August 31, 2006

Two fundamental confusions over tenure and academic freedom

Two stories this morning Inside Higher Ed highlight basic confusions many have about tenure and academic freedom, respectively. 

  1. Tenure protects miscreants. Wharton emeritus L. Scott Ward was finally fired after a third arrest for pedophilia-related charges. Over several Penn administrations, Ward had been untouched.  Uh, er, not fired. We don't know whether there was any private reprimand in his file, but we can speculate why an administration wouldn't move against him even after he was on probation. And it has nothing to do with tenure's on-campus procedural protections and probably everything to do with expectations of protracted post-termination proceedings. Having a faculty review panel is not the issue. If I were on a faculty review committee looking at a pederast with a criminal record (he pleaded guilty in 1999), I'd have no problem saying, Get rid of the guy. And most of my colleagues would agree. At a college known for such stellar graduates as convicted fraudster Michael Milken, maybe it's a bad signal to send students when you have a convicted professor on the rolls? Even after his 1995 acquittal, the university could have started an investigation separately; not guilty is not the same as innocent.  (After is the important thing here; someone who is charged is not necessarily and should not be presumed to be guilty. One of my irritations with USF's campus administration is that it equated the indictment of Al-Arian in 2003 with proof. But that's a separate topic.) The fact that due process can be protracted and sometimes expensive is no reason to avoid investigating a faculty member.
  2. Academic freedom is institutional, not individual. Former dean and provost John Friedl's commentary today at IHE is a standard rhetorical ploy: point out extreme interpretations of academic freedom and use it to stake a claim to a narrowed definition. Of course I agree with Friedl on the specifics at issue (that a university can have a moderated, announcements-only e-mail list, and that a university can suggest which things you need to "cover" in a syllabus). But we don't have to agree on the general principles as a result.* It is true that the legal status of academic freedom as an individual privilege is less certain than as an institutional privilege, but that means neither that courts haven't seen it and won't see it as attached to individuals nor that it's a bad thing to tie academic freedom to our broader political freedoms. Tying academic freedom to institutions and not individual faculty and students turns academe into a rhetorical Masonic Order, a privileged society with no clear entrance rules and no connection of privileges to the broader society. If instead we see academic freedom as part of the same Enlightenment-era ideals of inquiry and dialog that also gave birth to the First Amendment, we have much stronger ground and a much more sensible way to argue for academic freedom..

* The extreme-example rhetorical ploy is part of the structure of talk radio, and I wonder if any English folks have looked at talk radio seriously. (Hey, English and American studies grad students: Suggest it to your advisor as a dissertation topic! And never say I wasn't practical on my blog.) Most callers to the Dr. Laura show are dysfunctional enough that they want to air their personal problems to a national audience.  "Dr. Laura, I love your show, and I am my kid's mom. My personal dilemma: Is it okay if my boyfriend just released from prison on pederast charges sleeps on the couch until he gets a place to live, while my 11-year-old is in the house on the weekends? We're not having sex, but he needs a little bit of help right now." No, I haven't heard this call, but it would fit in with the show.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 9:57 AM (Permalink) |

Charles Miller's colloquy on CHE: dodging the market debate

Charles Miller appeared for a Chronicle of Higher Ed live chat about the Spellings Commission, and there were three—not just the one asked by me, but three—questions about markets and higher education.  Here are his responses, with my annotations in brackets:

That's a very broad and important question and deserves a better answer than I can offer here. [SJD: This sentence is an attempt to avoid the topic. It utterly fails, as you'll see below.] The Commission had a goal of creating a "National Dialogue." That dialogue must continue in order to resolve the balance. [This sentence is an attempt to assert that the report will address the balance between individual and collective goals without answering the question.] (We do not actually have a market system in higher education, in my opinion. [We'll see later what he defines as a market system.])

Well I think we do have competition among different sets of institutions, however I think competition does not automatically make a market system. [Mr. Miller must not understand the economists' concept of imperfect markets, including those for energy, food, etc.] I think competition can at times be very destructive. [Such as... ? Without talking about specifics, it's hard to know whether this statement is just lip service.] It is possible to argue that among certain sets of institutions we have the equivalent of an oligopoly, where there may be competition within a group of institutions, but that set of institutions has powerful advantages over other sets of institutions. Because higher education is heavily subsidized and regulated, and lacks serious penalties for poorer outcomes, and lacks transparency, it would be difficult to describe this as a market system. Worst of all, pricing information for individual participants is virtually secret. [Ah... the best way to address problems is by information. Very neoclassical in abstract, but there's this small problem that institutions sell credentials as much as an education, giving some students an incentive to want a credential with as little effort (or education) as necessary. The ideal information for such a student would be to look for high value-added credentials—schools with substantial reputations but where the work involved is at a minimum.]

I could agree that the private sector gets some direct and indirect subsidies through tax and other fiscal policies. However, direct subsidies from the federal government to so-called private colleges average 25 percent of revenues. [Why this focus on private institutions, when the vast majority of students attend public institutions?  And when there are dozens of very poor private colleges? The profligate private universities are easy targets.] In addition, substantial state and local subsidies, direct and indirect are made available, and federal tax subsidies as well. Historically, the performance of our colleges and universities has been world class. The question in a period of strong demand for public resources, is how to maintain that competitive advantage. [Here Miller heads away from the point of the question.]

