingReading 1/Intensive Reading w/ Learning Community w/Dancerette Sponsor
Reading CoachReading Coach w/boys swimming coach
Voc.Tchr. Asst.Teacher Assisting Customer Assisting w/boys soccer coach

Anyone who wants to see documentation can e-mail me with a request, but I wanted one step removed from making the guilty party online in such a public way as a blog, and I'm hoping the area supervisor (whom I've tipped off) has a chance to talk to the principal about this.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:33 PM (Permalink) |

May 20, 2006

Stupid bureaucratese of the week

Via Elsa Haas on a listserv and Judy Rabin comes news of a Staten Island school that is demanding the parents of a multiracial child pick one of the OMB's 5 racial/ethnicity categories*, or the parents won't get her kindergarten school report.

(*—the 'canonical' five categories derive from a 1970s-era directive of that federal bureau with huge expertise in anthropology and social groupings, the Office of Management and Budget. See Theresa Richardson and Erwin V. Johanningmeier's Race, Ethnicity and Education for more. Disclosure: Terry is a former colleague and Erv is a current colleague.)



Mark Gray, principal of PS 13, should be ashamed that he sent this out, unless he was ordered to do so by the city's department of education, in which case Joel Klein may shortly be mentioned in a New York Post screamer headline. As the article makes clear, the federal government does not require rigid racial/ethnic classifications to satisfy the disaggregation requirements of NCLB. To withhold school records based on the family's multiracial character is discrimination based on race.

I'm predicting this gets solved by Tuesday, at the latest.


In news of the personal variety, there will be an Education Policy Analysis Archives article up Monday, my son has one more Little League game, tomorrow, and I'm heading back to the Florida AFL-CIO COPE endorsing convention possibly later today and tomorrow to participate. The interesting question will revolve around the endorsement over gubernatorial candidates, especially on the Democratic side. The Florida Education Association endorsed both Rod Smith and Jim Davis. Will the Florida AFL-CIO COPE follow suit?

(Right now, I'm semi-supervising my daughter and her friend's studying for their science exam Monday. My wife is grading and completing report cards. This is payback for when she did offspring-wrangling while I was madly grading.)

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Posted in Education policy at 3:04 PM (Permalink) |

The Hamilton Project and education

A brief observation on political positioning: It's sort of about the substance. The aggregation of the new Hamilton Project is a case in point. Headlined by Richard Rubin and headed by Peter Orszag (the Brookings fellow who neatly dissembled Bush's Social Security plans), the project promises to lay out policies in a variety of areas around economic security and growth. It's clearly a case of a bunch of high-powered Democrats trying to carve out a platform that's intellectually interesting, politically appealing, and broader than one narrow topic. It's in the last criteria where education enters the mix. Yes, you can plausibly lay claim to education as an important area related to the economy (if diffusely), but the focus of project papers thus far has been, hmmm.... interesting.


Let me start out by saying that there is already a storm (or maybe a set of afternoon showers) over the main economic impulses of Rubin's and Orszag's group, who promise policies focused on restoring some balance to the federal budget and economy and who, after all, borrowed the name of the first secretary of the Treasury. Nah, Rubin doesn't have an ego... But in any case, the project has been attacked by right-winger-turned-populist Kevin Phillips and Democratic activist David Sirota, precisely because of Rubin's origins and current profession as a financier. (They've also been defended by Greg Anrig and noted by my radical librarian colleague Kathleen de la Peña McCook, among others more obscure but more thoughtful in the blogosphere.) Despite my concerns about some of Rubin's actions as treasury secretary, on the whole he was competent and thoughtful and was one of the Cabinet dissenters when Clinton agreed to sign the 1996 welfare destruction bill. That last commitment to decent treatment of the destitute is continued in the Hamilton Project, especially in the argument that economic stability (read: not letting people starve) can help support innovation and economic growth. There is enough gravitas in the Hamilton Project that it does not immediately threaten to become a new Democratic Leadership Council, which was largely moderate Democratic politicians in search of ideas and a forum for positioning the "Third Way."

But that positioning still creeps in. Andrew Rotherham, who worked in the Clinton White House and is associated with the Progressive Policy Institute (the gravitas appendage of the DLC), recently wrote all about political positioning in education when contrasting the bills filed by two Democratics, Sen. Barack Obama (IL) and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (CA). The money paragraph:

The specifics matter less than the politics right now. It's hard to miss that younger Democrats increasingly think like Obama, signaling an important generational shift. That puts Democrats at something of a crossroads in terms of moving forward or backwards on the education issue and about how the party will be perceived in 2008.

Is this another attempt to label Obama as a centrist, a nefarious DLC move to stave off irrelevance? Not really. It is an effort at political positioning in education, to argue that a certain stance towards public policy is politically rewarding.

And here is where the Hamilton Project's white paper on teachers (PDF) comes in. It argues that experience is not a great predictor of teaching effectiveness (which is true) and comes with the standard "let 'em in the door more easily" nostrum (as if principals didn't hire long-term substitutes and those with temporary licenses now) and makes vague noises about value-added assessment and huge pay increments based on performance and the willingness of effective teachers to work in high-poverty schools. There are some serious ideas here, but they're not really new, and that's a clue that the paper is about political positioning, in addition to the tenuous tie to the project's general mission.

I'm actually a bit surprised there hasn't been more aired on this in the last month or so. Nicholas Kristof's column taking off from the Hamilton Project paper (among other sources) was shredded by Jenny D., deconstructed by Jim Horn, more sedately criticized by Barbara Stengel, and defended by Andrew Rotherham, without anyone's noting the link to the Hamilton Project. The Hamilton Project mini-focus on education was mentioned in a critical article by Harold Meyerson and defended by Kevin Carey, but without reference to the white paper. Hmmn.... I had to dig deep in Daily Kos to find Mark Johnson Lewis's criticism.

But I suspect we'll hear more over the next year or so. Let's just make sure to discuss them on their merits rather than to accept (or spend much time on) arguments that a certain idea is politically appealing, inevitable, whatever.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:00 AM (Permalink) |

May 18, 2006

And the growth-to-obscurity award goes to...

Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced that Tennessee and North Carolina were given permission to include growth in AYP formulae. First notices by Andrew Rotherham, AFT NCLBlog, and Jim Horn, more coverage by the Washington Post and the New York Times.

I'm very curious how the federal review team could have evaluated the technical adequacy of the Tennessee system, since I thought the statistical package is proprietary—secret—unavailable to outside reviewers.