And then, when asked about alleged liberal bias, he responded by referring to ... um, er ... markets:

Personally, I think where institutional biases exist those places will become less relevant. I think today's students will have access to information from many different sources, in many different forms, and if institutions don't adjust to that fact, they will become less valuable.

Clever dodge (though I'm happy that the Spellings Commission avoided the bias charge in its report)—and here comes the market again in a sly fashion. The problem with looking at higher education as an undifferentiated market is not only that there are multiple types of institutions but multiple goals of students. Students who look for the easiest, cheapest credential will love grade inflation at state institutions. Students who look for the easiest elite degree will love grade inflation at prestigious private colleges and universities. Students who want skills will be hard-nosed about the organization and preparation of faculty. Students who want a liberal-arts education want organization and preparation and the perspective of faculty. Most students are dissatisfied with faculty who are clearly biased and unrepentant (fill in the blanks) because they tend to be poorly-organized and fail to bring a broader perspective. But then students with some of the goals mentioned above might also be unhappy with faculty for other reasons unrelated to disciplinary biases. Markets are great for allocating resources in one type of arrangement, but for balancing different goals in a public good?  I'm not so sure.

The nuts and bolts of the regulatory apparatus will be at the heart of the post-report politicking this fall: so-called unit-record databases, accreditation, and student-aid issues. But Miller missed an opportunity to address the individual-vs.-collective-goal balance yesterday. I wish he hadn't. I don't mind and expected a solid response to the concerns I and others have raised. 

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Posted in Academic freedom at 9:34 AM (Permalink) |

August 29, 2006

Distance-learning tools

It's the start of the semester, and I've given up on using CMap's collaborative concept-mapping in my online class this semester. Ah, well. I've at least figured out a package of cool tools to use instead. USF uses Blackboard, which would be a very clunky tool indeed except for a few other side apps. One is Respondus's offline quiz-creation program, which USF has a site-license for. My reaction several years ago to that: whew!

Last year I used a variety of tools, largely Microsoft's MovieMaker, to turn Powerpoint presentations into very bulky files. Bad Sherman, by this year's standards. Huge WMV files are so 2005, along with Social Security destruction reform, Katrina, and heckuva job. This year, smaller footprint is the watchword (or watchphrase), and for that I can thank the eLearning XHTML Editor that creates SCORM-compliant packages that I can upload to Blackboard; SWiSH Presenter, which is like Camtasia and Articulate Presenter in converting PowerPoints to Flash except that the educational license is US$50 instead of much more; and Audacity, which allows me to create narrations that are noise-filtered, normalized, and have all the breath intakes and ums deleted. That deletion of my mistakes takes just a little more effort than the filtering and normalization, but that's because I breathe a lot; my academic-year resolution is to breathe less and thus save time in audio editing.

I've recorded the narration for the first-unit lecture for the online course and am about halfway through the editing. I should finish sometime late tomorrow morning, and then there's the first live chat tomorrow evening. I just hope our tech gurus on campus have discovered the security certification for the chat facility by then!  Oh, yes, and finish filling in holes of chapter 1 of Accountability Frankenstein, because I have brilliantly decided to give my students chapter drafts. That means, um, er, that I have to finish them.

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Posted in Teaching at 7:48 PM (Permalink) |

August 26, 2006

Disabled-student vouchers fraud in Florida

Chavon Peoples, former administrator of Success Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, was arrested Wednesday in connection with charges that she defrauded the state of $400,000 by claiming that prospective or former students were attending the school on disabled-student vouchers when they were really in public schools. (See the short AP story from the St. Pete Times and a Jacksonville TV station report.)

On the one hand, the arrest shows that the FDOE is taking at least some steps to check the voucher receipts against enrollment records. On the other hand, it shows how vulnerable voucher programs are to fraud, even in a state with a computerized individual-student database.

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Posted in Education policy at 11:36 PM (Permalink) |

Flag flap in Denver

A Colorado teacher was suspended this week for displaying foreign flags in a geography class. Colorado law says you can't display another country's flag on a public building, but there's an exception for transitory displays for educational purposes. Geography teachers can't display flags? A day later, the district reversed itself. Something tells me the administration realized (after adverse publicity) that the middle-school principal was overreacting.

Hat tip: Peter Gamache, e-mail.

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Posted in Education policy at 4:48 PM (Permalink) |

Graduation-rate report, just out, is already obsolete...

Seastrom et al.'s technical report on graduation rates, volume 1, was just released this week. (Hat tip: edspresso.) Kudos to the authors on it.

And, unusual for an area in my research expertise, it's already out of date. Warren's 2005 paper was released while the report was in peer review and was addressed briefly in a footnote; Mishel and Roy's book isn't mentioned anywhere. Please don't blame the authors—the ED's internal review process can be slower than academic journals'—but it means the report should be read cautiously, limited to the grade-based methods analyzed in it. The omissions are a reflection of the literature's quick turnover, not necessarily flaws in the authors' work.

No, I haven't had a chance to read it thoroughly... in my copious free time at the beginning of the semester. I need to breathe, first... and get some other writing done.

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Posted in Reading at 2:29 PM (Permalink) |

Your next faculty meeting

Profgrrrrl has an absolutely dead-on description of a common faculty meeting dialogue structure. It definitely brought a grin to my face this morning.

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Posted in Random comments at 10:49 AM (Permalink) |

August 25, 2006

Ooh ooh! Mr. Kotter Rotherham!

In responding to my earlier discussion of teacher certification debates, Eduwonk Andy Rotherham writes, "What other $450 billion dollar industry can't give you a decent denominator on productivity?" I presume he meant "indicator" or "measure."

Oh, my.  What a question.  I'll just give one answer (though it's not as large an industry): management consulting. There are plenty of others, if you're willing to scale down the size of the sector.

That doesn't change the fundamental point that we do need to use data better in education, but we're not alone in our sins here.

August 24, 2006

Comparative studies in special education: a brain-bursting exercise

This evening, I'm finishing up my reading and note-taking on non-U.S. history of special education placement for a review article on inclusion. I'm writing a small section, and I know it would come to this: someone who knows just about the U.S. (me!) has to search for and read the secondary literature on comparative perspectives. And it was just as I feared: big enough that I couldn't quickly grasp it, and small enough that I really could read the entire field or close to it. I'd been hunting and pecking away over a month with moments stolen here and there, but the primary author came down with the hammer (properly so) and told me, Thou shalt redo your section and do it quickly. That means now or yesterday, whichever is earlier. (Un)fortunately, I found an extra book or three today and also realized I needed to scavenge a three-volume reference work to really flesh it out. (The problem with wonderful online resources is that when a field is mostly journal, you sometimes forget to check books... silly historian who should know better: me, again.)

You didn't think it would be simple, did you?


So I headed to the library this afternoon to do that. Shortly after I entered the library, I realized a few things: I had forgotten my laptop for notetaking in the reference section, I didn't have an umbrella, and the skies had just opened.  Great, just great.  Oh, yes, and I had forgotten my reading glasses, so I had about an hour of useful reading time before a headache was inevitable.

So I tried a technological crutch I've never used before: the cell phone. Scrounging through the encyclopedia, I'd find and read an article and then call my own voicemail and leave a minute-long message: author, title, pages, and the bit I wanted to extract. I left the reference section sometime later having made 10-11 calls. So far, so good. Then I headed up to the stacks and gathered the volumes and brought them down again. Still pouring. Okay, check out the books, extract cash from the in-library ATM, and get a latté in the foyer Starbucks. (I get the decaf, nonfat version, or what one wag barrista tells me is the "why bother" drink there.) I sit down, skim through a third of one of the books, and realized it's down to a drop every 10 seconds and so it's time to rush to my building.  Whew!

... until I got to my office realizing I'd have to transcribe my own dictation.  Note to self: never torture a dictation secretary with your talking.  Please. By the time that was done and I had finished notes on all but one volume, I headed out (with that last volume) to pick my son up from school. The poor guy had started a headache at 1 and didn't know he could go to the school nurse and beg the nurse to get approval from me to dose him with ibuprofen. So we stopped by a pharmacy, came home so he could rest (which worked, in combination with the Motrin), and after I told the story of the parent-teacher conference that morning (at my daughter's high school), I realized I still needed to finish that reading.  Off to local ChainCafé (where I sit tonight almost, almost done).

And so, after all is said and done, I'm left with about 4-1/2 single-spaced pages of notes on various countries and a few broader models. I suspect I'll need to condense this to about 2 pages of double-spaced text (and also delete some of the U.S. material that was in the earlier draft). And I hope to return it to the primary author tomorrow, while there are two meetings. 

The practical problem is that this has sufficiently engaged me that I want to puzzle the patterns out. The most sophisticated comparative model I've read, by Rosemary Putnam in 1979 (Comparative Education, vol. 15, pp. 83-98), addresses the generic size of special education, not placement issues, and suggests that different looks suggest either a stage theory of national development or a wealth effect. (The data is a little different, suggesting by the relationship with health expenditures that it may be a matter of state welfare development as well.) A book by Mazurek and Winter in 1994 (Comparative Studies in Special Education) specifically suggests a stage theory of inclusion, except for some pesky countries that have well-developed, "mature" special education systems that are largely segregated (or were at the time): Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Czechoslovakia. So that throws a wrench in the comparative developmentalist (i.e., stage) model.

All right: time to get another drink, ponder my notes, and think of a way to organize this material.

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Posted in Education policy at 9:11 PM (Permalink) |

Why teaching isn't like law or medicine

The teacher certification debate at edspresso this week is interesting, and Ed Sector staffer Kevin Carey lays out the best of the anti-certification arguments. Then out pops this:

The fact that teacher certification is regulated by the government also makes it unduly subject to political pressures—one reason, I suspect, that the standards for entering the teaching profession are much lower than standards for law and medicine, two professions to which education is often compared, but whose standards are set by professional, not governmental, organizations.

As I've written elsewhere, there are a host of reasons why comparing teachers to lawyers and doctors is inapt, but regulation by the government isn't one of them.


Last I knew, I could go to jail practicing law or medicine without a license. There's no such thing as a temporarily-certified or emergency-certified doctor who can start operating on patients while taking classes. And have any of you ever heard of a sub doctor? EMTs, military medics, nurses, and physician assistants don't count: They're regulated too (if in the military by the DOD, not states).

The debate over certification this week thus far has glossed over the fact that there is in fact no mandatory certification in any state. There is revolving-door emergency or poorly-paid substitute labor. That's the side of teacher prep that few people talk about side-by-side with the regulations.

The real reasons why standards for entering teaching are lower than law and medicine?