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Posted in Education policy at 5:10 PM (Permalink) |

A little more on Ward Churchill

The comment thread on yesterday's story on Churchill at Inside Higher Ed is rather interesting, in a watching-a-train-wreck sort of way, because the defenders of Churchill (look for Unapologetically Tenured and Timothy Shortell) could not (at least as by this morning) address the points of Ralph Luker and others: If the deliberate pace of the investigating committee is not enough to insulate the investigation from hot-headed political pressures—if Churchill should be let off the hook for his misconduct because of the acknowledged inappropriate pressures—then there is no way to hold controversial faculty accountable if they transgress.


I have to thank Unapologetically Tenured and Shortell, though, for providing a clear example of the wrong standard to apply here. They essentially argue that we should hold universities to the same standards as criminal courts—where even minor violations of due process at any point in the investigation or proceedings end the case. That's not the right comparison, though. Academic due process is not the same as criminal due process, either in the degree of individual risk or the reasons why we care about due process. Those of us who are civil libertarians hold prosecutors to a "clean hands" standard because taking someone's liberty is extreme and requires extraordinary care. While we worry about the potential chilling effect of prosecutorial misconduct in some cases, that's not the universal motivation.

On the other hand, academic due process is not about liberty but about jobs. So there certainly needs to be fairness and procedural integrity, but not at the level that criminal investigations and trials must meet. I'm a union officer trained in grievance matters, but I don't think I've ever met a grievance officer who wants university discipline matters to follow any state's criminal rules of procedure.

In addition, the motivation is different. In academic due process, the primary motivation is to protect the academic freedom of faculty and to prevent the chilling effect of academic-freedom violations. I'm convinced the majority of Americans understand that need for protection from pressures, as long as they think it serves the academic role of teaching, research, and social whistleblowing. Were political pressures to effectively insulate individual faculty from any and all accountability, then I think we'd be going outside the bounds of that understanding. Academic freedom must therefore be crafted to allow appropriate collegial governance (including sanctions for transgressions, where appropriate) even in an environment of intense pressures.

The ordinary way that institutions provide a measure of due process is peer investigation and deliberation, both of which are reflections of our professional lives. (I'm not mentioning the other steps in the AAUP Red Book statements on discipline, because I'm looking at the aspects that insulate discipline from outside pressures, not the steps appropriate to guarantee internal due process.) We had both in the Ward Churchill case: a committee of five peers examined the allegations, and they did so over months of study, rather than the days or weeks that I'm sure the press and other parties may have wished. Did that provide enough due process in this case? Clearly, the committee members were aware of the pressure and discomfitted by it.

But that discomfort—something that was inevitable in this situation—did not prevent them from writing an outstanding report, one that was as careful as Ward Churchill's scholarship is not. Their performance under pressure proved the value of peer investigation and deliberation. Unless the defenders of Ward Churchill at this point can suggest an alternative set of mechanisms to allow investigation of a faculty member when there is political pressure raging around—and have some good reason to believe such investigations would do a better job than the peer committee in this case—I'll stick with peer investigations and deliberation.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 8:43 AM (Permalink) |

May 17, 2006

ACTA exploits Ward Churchill (again)

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni just issued a "report" they call How Many Ward Churchills? I'll give ACTA a 10 of 10 on the Horowitz Chutzpah Scale for trying to capitalize on the release schedule of the Churchill investigation report with a paper on a topic that was entirely unrelated either to the substantive investigation or to Churchill's public remarks about 9/11. Timothy Burke spent the afternoon reading ACTA's "report" and has deservedly ripped it apart. It's shoddy at best and meretricious at worst. As Ralph Luker pointed out earlier,

It seems to me, however, that ACTA's title and methods are enormously irresponsible. Insofar as they are to be judged at all, and I think they should be, faculty members are assumed innocent until found guilty—found guilty by their peers and, then, only on a case by case basis. ACTA's claim that "Ward Churchills Abound" is highly irresponsible. You can dress David Horowitz in an academic gown and call him respectable, if you will. He's still a demagogue and I'm sorry to see ACTA, Erin [O'Connor, who blogs for ACTA], and the Phi Beta Cons trying to dignify his tactics.

I'm especially disappointed that Erin O'Connor has been willing to put forward this nonsense as anything like respectable.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 10:07 PM (Permalink) |

May 16, 2006

Ward Churchill, redux—NOT!

Inside Higher Ed, the Rocky Mountain News, and the Associated Press (in the Washington Post) have covered the just-issued report on allegations of research misconduct by Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado. The accepted federal definition of research misconduct comprises plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification. And according to the faculty committee, Ward Churchill had a hat-trick of the worst kind. I haven't read the entire report word-for-word, but it's clear from the sections I have had time to read that the committee members spent a great deal of effort trying to comb through the debris of Churchill's scholarship, finding a long-term pattern of disturbing conduct. My favorite sentence thus far:

The conventions of scholarly attribution are not empty forms of etiquette; they are central to the progress of scholarship and the accountability of the scholar. (p. 95)

In addition to the discussion of the individual charges, there is also some discussion at the beginning and end of the committee members' distaste with the political context of the investigation. They didn't use that as any sort of excuse either to exculpate or to condemn Churchill, though. The core looks like a fairly straightforward examination of things on their merits. Around that are some jewels about the outside pressures on the university, the harm caused to ethnic studies by Churchill's transgressions, and a lack of consensus on appropriate sanctions. All five members agreed that at least two years' suspension without pay was warranted. Three members thought that firing would be at least minimally acceptable, though two of those recommended five years' suspension without pay, and only one thought firing was the most appropriate sanction. A compromise verdict, or the closest one can get in academe?

Either five or more years' suspension without pay or outright dismissal would be appropriate. A more creative approach might be to suspend him for two years, strip him of tenure, demote him to assistant professor, and then require he demonstrate professionalism necessary to earn tenure in the normal way. Since his wife has already resigned from the university, it's clear that he has planned for being fired or suspended: He'll go somewhere else and sue. But if CU gives him a reasonable appeal process, he'll almost certainly lose (barring anything interesting that could be revealed in discovery).

Thanks to Ralph Luker and Erin O'Connor for linking to news stories. Erin O'Connor isn't quite right, though, in describing Churchill as "guilty as charged." It turned out, at least for a few charges, that he was "guilty not quite as charged." Churchill's own statements in defense of plagiarism charges damned him in at least one other instance.

Update (5/17): A comment at the Volokh Conspiracy has the right word describing Churchill's conduct: mendacity.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:00 PM (Permalink) |

Open access and citations

Citation Advantages of Open Access Articles by Gunther Eysenbach is now available at the Public Library of Science Biology journal (which is open-access). It continues a line of literature exploring the citation advantages of open-access publications.

Thanks to Donna Martinez for pointing this out on the AERA-L listserv.

Conspiracy theories and NCLB

Among the dissenters from the No Child Left Behind Act are those who claim that the not-so-secret purpose of NCLB is to privatize education. Jerry Bracey and Jim Horn have written reasonably similar arguments, and Bracey's contains the following elements:

  • NCLB has unreasonable standards for AYP (100% proficiency by 2014)
  • NCLB's provisions shift funds to private entities when schools fail to meet AYP
  • The original NCLB proposal included vouchers
  • Conservatives who used to be against federal intervention are now in favor of NCLB
  • NCLB's standards for AYP undermine public support for schools

Since Florida has had a pro-vouchers, privatization-happy governor for more than seven years, I've seen the high-water mark for privatization efforts and can talk about this from closer observation than most. Yes, it's true that Jeb Bush and his allies do not trust the public sphere, do not want expansion of the public sphere, trust private businesses, and think there is nothing wrong (and much right) with shifting resources to privatization. It's also true that repeated messages of the schools are failing will have a long-term effect on education policy debates, what I have called the political legacy of school accountability systems. But to call NCLB (or Florida's grading system) a conspiracy to destroy public schools and privatize the remains goes beyond the evidence, is not going to convince more than a fraction of the public, and—from my perspective as a critic of NCLB, the worst of these—hinders our ability to look at education politics in different ways.


One of the weaknesses with the argument that accountability is really a device for privatizing education is a simple political dynamic: politicians need to claim success. Why would they put something into operation that they honestly thought would destroy the reputation of all public schools, if they wanted to get re-elected in a few years or wanted to leave a legacy? In Florida, with our pro-vouchers governor, the system of labeling schools with an single letter grade is a good case in point. The vast majority of schools in Florida in recent years have received A or B letter grades. Governor Bush can claim success. I don't know if this really means the kids are learning more—there are more elementary schools than high schools, elementary schools get higher grades than middle or high schools, and our state's 8th-grade NAEP scores are nothing to write home about—but Bush's A+ Plan has done relatively little to expand vouchers. The failing-schools voucher program at its height reached fewer than 1000 students, in contrast to the 30,000+ students in other voucher programs in Florida. Here, mundane political needs have trumped privatization.

Of course, the GWB White House is a different story, one where the principal actors don't care too much about policy success. There are interesting case studies to be made of Iraq, NCLB, and Katrina—studies in see-no-evil planning, or the lack thereof. But that's not an argument for a great conspiracy; it's an argument for looking at NCLB's specifics and implementation as ordinary, plain incompetence plus corruption. To be honest, almost any federal education law is an overcomplicated mess. I had to explain to a Tallahassee staff member a few months ago why a proposed alternative to Florida's A+ Plan would be unworkable. (He got similar advice from others in the state, too.) That's not the result of his wanting some nefarious end but (in this case) his lack of specialization in education and the rush to get some bill filed... and then, a few days later, he had to prepare a substitute as an amendment to the filed bill. He listened. The GWB White House doesn't, in all too many cases, and that explains a whole lot about federal policy in the last 5-plus years, including the accountability Frankenstein embodied in AYP and the attached mandatory consequences. No conspiracy is needed to explain events. That doesn't mean there might not be one, but the circumstantial evidence I've seen is not convincing.

The problem with conspiracy theory as policy analysis is that discussing conspiracy theories stops us from probing the serious dilemmas we face. And our accountability Frankenstein monster certainly exists. He was patched together from a few limbs of public-sphere degradation but a whole lot of experimental bionics that try to combine technocracy and democracy in a crude mess of vital organs. More prosaically, we do face the serious dilemma of wanting both a democracy with an egalitarian ethose—you know, the one where a decent education is a right of citizenship—and a technocratically sound way of implementing policy—the one where few people can understand the mechanics of implementation and the relative advantages or disadvantages of different methods. Yes, part of the trouble with NCLB is the assumption that relatively crude consequences can effectively shape behavior in a complex organization. (That holds both for privatization and also the other provisions, such as the threat of reconstitution) But the big question won't go away even if we threw privatization out the window.

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Posted in Education policy at 9:06 AM (Permalink) |

May 15, 2006

Joanne Jacobs' self-marketing

Joanne Jacobs is trying out a new way to generate buzz for a new book: asking bloggers to mention two book-readings in May, one last week in Washington and one this week in Philadelphia. On May 4, I received an e-mail from her asking me to mention the events in my blog, and I'm guessing she wrote similar e-mails to a bunch of other education bloggers. It worked to some extent, with comments recently in edspresso, D-Ed Reckoning, Mentor Matters, Scheiss Weekly, Education Wonks, DC Education Blog, and Eduwonk. Only the first three clearly stated that Jacobs had solicited the mention (and D-Ed Reckoning was highly critical of Jacobs' planned appearance at one school). Let me be clear: I have no problems in general with this publicity. Books are books, the more people read 'em, on the whole, the better, and it's common to get friends and colleagues (and, I guess, strangers whose blogs you know of) to recommend books and various events. I'm just a little surprised at the lack of disclosure by fellow bloggers (several of whom have no problems acknowledging sources). I'm also a little curious why she didn't respond to my e-mail asking if she'd be willing to reciprocate when my next book came out.

Correction (5/21/06): As KDeRosa (author of D-Ed Reckoning) explains in the comments, that particular mention was not prodded by an e-mail from Jacobs.

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Posted in Random comments at 12:44 PM (Permalink) |

May 14, 2006

Boycott proposal redux

Last year, the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) first passed and then rescinded a policy advocating a boycott of Israeli universities and all affiliated faculty. It looks like British anti-Semites and muddle-headed allies are at it again. This time it's a resolution placed before the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), which will meet at the end of the month. See the Inside Higher Ed article, the New York Times article, the petition of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the analysis by Jon Pike, an AUT activist at Open University, and a description of credentialing politics inside NATFHE.

Watch the ENGAGE blog for developments until the meeting May 27-29. Because NATFHE and AUT are planning a merger, union merger politics play into this as well.

Ugh.

(Belated hat tip to Ralph Luker.)

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Posted in Academic freedom at 11:16 AM (Permalink) |

May 12, 2006

Cory Booker T.?

For several years now, the weekly online Black Commentator has been excoriating Newark mayor-elect Cory Booker, calling him a stealth candidate four years ago when he ran and lost and the white Right's man earlier this year. Those claims are similar to the charge of this year's opponent that Booker is a New Jersey point-person of the far-right Christian wing of the Republican Party, and the allegation by one blogger that Booker is DINO (Democrat in Name Only) in large part because of Booker's support for vouchers. It's enough to recall DuBois's Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others. (Yes, I know: I made another comparison using the DuBois essay a few days ago. It's a classic essay.) 7:35 pm afterthought: Of course, in this case, Booker (Cory Booker) did earn representation by winning an election.