  • Most teachers are paid publicly, and pay depends on politics.
  • Teaching is a feminized occupation. Because most teachers are women, and because we're talking about children, politics values teachers less than other occupations.
  • The quantity and quality of teachers represent a limited-resource problem: if you want a certain number of teachers and can only pay a certain amount in a labor market, ... well, you can fill in the reasoning here. (Incidentally, this logic holds regardless of the class size. Yes, you could dramatically increase standards and have class sizes of 60 or 70.  Does anyone really want that?)
  • Teachers did not represent the education occupation that used the Progressive Era to professionalize; administrators did. Teachers' occupational status is closer to that of nurses (another feminized occupation) than to doctors.

In addition, anyone who truly thinks doctors and lawyers are somehow at the top of their status needs to look in the nearby yellow pages to see how many solo practices vs. group practices exist and then need to ask doctors what they think of insurance pressures on their decision-making.

One challenge Carey made yesterday was about evidence and certification. I'm fairly sure a number of states require follow-up data gathering, but I also suspect those who do have never invested any money in the analysis of that data. In Florida, for example, it would be a (relatively) simple thing to link teachers to in-state schools and certification status (if some of the definition issues are changed for new teachers, but that's a complex database question). My college had to present data to the state on what happened to graduates. But someone needs to invest the money.

No, I'm not volunteering to be the principal investigator if someone wants to shovel me (or my college) cash for it. I'm just pointing out why the studies Carey wants (and would be fascinating!) currently don't exist. (Incidentally, such studies may well exist from the distant past, but this isn't my area of expertise, so I don't know the literature well.)

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

August 22, 2006

Bulleted ed-policy sliders

Charter-school report? PDK/Gallup poll? I've been preparing for the semester and don't have time for a long entry on this, but here are a few quick (and idiosyncratic) perspectives on the big education news today:

  • While the responses on the poll to reform vs. alternative system have remained somewhat consistent over the years Gallup has included the question, the responses on vouchers specifically are more volatile. My prediction: no one else pays attention to the up-and-down nature of the results.
  • It looks like neither the public nor some charter-school advocates or skeptics understand what charter schools are.
  • The public retains inconsistent views on accountability, at least regarding both expectations and mechanisms.
  • This summer has been the Education Department's Zen PR season, effectively highlighting the importance of newly-released studies by not.

Consider these to be my gnomic utterances for the month.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 9:08 PM (Permalink) |

August 21, 2006

Teen expectations: too little or too much?

Alexandra Robbins' new book on elite college-prep students The Overachievers is sparking a grumpy response from Jay Mathews this morning (hat tip: Kevin Carey):

Our real national problem is not that we ask most teens to do too much, but too little. (emphasis added)

This is a century-long debate, going back to Progressive-era administrators who claimed that the reason why the vast majority of teens left school before graduation is because school wasn't interesting them. In the 1920s, Robert and Helen Lynd wrote (cynically, I think) about the dominanting influence of high-school basketball on the town and school politics of Middleton (Muncie, Indiana). In the 1940s those in the life-adjustment movement still argued that the dominant purpose of high school should be fitting youngsters to the social order and their utility as consumers. You still find those arguments around, and I suppose this is an elite variant.


As Mathews illustrates, such arguments have always had opponents. Since WW2, plenty of folks have claimed either that high-school expectations have declined (a myth) or that they have not risen high enough (a different question). Hyman Rickover,  Arthur Bestor, Ted Sizer, and Deborah Meier are among the most prominent school critics who have argued that we can and should expect more from teens.

There are three challenges for the raise-expectations argument. One is what it actually means to raise expectations. Mathews argues in his column that NAEP scores have been stagnant for 30 years. That's an arguable point; what sort of rise in test scores do we want and is reasonable? Maybe incremental improvement on such a broad measure is appropriate. In any case, NAEP scores are a pedestrian definition of expectations that obscures issues that others have raised, including Mathews himself with his AP-driven 'challenge index.'

The second challenge is the difficulty in changing a culture that has significant anti-intellectual tendencies. Those who have read Richard Hofstadter would claim it's a centuries-long legacy, but you can also point to the majority experience of most adults, who attended high schools, weren't challenged, and might well remember non-academic activities as the best parts of high school. On the other hand, the lives of those born in the 1960s were more academically-oriented than those born in the 1910s or 1920s, so there is hope.

The third challenge to reforming high school expectations is that high schools must simultaneously remediate academic weaknesses, challenge students, cope with adolescents who want more independence, and compete with the consumer world and job market for the attention of students. There are plenty of thoughtful people with ideas about how to address that stretch, but darned little research. Mathews is right: The students who enter ninth grade with a solid set of skills need challenges, and those whose parents and schools put too much stress on them, are a relative minority and not the most urgent problem of high schools. But Mathews' approach of "give them all AP courses" doesn't address the fact that many students need both intellectual challenges and significant help in some skill areas. Right now, high schools treat the world too often as if no student could be in both camps; if you come in with skill deficits, you don't get challenged. But you can't reverse that without paying attention to the need to boost skills.

No, I don't have answers. That's why I noted the dearth of research. Hey, aspiring grad students: here's an area!  Go make your fortune in it!

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Posted in Education policy at 9:18 AM (Permalink) |

August 20, 2006

Smooth work satisfies

Took a little bit of time to go out of the house to ChainCafé this afternoon to finish preparing an EPAA article for this week. Smooth... a few minor editorial changes, then the usual format issues (change hyphens to en-dashes where needed, expand the italicized text a bit) and send it off to the author for vetting.  There are no questions that he needs to answer, just check the 'galley' for goofs.

And last night, I did the first check on the galleys for Education Reform in Florida. I found a few goofs but not many. The index is virtually all the work left.