But to call the appeal of vouchers to African Americans a result of strategic planning and funding by the Bush regime, the Waltons and, especially, the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, which invented both the “Black” voucher “movement” and faith-based initiatives in the mid-Nineties, as the Black Commentator did, or to say that Booker is sure to get first-class advice on [tax-credit-style vouchers] from Washington, is to misunderstand African-American debates over education reform and a common rule about such reforms....


There is no doubt that conservative think tanks, foundations, and donors are supporting pro-voucher African Americans. But a few points are in order here:

  1. Views in African American communities about education are far from monolithic and have been far from monolithic for decades. Jack Dougherty's award-winning More Than One Struggle, about several generations of Black education activists in Milwaukee, explains the complex dynamics of reform within a single city. Barbara Shircliffe's soon-to-be-released Best of That World, about Tampa's desegregation history, explores the ambivalence many have felt towards desegregation in our city, and Gloria Ladson-Billings' lecture a few years ago, Landing on the Wrong Note, summarizes much of the national literature relevant to the ambivalence. The Connecticut state NAACP's opposition to the state's NCLB lawsuit is another reflection of the complexity of education politics.
  2. If there is exploitation here, it is not entirely clear who is exploiting whom. Those who want to claim exploitation need to explain and document what they mean by what is usually referred to as a one-way process.
  3. Part of the reason why vouchers draw support from a substantial minority of African Americans is the fact that they comprise a concept that's floating in the ether, a specific solution that is mentally available to those frustrated with their local schools. As Michelle Fine puts it, we can only work with the ideas that are in our head. Here is really where the work of foundations has paid off—not convincing people that vouchers form a perfect solution but that it is a viable alternative to sitting on their hands. Frustrated parents and activists look to viable alternatives. (Can someone more familiar with psychology help me with the term for "mentally available" ideas?)
  4. The incomplete and mixed results of research on more than 15 years of voucher experiments in the U.S. and elsewhere are leading folks to a perspective that vouchers are not a competition-inducing panacea for school reform. Just a few snippets from Matt Yglesias, Andrew Rotherham, and Jenny D. suggest at least a mini-consensus. I know of at least one numbers-crunching economist who says that the outcomes issue is the least interesting one he's expecting from current research. If you think African-American parents in communities with vouchers are less sensitive to this mixed record than researchers and policy wonks, I'd like to sell you some land in Florida. (Just not the bit underneath my house.)
  5. The existence of voucher programs on the ground undermines the competition-based argument of voucher proponents. As I explain to my undergraduates, one of the underlying policy issues is the relative value of shaking up the system vs. stability. Many of my students say, "Why not fix the schools that already exist? What about the kids who stay in the current schools?" And I explain that voucher proponents don't see the increased uncertainty as a problem—it is part of what they want to drive school improvement. But there's also a legitimate value in stability. The reductio ad absurdum argument here is to imagine a system where schools are like fruit vendors, popping up and closing without warning, at any time. I pose this thought experiment not to imply that voucher proponents want this type of system (I suspect none do) but to point out the underlying disagreement. All of us lie somewhere on the spectrum of stability vs. chaos in terms of the right balance. The competition argument for vouchers emphasizes the value of more chaos.

    But what happened in Florida with the legal threats to vouchers? Proponents gathered existing students, parents, and allies for a 4000-person rally in Tallahassee. New York Times columnist John Tierney wrote about Adrian Bushell (subscription required) and other students who have used vouchers. The subtext of their arguments were that we needed to protect the education that these children are currently receiving in the program. In other words, they advocated the continuation of the voucher program for stability. As Larry Cuban wrote in 1992, one of the ways that reforms survive is gathering a constituency to fight for their continuation.

Stability is an inherent political need of any reform, limiting the extent to which any reform that values uncertainty and chaos to any degree can actually practice uncertainty. Though the most frustrated parents may seek change and tolerate instability, they will often be attracted to stability as soon as their personal or social threshold for acceptable education is reached.

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Posted in Education policy at 6:07 PM (Permalink) |

May 9, 2006

Graduation exam lawsuit in California

A state judge in California is expected to issue an injunction blocking the exam requirement for California high school diplomas, in an echo of the Debra P. v. Turlington cases in Florida (1979-1983) and the G.I. Forum v. Texas Education Agency (2000) case in Texas.

The California case is Valenzuela v. California, and it follows on the heels of Chapman v. California, which won a reprieve for students with disabilities, I think until the state creates an alternative exam or accommodations. Coverage is available in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, the Los Angeles Times, and Scripps Howard News Service.

A little analysis follows...


Debra P. established federal legal standards that most judges are holding to these days: States are allowed to withhold diplomas based on a test, even if the test disproportionately affects a protected class under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, if the state can demonstrate a legitimate purpose to the test, if the test is technically sound, if students have a legitimate opportunity to learn the material, if there are multiple opportunities to (re)take the test, and if there are no alternatives that achieve the same state purpose without the disproportionate impact.

But there's a twist here: the state of California has already been found to have violated the educational rights of poor children, under state standards. On the one hand, that's a higher standard than the Civil Rights Act. On the other hand, will the judge apply the Debra P. federal reasoning to the state's obligations or create reasoning specific to California? Will the judge use the Debra P. solution (which was to delay the implementation of the state testing until all children who had suffered under a segregated system before Florida's 1971 busing orders graduated?

The research on this is mixed. Some claim that there's a clear link between exit exams and dropping out. Others claim there's a kick-in-the-pants effect that boosts achievement. Yet others point out that states commonly increase credits requirements when they create exit exams, so any effects may be tied more to seat-time than exam requirements. Then there's the question of how we'd measure it in the first place, and about the only thing that makes this situation happy for me is that I'm an editor of a journal, where this type of policy disagreement is good for a journal. Controversy! Manuscripts! Publications!

No, I don't think the evidence is conclusive in either (or maybe any) direction. Yes, children are guinea pigs for policies. They always are.

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Posted in Education policy at 12:27 PM (Permalink) |

May 8, 2006

Data recovery...

Grades are in, mother and mother-in-law have left town, and so it's time to see about that data recovery...

Update (5:30): So far so good. Almost all of the data is safe and transferred. I'm worried about my Outlook files, as anyone who uses Outlook can probably attest. I have too many things hidden in there to want to let go of it...

(6:15): I figured out how to recover most of my passwords for Firefox (yeah!). So when do I try for the Outlook stuff?...

(5:51 am): I'm not sure why MovableType didn't accept the update yesterday evening, but I recovered everything I cared about. Whew!

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Posted in Random comments at 3:12 PM (Permalink) |

May 7, 2006

A+ Plus Plan corrections will have to wait...