Just saying, I like when things go smoothly. I could use smooth more often in my professional life.

August 19, 2006

Galleys of Florida education reform book, take 2

Just arrived at my house: second set of galleys for Education Reform in Florida. Time to start checking them against the first set of galleys and then finish the indexing.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:16 AM (Permalink) |

August 18, 2006

You know your server's spam filter needs adjusting...

... when 90% of your e-mail on a Friday evening is spam.

Usually, the tech gurus at my college require a few hours the next business morning to reconfigure the spam filters, but whatever the spammers did new happened on a Friday afternoon.  Very smart, spammers.  Very annoying.

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Posted in Random comments at 10:33 PM (Permalink) |

EPAA manuscript stats

A few months ago, I switched the intake and review process for EPAA to a web-based system, and here are the interim stats from the point at which I switched over (since the system can calculate statistics for me in about two clicks):

Declined: 33%
Revision requested: 25%
In the review process: 33%
Not yet assigned to reviewers: 8% (a few manuscripts I've received and either have not yet evaluated or need advice for reviewers because of the unusual nature of the expertise needed).

I haven't yet accepted a manuscript that's been submitted through the web system, but that will change shortly: it will just take some minor revisions for a few manuscripts. I accepted a few revisions recently from the older e-mail method, and there are a few revisions I'm still waiting on from before the switch.

August 17, 2006

Academi-size it!

Gotta love Da Fish sometimes, when he uses cool jargon like "academicize" to explain the distinctions between legitimate teaching and propaganda in this tagline to the Christian Science Monitor piece on Kevin Barrett:

"That doesn't mean you can't bring current political questions into the classroom," he says. "But they have to be academicized."

Here, Stanley Fish's notion of non-propagandizing is far less, er, fishy, than his July 23 NYT op-ed (behind premium sub wall now), as I noted in this blog. I'm glad Fish has retreated from the precipice of academic freedom as mere formalism.

In other weirdness related to Barrett, AP's Justin Pope wrote an article on 9/11 conspiracy theories, stemming from the Barrett controversy, that implied that they were somehow semi-respectable among some subset. Pope failed to mention that BYU physicist Steven Jones, who is the darling of the conspiracy theorists, believes in cold fusion and that his WTC collapse theory has not been published in a refereed journal. Jones is reaching for rather rarefied accomplishments in nuttiness. One more, and he's got a trifecta.

But back to Fish. I love the term "academicize," all distancing and anesthetizing. I know that he means to put ideas in an academic context, to pin them down for studies, like an intellectual lepidopterist. I do the same myself, frequently. But the connotation is antiseptic. I'd rather have a bit of passion, myself, even if it's in counting the spots on spotted blueleaf conspiracy theory, myself. Then again, I could be accused of going overly sarcastic on occasion in blogging. Not always in an academic tone?  Hmmmn.

Okay, so accuse me of running a snidebar commentary. 

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:40 PM (Permalink) |

Backround on arrests of killers of USF student

Because I only subscribe to one metro daily, I missed a story in early July that described the policework behind the arrests of three involved in the murder of Ronald Stem. It was a lucky break from a break-in close to campus that allowed the arrests, and there is still one suspect who has not been indicted.

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Posted in Teaching at 12:09 PM (Permalink) |

Dismissed lawsuit in San Jose State's education program

FIRE blogger Samatha Harris complains today about the summary dismissal of a federal lawsuit, Head v. Board of Trustees of California State University. Stephen Head alleged that his free-speech rights (among others) were violated in the education program of San Jose State University because one of his professors disagreed with his opinions and reportedly said he was "unfit to teach" because of them. Judge William Alsup dismissed the federal complaint for "failure to state a claim"—i.e., that even when one assumed that all of the plaintiff's factual statements were accurate, there was no legitimate cause in the complaint.

Head still has a lawsuit pending in state court, but the fundamental issue here (and probably in state court as well) is really that he's representing himself. Neither he nor I are experts in writing briefs or making legal arguments, and there are dozens of ways in which layfolk can mess up procedurally. And that happened here. While he was making claims of political discrimination, he was not contesting his grade in a course in federal court. That leaves it very difficult for anyone to see the concrete harm, if the essential complaint is that one professor and a department chair criticized him.

To see the logic of the judge's opinion here is not to judge the situation. Head's factual claims don't make the faculty members in question look sophisticated. That's just one side, of course, and I wouldn't expect a student who failed a course with a beef to represent the professor in the best light possible. But in any case, those statements would be grounds for criticizing the professor, not a lawsuit.

Harris is wrong to criticize the lawsuit's dismissal. If Alsup had allowed the case to proceed and eventually ruled for the plaintiff on these grounds, it would essentially give students veto power over faculty criticism. If there truly is a miscarriage of justice because of the grading practice, then let the point be on that, not what was said or not said in class as a basis for a lawsuit. If Head was foolish enough to file a lawsuit representing himself, a summary dismissal was one very likely result.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 11:33 AM (Permalink) |

August 14, 2006

Kershnar and pacing

FIRE reported today that SUNY Fredonia gave philosopher Stephen Kershnar a promotion to full professor that had been denied earlier this year because, well, administrators didn't like Kershnar's criticizing them in public. Good for Kershnar and everyone else who helped fight this. That's a rapid turnaround on an academic freedom issue, relatively speaking, and good news.