For those waiting for me to correct my description of the final A+ Plan bill, you'll have to wait a little longer. I'll have to make sure I find the final form (an interesting challenge) and go through it again, double-checking against the analysis I received from a friend in Tallahassee. I'm just not up for that at 8:45 on a Sunday morning.

On the other hand, I suppose the title might also be an appropriate analysis of the bill. With a part-time legislature, there are frequently "glitch bills" that fix the errors in a bill that passed in a hurry the prior year. And sometimes entire policies are nixed one, two, or three years down the line. This year, it's school boards who are hoping for a re-do next year, at least on the starting date limitations. (The legislation moved back the start of the school year.) What is clear on the bill, no matter how accurate my description of specific items late Thursday night, is that this isn't some coherent reform plan. It's an omnibus bill, packaging together lip service on high-school reform (and I really think it is only lip service) with a whole bunch of other things. I'm just waiting for some analyst to find the following buried in the bill:

Section 1004.587(c) of Florida Statutes is created to read;

(c). A faucet, a basin, a garbage disposal, drain pipes, washers, and caulking.


But we sort of suspect that, don't we?

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Posted in Education policy at 8:47 AM (Permalink) |

May 6, 2006

Summer tasks

As Profgrrrrl has noted, the space between terms can be odd for rhythms, and May is like that for me, even when I'm not teaching in the summer. This morning, I'm one student's late-final tech-glitch away from finishing grading, and then I will see what's on my data-recovery disk, and then the May crash hits for me. It's the last month of the school year here in Florida, so all of the parents-must-be-there events are now, plus two birthdays, an anniversary, and this year a 20th college reunion over Memorial Day weekend.

More on the jump...


I'm definitely looking forward to a summer without teaching. Last year I taught for the first summer in a few years, and while I enjoyed the class, I didn't enjoy the summer as much. I know a bunch of financial folks would tell me I should be working as hard as I can to squirrel away money before my children hit college (at which point I should cut back for financial-aid purposes), but I'd rather have a relationship with my children. So I'll probably be working as hard as I can while they're in college.

That doesn't mean I won't be busy with work-like stuff. I'll probably work 3-4 hours a day. This summer, I have the journal to keep me busy, a few grants to write, one of my two book ideas to work furiously on, the college's governance and constitution committee, and a maybe even get some pleasure reading in. But May comes first. And I need to remember to enjoy it instead of fretting about the work I'm not getting done. Yesterday, I saw a colleague in another department for the first time in months and found out why—she had two deaths in the family and her husband is under treatment for cancer. As fellow historian of education Carl Kaestle said a few years ago, at the end of life who says, "Gee, I wish I could have put in a few more hours at work"?

And now I need to shower before I take my daughter to a science study review at school, my son to his Little League game, shop for a picnic later, go back for the game and chat with my wife and mother and mother-in-law, either transfer my daughter from the study review to the last-minute youth orchestra rehearsal downtown or take the son, mother, and mother-in-law back home for lunch and changing, change, head back downtown for the youth orchestra concert, hang around a bit at the reception, head over the bridge for a picnic and pops concert by the Florida Orchestra and fiddler Eileen Ivers. No, my Saturdays are not usually like this. But it fits with my typical May.

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Posted in Random comments at 7:33 AM (Permalink) |

May 4, 2006

Florida ed news: Vouchers, high-school majors, school-year schedules, trips to Cuba

It's the second-to-last day of the regular Florida legislative session, so this is when a lot of business gets done, as well as other political flux (i.e., Bush's defense against Senator Mandy Dawson's claims of political arm-twisting on the voucher votes). Too much to really cover comprehensively, so I'll start with a list of bullet items and then discuss relatively briefly:

  • Passage in the senate of a bill that would shift the failing-schools voucher program to the corporate tax-credit voucher (SB 2234).
  • Passage in the senate of a bill that would put all the non-voucher funds from the corporate income tax into a trust fund that could not be spent on education (SB 2406).
  • Passage in the senate of a bill that would create some minimal accountability for private voucher schools—fingerprinting and background checks for teachers and staff (SB 256).
  • Passage in both houses Wednesday of a bill that would expand and make permanent a virtual-school voucher program for homeschooled students (SB 1282).
  • Passage in both houses of a bill to create "majors" in high school and more career counseling in middle school than currently exists (HB 7087). (This is the A+ Plus Plan.)
  • Attached to that bill is a provision that Florida public schools's academic years not start until the middle of August.
  • Passage in both houses of a bill that would criminalize any public or private school educator who uses public or grant or private funds to take students on a trip to any country labeled a terrorist by the State Department. The sponsor made clear this was to prevent trips to Cuba (SB 2434).

More on the jump.


Vouchers bills

Three of the voucher bills passed today are attempted statutory fixes to the flaws in the failing-schools voucher pointed out by the Florida Supreme Court in January. One attempted fix is to shift the failing-schools voucher to an existing program that lets corporations shift dollars on a one-for-one basis from their corporate income-tax burden to private-school scholarships. A second bill declares that the corporate income taxes are either for the tax-credit voucher program or for non-educational expenses. This is an attempt to get around the issue the Supreme Court raised that the voucher structure drew funds away from general appropriations (i.e., funds that could be used for public schools).

The third bill provides for some minimal accountability for the disabled-student and corporate tax-credit voucher programs in terms of students safety (i.e., requiring fingerprints and background checks of private voucher school employees) and fraud prevention. It says a great deal that these programs have operated for most of this governor's years in office without any of these provisions and that this bill does not apply to the virtual-school voucher program. It also says something very important that for programs involving thousands of children and hundreds of schools, the bill only allows the Department of Education to conduct unannounced spot-checks of the schools for these minimal provisions three times in a year for the disabled-student voucher program and seven times in a year for the corporate tax-credit voucher program. No, I didn't mean three or seven checks per school. That's three or seven checks for the whole program (respectively) for the year.

The last voucher bill I mentioned, though it passed yesterday, expands and enshrines the virtual-school voucher program that started essentially as a sole-source giveaway to K12, the virtual-school company associated with former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett. (I guess going through a bidding process wasn't something he wanted to gamble on.) One scandal that first year (2003-04, I think) was that the bill authorized only first-grade and up students, but the Department of Education allowed K12 to enroll kindergartners. Right now K12's virtual school in Florida still operates alongside one other. The bill would authorize three, with the two currently operating guaranteed the work for another year.

One signal difference between the virtual-school voucher program and the others is that the virtual-school program essentially operates as a contract relationship between three operations and the state Department of Education, a contract that can be ended at any time for failure to perform duties. Students have to participate in the statewide assessment program, and the virtual-school companies get ranked in the same way as local public schools and charter schools. For those reasons, I think the virtual-school voucher program, or more properly the virtual-school contracts, are not vulnerable to the voucher-program flaws pointed out in Bush v. Holmes.

But the same cannot be said of the other three voucher programs. Even if the corporate tax-credit voucher program is seen as not competing with the public schools (something that I think courts will not accept, even with SB 2406), there is still the matter of uniformity in the Florida state constitution. As I have noted elsewhere, the court did not define uniformity but left the clear impression that whatever it required, the failing-schools voucher program didn't cut it. I don't think having fingerprinting will do it, either, especially when this governor's chosen emphasis has been on accountability. When two other choice programs (charter schools and the virtual-school contracts) require participation in the state's accountability framework but vouchers don't, the courts will probably not look kindly on this continuing double standard.

HB7087

This bill is the omnibus school-reform package this year (apart from vouchers), and it's every bit the legislative sausage you'd expect from any governor's last year, despite the catchy "A+-Plus Plan" title. I'll see if I can decompose it a bit.

Update (3:30 Friday): A contact in Tallahassee has let me know that I was looking at one of the older versions of the bill. I'll correct this in detail later but will remove some things I know are not in...

Reading office

The bill puts the governor's Just Read, Florida! initiative into state law as a unit in the state education department with a budget line.

Career ladder chopped off

The bill eliminates the previous career-ladder pilot (with the acronym BEST). This was poorly funded and essentially defunct as it was.

Opening date of school pushed back

The bill prevents any school district from starting the 2007 year before the middle of August. This is a moderate change, since advocates of a later year-opening really wanted late-August at the earliest.

Mandated progress monitoring for many schools, especially at the level for which there is minimal research

(3:30 Fri: I'm not sure if this is still in there... but I need to make sure I have the proper version before making changes.)

The annual school-improvement plan required of all schools has been changed, with schools labeled C or worse having the following among the new requirements (in lines 639-648, on pp. 24-25 of the engrossed form of the bill):

  • Mini-assessments of targeted Sunshine State Standards benchmarks that provide ongoing progress monitoring of students and generate data to redesign instruction.
  • A student performance monitoring plan and clearly assigned school personnel monitoring responsibilities.

Let me disclose my postdoctoral experience with Doug and Lynn Fuchs of Vanderbilt University, who are well-known researchers in the area of curriculum-based measurement (CBM), also known as progress monitoring. Both are associated with the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring. I've seen the stuff up close and I've seen it used well. Other sections of this bill require that students in academic troubles have progress monitoring at some level (which could be a special-ed individualized education plan, or IEP, a school-wide progress-monitoring plan, or an individual progress-monitoring plan). That seems fine to me, at least in theory.

On the other hand, CBM/progress monitoring has its most solid research base at the elementary level, and while I haven't had a professional reason to keep up with the literature in about a decade, I suspect most of it has stayed at the elementary level, with some at the middle-school level. Yet, if you look at the distribution of letter grade labels applied to Florida schools, you'll get a sense of the oddness of this requirement: Of the 1650 elementary schools receiving letter grades in 2005, 380 (23%) had C or lower. Of 529 middle schools, 193 (36%) had C or lower. And of 391 high schools, 249 (or 63%) had Cs or lower. Because of the nature of the grading system, high schools are predominantly in the middle of the scale with the mode being C (while the mode for both middle and elementary schools in 2005 was an A). If you include the combined-level schools (i.e., K-8, 7-12, K-12, etc.), then of all 927 schools receiving a letter grade below a B, 547 of them include secondary students and 442 have no elementary students at all.

In other words, the requirement based on research at the elementary level will be applied disproportionately at a level (high school) for which I'm reasonably sure there is scant evidence either of success or of how to use it. That doesn't meant that progress monitoring can't work out at the high school level. And I may be wrong about the research. But it's reasonable to predict considerable growing pains and a potential backlash against this. If there are serious implementation problems that sour the state on progress monitoring, then this bill would have been an enormous disservice to the children of Florida.

Getting the GEDs out of the longitudinal graduation rate

The bill requires that the state department of education discontinue crediting GEDs as diplomas in the longitudinal graduation rate.

Task force on paperwork reduction

The bill requires that the DOE convene a task force to help reduce the bureaucratic form-filling time that is a burden on the district. My only prediction is that this task force will create a paperwork burden... hopefully, only a minor one that will result in some real improvements. Despite its being Southern, Florida is highly bureaucratic; the 17-story Turlington Building is the second-highest thing in Tallahassee (just behind the 22-story Capitol complex).

Dropout survey

The bill requires that students dropping out of school at age 16 or above sit down with a counselor who is supposed to tell them why dropping out is wrong and ask them to complete a survey on why they're dropping out. I wonder how many of them sign the existing required declaration that dropping out is stupid (with more flowery language), ...

Middle-school curriculum mandates

The bill mandates that students promoted from 8th grade have earned three years' worth of credits each in English, math, science, and social studies, and one half-year course in career exploration in 7th or 8th grade. There is a requirement that districts create policies to allow students to recover/forgive failed grades with intensive remediation. My primary concern, though, is with the short time-frame: this is all supposed to start with my son's cohort, in the fall.

High school curriculum changes

The high-school piece of this bill is more complicated. I think it slightly raises the academic coursework required for a standard diploma (4 years each of English and math, 3 for history/social studies, science [2 of which have to be lab-based], and ten in various electives.

It's the composition of the 10 course-years' worth of electives that has gotten much of the press play. Four of those year-long courses (or a combination of year- and half-year-long courses that combine to four years) have to be in a thematic strand approved by the state as a major. A student can also have a second major or a minor of an additional three years in another thematic strand. No big deal, I think: many students spend their high school years in drama, band, orchestra, step, etc., and this structure will accommodate those interests. It fits easy with magnet programs, and I don't think this dramatically changes the structure of schooling.

Where the real question will come is in the provisions for transfer students. Imagine this system in place a few years from now, and there's another hurricane disaster that shifts a few thousand seniors from another state to Florida. They don't have coursework in these strands. There will inevitably be a waiver system for transfers, I suspect.

Career academies

The bill defines career academies as the type of program that 1980s/90s tech-prep advocates would have loved, combining vocational and academic skill building with internships, shadowing, etc. Another section of the bill creates a vocational certification program.

Transferable Electronic IEPs

The bill requires that the state department create an electronic IEP form that then becomes mandatory for local school districts. Ideally, this would make all critical information about students with disabilities easily transferable when students move. Good thing in theory! Given my wife's experience with the online IEP for Hillsborough County here in Tampa (better than paper, but clunky as all heck), I hope they combine this with the paperwork-burden-reducing task force. (Really, what this needs is a usability-design focus from the start.)