ACTA's blog today has an odd comment implying that it is to the shame of AAUP that it didn't get publicly involved before the case was resolved. I have no idea whether the AAUP's staff has been involved at all, and neither does ACTA. In the past several years, there have been cases where FIRE went public long before AAUP. For example, in the case of Sami Al-Arian, FIRE went public with a letter to USF's president and simultaneous press release January 29, 2002 (41 days after the Board of Trustees star chamber proceeding meeting trying to direct his firing). A little over a week later the AAUP announced it would send an investigating committee to campus later in the spring. But I distinctly remember reading a letter that AAUP sent the university president earlier. Often, the first AAUP attempt to cope with a controversy is behind the scenes, to allow an administrator to save face. Again, I'm not saying that's what happened in the Kershnar case, but it's foolish to look at the timeline of what's publicly available and conclude that's all that's happening. And in the Al-Arian case, both FIRE and AAUP acted after faculty at USF did.

Incidentally, I need to go back and see if I published yet my comments on the Al-Arian case, now that the case is (nominally) over and he's been sentenced.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:16 PM (Permalink) |

On funding transparency

Education Sector's website is very open about its funding sources, and occasionally staff members (primarily Andrew Rotherham) tweak public figures in education circles for not being transparent. Fair enough.


Some of the public spats over the Lamont-Lieberman battle royale in Connecticut have pounced on the status of Lieberman as a centrist (or whatever he is) in the Senate, with allegations flying back and forth over national security and whatnot. This isn't DailyKos or RedState, but it got me to thinking: Rotherham used to work at the Progressive Policy Institute, an arm of the Democratic Leadership Council which Lieberman led in a nominal capacity for several years in the 1990s and is thus tied to at least in blogosphere allegations. (For the record, I'll pass on the allegations until I get reputable information. My mother, whose nth birthday was Saturday, will be going to her high school reunion in Hartford later this year and will get the real scoop on the Connecticut situation.)

So, does the DLC or PPI disclose its funding sources? (Rotherham headed PPI's education unit for seven years, and PPI has a prominent link to the Eduwonk blog in its left navigation strip.) Unlike Education Sector, there's no "Our Funders" link anywhere I could find, and there is this popup privacy notice:

The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) do not sell or share any information about anyone in our databases with any third parties, whatsoever, nor do we envision doing so in the future.

That's admirable from a privacy standpoint, not so much from a transparency standpoint. DLC is a Section 504(c)(4) organization, which allows it to do advocacy but restricts official electioneering. I understand that 504(c)(4) organizations do not have to disclose sources of funding, so you just have to wonder... Kudos to Rotherham and colleaues at Education Sector for their transparency, and please direct some of those tweaks at PPI, before their next white paper on education policy.

Full disclosure: I pay for this domain and the ISP.

Addendum: Rotherham sent me a polite e-mail this afternoon about disclosure, so I want to make sure I state a few things clearly. I am not saying that he avoided disclosure when at PPI. I can see acknowledgments of funders here and here, to take two examples of reports when he was directing the 21st Century Schools Project. Or that there's a necessary (or sinister) link between funding and policy positions. But I tend to agree with these arguments about the good of transparency in and of itself.

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Posted in Education policy at 1:01 PM (Permalink) |

Editorial marker/to-do list

If it's a Monday morning during the academic year (and, yes, I'm already on contract), it'll be journal management stuff—engaging in the type of detail that can drive an editor to drink be glad that an online journal system exists. We're behind in publishing English-language articles right now because authors who need to answer queries to help get an article up are often on vacation and out of e-mail range in the summer. I heard from one author today and hope to receive at least one set of answers within a day or two. I also received two final MS's over the weekend, so I can work on them when my brain isn't full of brain-melting editorial tasks (e.g., who has the expertise to read this manuscript? which is fine until you consider that my reviewer database includes not only the main editorial board and the new-scholar board but a bunch of very nice volunteer ad-hoc reviewers, all totaling 160). Today, I made review assignments for 6 manuscripts. One came in either yesterday or this morning that I responded to, and there are three left I either need to make assignments for or decide not to circulate for review.

Other tasks for EPAA this week:

  • Prepare one more MS to 'galley' shape and return to author.
  • Take several MS's with enough returned reviews and make decisions.
  • Take editorial-board advice from e-mails, synthesize, and implement.

Now it's time to turn to other things for the afternoon. It's not appropriate to write MS disposition e-mails right after tedium.

Cookie cutting and teaching

Barbara Stengell has a thoughtful piece on teaching models over at The Wall that makes some nice points about the teacher-crusader meme you occasionally hear in anti-ed-school rants. "Why can't folks be taught to be like Jaime Escalante, Rafe Esquith, or Jason Kamras?" This is not serious criticism of ed schools, and it's sort of like saying, "Why do nursing schools have all this 'theory' stuff like anatomy and physiology, when they really should be teaching an efficient method of intubation that got awarded a prize last year?"

The question is not whether teacher education should be teaching theory or methods but whether it's teaching both and doing them well. I would guess that what most people critique as fluff generally comprises people who should be teaching methods and are teaching a watered-down version of social foundations.

(Disclosure: I'm a contributor to The Wall.)

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Posted in Education policy at 6:49 AM (Permalink) |

August 13, 2006

Performative masculinity, or not, in academe

I'm not like Timothy Burke or even Michael Bérubé in the whole performativity of gender in academe thing, or as the case may be, performative masculinity in extracurricular activities through using chainsaws or at least renting them out in a chivalrous gesture before giving up and calling the tree folks (and here I mean the people who trim limbs, not the trees that walk around in a nightmarish Tolkien vision). No, sir. Not me. After my wife and I get paid at the end of the week, I'll be performing masculinity in writing out a check to the arborist. Or Elizabeth will be performing feminity in writing out the check.

So, Timothy, I'm afraid I can't help give you advice on that huge branch/trunk, except to recommend that you get someone to train a camcorder on you while you try, so that if the insurance isn't high enough, at least the rights to the sequence will help compensate. But if you stop by this neck of the woods suburbia between October and March, we can treat you to a fire with orangewood and vegetarian, gluten-free s'mores. Really.

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Posted in Random comments at 11:07 PM (Permalink) |

The AFT and organizational politics

There's been various bits of commentary (e.g., Andrew Rotherham on Mike Antonucci's analysis and filtered excerpts of a consultant report that focused on AFT headquarters staff. The most (potentially) explosive comment quoted by Antonucci:

I have heard bold, outright lies told to large audiences.

That sounds awful, and Antonucci makes it appear as if the lies were told to large public audiences on matters of public policy. Because we don't have the context, I have no idea whether that refers to alleged lies told to the public, to AFT members, or to AFT staff. Nor do we know whether the alleged lies came from elected officers at the national level, from affiliate officers, or from staff. Nor the substance of the alleged lie. Given the context of the report (staff issues and the communications structure at AFT), it's rather ambiguous. I just don't know how to read it.

Then there's a small bit that comes where Antonucci discusses the political endorsement process: "AFT orchestrates what gets done," says one staffer, allegedly. I've heard that allegation before, and an allegation that Al Shanker would retaliate against convention members who voted against leadership positions, because delegate votes are open. The NEA operates differently, with a secret ballot on constitutional changes and officer elections. I'm not sure there's an easy solution. On the one hand, secret ballots protect against retaliation. On the other hand, secret ballots for delegates prevent the delegates from being accountable to the members who elect them.

In the end, I suspect the most pointed and relevant criticism were leveled against the AFT website and American Teacher, the AFT's magazine for teachers. It's certainly true that the web site is a mess, but that's all too common for large organizations that don't depend on sales (and often enough for those that do!). I suspect only a few AFT staffers have heard of Jakob Nielsen and usability issues. The magazine is an interesting question—Antonucci focuses on the relationship between the magazine and political issues (i.e., how often John Kerry appeared on the cover). Me, I'm a little puzzled at how frequently E.D. Hirsch is quoted in it. The combination, though, makes the magazine dated in terms of its role: political and posturing. It's as if the ghost of Al Shanker hangs over the editorial offices and directs decisions. But that doesn't really say anything about communications in AFT overall.

Is Antonucci's discussion of an internal report embarrassing for the AFT? I don't think so. No one would be surprised if released confidential conversations with staff at other organizations revealed how they did (or didn't) engage in outreach with the press, tried to feed stories to the media, etc. No one should be surprised that McElroy is looked on kindly by staff (something I've heard from the in-house staff as well). Or that he's not as media-savvy as Shanker or Feldman were. The out-of-context quotations are sometimes hard to puzzle out in terms of specifics, and so while I expect there may be some interesting conversations between affiliate officials and McElroy about this, the release won't matter much in the long run. Either the elected leadership takes the advice of the consultant or they don't.

Update (8/14): Thanks to MicheleatAFT for the spelling correction, and Antonucci points out the problems of adding context, which certainly makes sense in terms of an interviewing context or Antonucci not wanting to put identifiable information in what he wrote. The lack of context just makes some of the comments' implications difficult to infer.

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Posted in Education policy at 11:09 AM (Permalink) |

Academics on notice

Look who's on notice with Stephen Colbert:
On-notice1.jpg

(Yes, you can generate your own "on notice" board. Fred Block? Nice guy. Doesn't deserve to be on notice at all.)

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Posted in Random comments at 8:34 AM (Permalink) |

August 11, 2006

Who hates algebra?

I started this entry Feb. 19, as I was packing stuff to head home from Atlanta, but it got stuck in "have more urgent things to do" land. But now, to comment on Richard Cohen's I hate math and am proud of it column, What is the value of algebra? Blog responses have included PZ Myers' pointed response. Essentially, Cohen refers to an L.A. Times story about those who drop out after failing algebra and says, "You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it." I don't need to point out that maybe Cohen's failure to understand the value of algebra is rooted in his failure to understand algebra, or that there are gazillions (a technical term) of real-life situations which require at least a minimal understanding of abstract math: an investment's return, a lawsuit's settlement value, a country's life expectancy at birth, or the macroeconomic consequences of tax cuts. For dozens of situations, because large segments of the population don't understand algebra, those who do have to invent situation-specific explanations: "Pay off the highest-rate credit cards first." That's obvious to anyone who remembers algebra, but it needs to be taught explicitly as practical advice to those who don't. Those who don't, and who don't follow that advice, enrich credit-card companies unnecessarily. (Why is left as an exercise for the reader.)


Behind Cohen's bluster is a more serious question. What is the balance between raising graduation requirements and encouraging graduation? I have no doubts that algebra is a useful, good, noble, and beautiful subject: I was in Atlanta the weekend of Cohen's column because of a mathematical population model I can use to answer an important question about the history of American schooling. Understanding that model requires calculus. Yet the L.A. Times reporter is correct. Some percentage of students will drop out of school if they must pass algebra to graduate. Both algebra and graduation are in the best interests of students, and the two goals are in conflict.