Tightening up of repeat FCAT administrations for graduation purposes

Currently in Florida, if a student does not meet the required threshold for graduation on the 10th grade FCATs, they can use retest opportunities. The retesting is without the performance items on the regular 10th grade FCAT, however, a distinction of some note in Florida in terms of standards. The bill tells the FDOE to make the resting "as equally challenging and difficult" as the regular one.

Governor's takeover of problem schools

(3:30 Fri: I'm fairly sure this was taken out by the senate; will confirm later.)

It's not exactly clear what the process is, on first reading (late at night), but the bill provides a method for the Governor to assume control of a school with repeated academic difficulties.

Collective-bargaining agreement collection

The bill requires that the FDOE collect and provide online access to all collective-bargaining agreements in the state's schools.

Union shaming requirement

In the same provision noted above is a requirement that the state also publish the salaries of union officers (teachers elected to union positions, not staff). I'm not sure what this is supposed to do, other than act as an encouragement of unions to elect non-teacher personnel to officer positions so the numbers look low (in terms of union-officer salaries).

Differentiated pay

The bill requires a differentiated pay plan for each district. This is the watered-down merit-pay provision that is very very far from the EComp plan tied to the FCATS that has been floated by the State Board of Education. It's subject to collective bargaining and can include a variety of factors.

Evening the assignment of teachers

The bill includes a statement of intent that collective bargaining can include steps to address inequities in assigning experienced, effective teachers to low-performing schools and a requirement that school districts assign no more than the average proportion of "first-time teachers, temporarily certified teachers, teachers in need of improvement, or out-of-field teachers" in the district to schools with a higher-than-average proportion of poor students or low-performing schools. The intent is wonderful; the language is idiotic. Think about this for a second: in larger districts, roughly half of the schools will have an above-average proportion of poor or minority students. And none of those schools can have a higher-than-average proportion of inexperienced or weak teachers. That means that every school in "nice" neighborhoods has to have a higher-than-average proportion of inexperienced and weak teachers. This will be logistically impossible, I think. I understand the (best possible) intent of this provision, to make wealthier areas share the burden of the weaker teachers in a district. It presumes that a major barrier are teachers unions, but I suspect most unions would have no difficulty with incentives for experienced teachers to work at schools with intense concentrations of poverty. But I just don't know about this requirement...

Banning student travel to Cuba

The bill that would ban using public or private funds for student trips to Cuba (and any other country labeled as terrorist by the U.S.) for any purpose, including in private universities, is an obvious violation of academic freedom. Update (Friday 10:25 pm): Last night, when I first read about, I wrote, "On campuses with collective bargaining agreements protecting academic freedom, this is unenforceable." That's incorrect, I've been told by colleagues; the legal construction of a collective bargaining agreement does not supersede laws imposing restrictions on behavior.

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Posted in Education policy at 11:30 PM (Permalink) |

Why teacher union democracy and process matters

The ed-blogule spat over who represents teachers is expanding, from Leo Casey's original criticism of a NewSchools Venture Fund meeting (held without an actively-serving union officer) to Andrew Rotherham's carping, with rebuttals on each side in the original entries and in another Leo Casey entry. The gist: the NSVF meeting (with the description, "As the seventh annual gathering of hybrid leaders in education reform, NewSchools Summit 2006 will feature timely and critical topics, including emerging district and state approaches to chronically underperforming schools, the role of charter schools in system reform, and the development of performance-driven school systems") has no representatives of teachers unions. It does have former union folks, but no currently-serving officers.

Does this matter?...


There are several issues at stake here. One is the question of leadership raised over a century ago by W.E.B. DuBois in Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others, in this case, who chooses who represents teachers? Teacher unions get to be collective-bargaining representatives generally because they win ratification elections or demonstrate majority support within a bargaining unit. And laws mandate that union leaders be elected.* Did anyone elect Leo Gerstner to speak about education as the voice of Commerce? I understand that self-selected groups often start inviting others by a casual form of snowball sampling—whom do you know who might be interested?—but there are often limits to the inclusiveness of such social networking. Worse yet is the experience in many cases of "reform" groups who deliberately exclude any teacher voices or who engage in cherry-picking certain voices. And so I understand Leo's sensitivity and principle.

* So you wonder about the effectiveness of union democracy? Good! Because a subsidiary issue here is one of accountability. Only through union democratic processes can you be sure that someone speaking as a teacher representative really is a teacher representative. As Joe Williams notes in his recent book, union democracy can be a wonderful and terrifying thing to watch. The NEA Representative Assembly refused to endorse the proposed merger with AFT several years ago, despite then-President Bob Chase's best efforts (and they did so because of their concerns about... surprise! ... union democracy). I was in a sizable minority at the last Florida Education Association delegate assembly when debating and voting on a bargaining-strategy resolution supported by the state leadership. I understand that, many years ago, my own local (the United Faculty of Florida) left the AFT when Al Shanker's underlings railroaded through a resolution supporting defense-spending increases, and one of the local's officers was unsubtly warned that retaliation would follow any dissent. Okay, so teacher union democracy isn't perfect. But it's better than in some other unions (ask the Teamsters), its failure and not its working is what promotes corruption (ask teachers in Miami-Dade about Pat Tornillo), and anyone who criticizes it sure better support fair redistricting initiatives or be rightfully tagged as hypocritical. It's the way we can hold teacher representatives responsible.

Finally, there is a disappointing pattern in education politics of judging union leaders primarily based on political posturing. That's why Shanker shortcut the democratic process to push through resolutions in AFT that were unrelated to education, to gain political capital. But such judgments ignore other important skills involved in union leadership, from communications with the membership to managing the organization's assets and negotiations. To be honest, some part of that is internal and private (bargaining strategies and tactics often are), but you don't always have to be an insider to see the leadership skills. A case in point is the Denver union's working with the school board on ProComp. Not suprisingly, the Education Sector's interview with Brad Jupp portrayed the issue as one of union flexibility and "thinking outside the box" smarts. (The interview didn't use that phrase, but my inference allows me to give a pointer to readers: the phrase "outside the box" is now inside the box.)

I will certainly grant Jupp and the whole Denver teacher leadership credit for enormous skills in managing negotiations and message, because I could almost guarantee that there was another political calculus behind ProComp: getting more money for salaries in Denver. The teachers and administrators realized that they could convince voters to pop for a tax increase if it was tied to something new and visibly accountable—thus, ProComp. In addition, the union had experience with the pilot, which assuaged several of the common concerns with merit-pay policies. The two issues (political calculations over funds and concrete experience) converged. The reason why Florida's unions have been fighting our state politicians' merit-pay policies over the past seven years has nothing to do with the relative savvy of Brad Jupp and Andy Ford (FEA's president). The difference is because Florida didn't see the convergence Denver had. In Florida, there has been no extra money in the pot at all, and the unions have been cut almost entirely out of the policy loop since January 1999, leaving no confidence that merit-pay plans will work fairly.

To borrow from Winston Churchill, union democracy is the worst form of worker representation, with the exception of all the others we've tried.

Update: The AFT's NCLBlog has additional commentary.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:08 AM (Permalink) |

Federal bill would require open-access publishing for funded research

The Washington Post has reported on a Senate bill that would require free online publishing of research results within six months of refereed publications for research from 11 federal agencies (those that have $100 million or more in funded projects). Groups with various interests in publishing are lining up on the expected sides—open-access advocates in favor of the bill, publishers and small academic societies against it.

What's needed is some support for the infrastructure of publications, including journal websites, institutional repositories, and bridge funds for academic societies. I don't think that having windowed access will hurt their subscriptions—most research libraries will maintain subscriptions as much as they can because of faculty needs—but having some reassurance for the small academic societies that currently use journal subscriptions as revenue sources would be appropriate. Of course, I wonder how many of their journals only publish federally-funded research. Not many, I suspect...

More Florida voucher-politics strangeness

If yesterday saw the parliamentary resurrection of the referendum proposal that would authorize voucher programs in the state constitution, today had retaliatory maneuvers that slowed the state senate to a crawl for an hour, as the Democrats forced the word-for-word reading of two otherwise-uncontroversial bills. Fort Lauderdale Democratic Senator Mandy Dawson then accused the governor of threatening to veto bills important to her constituency unless she voted for vouchers, amid other signs that the pull-out-all-stops tactics of the governor and his allies on vouchers was instead hardening positions of several Black state senators. Said my own state senator, Victor Crist, "The under-flowing politics, and the undermining and the backstabbing and the threats and the arm-twisting, have been unbelievable." I'm fairly sure he was referring to his own party (Republicans).

Next up in the state senate: the attempted statutory fix which would put the failing-schools voucher program inside the corporate tax-credit voucher structure. Even if it doesn't raise the hackles of the state supreme court in terms of the funding-structure issues in Bush v. Holmes, there is the question of uniformity yet to be defined.

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Posted in Education policy at 12:02 AM (Permalink) |

May 3, 2006

New York high-stakes policy news

There's an unfolding story of Kennedy High School in the Bronx, where kids can graduate without taking required courses and where the principal got rid of 11 of his 15 counselors (several of whom objected to waiving graduation requirements). The allegation here is that the administrators fudged things to avoid the schools' placement on the state's list of low-performing schools. Unfortunately, it's not surprising that a few administrators would be caught responding unethically and illegally to high-stakes pressures. What is particularly unusual is the allegation of retaliation against counselors.

This prompts a thought: If a school receives flow-through Title I dollars and an administrator fudges data, can someone else start a qui tam (third-party) lawsuit under the federal False Claims Act?

In other news, New York state senator Kenneth LaValle conducted hearings this week on scoring errors in the SATs and said he is considering legislation that would tighten New York's regulations of college admissions tests. LaValle is the sponsor of the original New York Truth-in-Testing Law, which I think is the only regulatory statute on college admissions tests. "The industry cannot regulate itself," LaValle told reporters.

(These NY Times stories require registration, but they're not behind the subscriber wall.)

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Posted in Education policy at 7:32 AM (Permalink) |

May 2, 2006

It's recount time (again) in Florida

Well, what do you know. After seeing the slim defeat of the voucher referendum last night in the state senate, Republicans have tried a questionable parliamentary maneuver to schedule a reconsideration of the vote for later this week. This after a boisterous Democratic caucus meeting at which Senator Al Lawson (Tallahassee) chewed into his fellow Democrats for opposing vouchers. (Lawson voted for the placement of the referendum on the ballot.) (Tip on the reconsideration maneuver from Edspresso.)

The bad news is that this maneuvering makes the state look foolish again. The good news is that Katherine Harris isn't involved.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:31 PM (Permalink) |

Social foundations exam questions

The questions from this semester's undergraduate social foundations of education exam (for my sections):

  1. Would graduation by portfolio change the expectations that school systems hold for students?
  2. Describe the extent to which the U.S. population trusts teachers to do their job.
  3. Compare a main argument of your first book with any of the lectures.
  4. Contrast the ways that your first author addresses issues of diversity with the conflicts over schooling and diversity in the 19th century.
  5. Is schooling part of the American dream?
  6. What is the political role of high-stakes testing?
  7. To what extent is the No Child Left Behind Act the logical successor to Brown v. Board of Education?
  8. Describe two ways in which schools have coped with conflict over the purpose or structure of schooling.
  9. Read the following background and then answer the question:
    In 2005, the Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools asked a number of questions (see tables 18-22) about accountability. 90% of respondents said it was either somewhat or very important to close achievement gaps between White students, on the one hand, and Black and Hispanic students, on the other. 75% of respondents said that the achievement gap was mostly related to factors other than the quality of schooling received. 63% of respondents said that either students or their parents were most important for determining “how well or poorly students perform in school.” 58% of respondents said, “Yes, it is [the responsibility of the public schools to close the achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students—I'm splicing stem and answers together here].” On the face of it, one might conclude that the U.S. public holds both families and schools responsible for achievement.

    Why do U.S. polls appear to show inconsistent answers when adults are asked who is responsible for the achievement gap?

And now, to grading the answers...

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Posted in Teaching at 6:46 AM (Permalink) |

May 1, 2006

Florida vouchers amendment dead

This evening (about 7:30 pm), the Florida state senate failed to place a vouchers-related referendum on the ballot for this November. The vote was 23-16, one vote shy of the necessary three-fifths supermajority.

Democrats who voted yes: Lawson, Pruitt
Republicans who voted no: Argenziano, Jones, Lynn, Villalobos

(Original tip: an AP story at the Miami Herald site.)

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Posted in Education policy at 7:53 PM (Permalink) |

Do or die for Florida vouchers

Today or tomorrow is do-or-die day for the Florida voucher policies, I think. The Florida senate will be voting on whether to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would authorize the legislature to create voucher programs. Without a constitutional amendment, there is a real possibility that Florida's courts will use the January Bush v. Holmes decision as a precedent for striking down the much larger voucher program for students with disabilities and the corporate income-tax-credit voucher program in Florida.

There has to be a three-fifths supermajority for the proposal to get on the ballot. It will be close, close enough that wealthy businessman and voucher proponent John Kirtley is spending money on radio ads targeting the constituents of two Black senators to change their positions. The news will probably be relayed first on the Tallahassee Democrat Online's capitol news page. Even if the measure does get on the ballot, passage is doubtful.

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Posted in Education policy at 6:33 AM (Permalink) |