What we face is essentially a question about raising expectations for the next generation when the skill of teachers is crucial to learning a subject. I'm not talking about high-school math teachers (though they're in short supply) but elementary-school teachers, many of whom have the same weaknesses in and fears of math as the rest of the adult population, including Richard Cohen. Unfortunately, young children are all too vulnerable to negative comments about math. We only discovered at the end of her first grade that my daughter's long-term substitute (long story about that) hated math and made clear that hatred to her charges. This was only one of many problems with this teacher, but it was the one that stuck with Kathryn, who decided firmly that she hated math. No wonder! The only reason why my wife and I agreed to have Kathryn in an advanced class in third grade was the promise that the teacher would work on Kathryn's attitude, which did improve. (She's currently in geometry in 9th grade, with no problems.)

For the die-hard anti-algebra crowd, here's one example of where algebra has a direct consequence for teaching arithmetic: Were you ever taught that multiplication is akin to stretching out a rubber band (to represent one of the numbers), and that one representation of division was the shrinking of the band? In many ways, that's a superior representation compared to the typical representation of multiplication as repeated addition: it shows division as a natural inverse of multiplication, and it can handle fractions easily. I have no idea whether this has ever been used (or what the comparative effectiveness would be), but I know where I got the idea: operations on the complex number plane in (you got it) algebra.

Or for teachers: isn't algebra helpful in understanding test scores and accountability statistics?

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Posted in Education policy at 4:40 PM (Permalink) |

Migration and graduation, from NIH reviewer standpoint

Reviewer comments on my NIH proposal have come back, and the substantive comments make me smile. One of the weaknesses: potential problems associated with the measurement of population mobility. Bingo. I had submitted this proposal before I had finished the article manuscript I submitted in the summer, which sketches the relationship between mobility and graduation measures to a greater degree than my proposal.

Fortunately, one key measure I intend to use for the Georgia historical work—proportion of school life spent in high school—is not nearly as sensitive to migration as either graduation or net flow estimates. In addition, I could look at the estimates of the various items as curves (in a migration-to-indicator plane) instead of point estimates.

The priority score (221) and the percentile (41.5) are consistent with the text recommendation for further consideration with a "very good" label. The program-level decision on funding is in October, so I wouldn't hear back (on a rejection) soon enough to turn around a revision until the February deadline.

Historical note: see August 2004 entry where I discuss the first round of reviews.

And now it's off to do various mundane things...

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Posted in Research at 8:10 AM (Permalink) |

August 10, 2006

Addicted to teaching

I finished the syllabus for my fall online class today—finding new hot-topic readings, changing the structure of assignments somewhat, eliminating the wiki, changing what the blog is used for, creating a different type of paper assignment, and adding a separate page for orienting students to discussion (leaving heavily on Brookfield and Preskill). Blackboard is now a mature framework (finally!) and has what it calls adaptive-release rules and I call conditional access. Students will now have to read the syllabus, complete an initial survey, and pass a plagiarism quiz before they can really start work. I'm such a mean teacher!

But as I've worked on the syllabus, I'm enthusiastic again about the course. Ah, I think, I know how to tweak this to make live chats more effective. And I decide to change the order of reading within a unit, so students have theoretical background before we talk about issues of the day.

So it happens every semester: I like to teach. Darnitall. Where's Teachers Anonymous when you need it?

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

Post-mortems, in real life

Some time ago, in one of the blogs on my 'roll (I think Jenny D or Oh, Snap!), I read a bit about medical postmortems and a desire for such brutal honesty in education on where failures occur and what could be changed. (If you can point me to the blog in a comment, I'll correct this entry to give proper credit.) According to acquaintance hawklady, the National Weather Service Katrina postmortem (PDF) is another example of professional honesty, this time in a brutally public sense. It's hard for someone other than a wxgeek to parse out the reflections in the postmortem, but I have to respect the honesty here.

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Posted in Education policy at 2:00 PM (Permalink) |

August 9, 2006

Library of Congress takes blogs seriously

My friend Kathleen de la Peña McCook has received an ISSN for her Librarian blog. That's right—the Library of Congress's ISSN processing unit is now recognizing blogs as periodicals.

So what are you waiting for? Blog and get your ISSN today!

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Posted in Random comments at 12:35 PM (Permalink) |

Necessary but Dull Wednesday

Today I'm pulling my own teeth, metaphorically speaking. No, I'm not talking about my checkup this afternoon but working on the references to Accountability Frankenstein. After finishing the text of chapter 2, there are a bunch of citations that I didn't yet have in the references file, others I need to complete, and so forth. This is also a decent time to dump in citations for the first chapter that I was lazy on, get in there things I know I'll need later, and so forth. Currently, there are 25 pages of citations right now, after a chunk of the work.

Blogging as a break from the tedium? How did you ever guess?

Thus far, I'm pleased with the structure I've set for the chapters. In both the first and second chapters, the end leads naturally into the beginning of the next chapter. While I paid attention to the beginnings and ends of the chapters in Creating the Dropout, my nose had not experienced the full olfactory sensation of being at style's ground level until I read Joe Williams' Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. It's a wonderful book, and I'll be reviewing it before I turn in a final manuscript.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 11:03 AM (Permalink) |

More on online encyclopedias

Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi has the same question I have about encyclopedias: why still deadtree?

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Posted in History at 7:18 AM (Permalink) |

Wiki, Witty, Wicca

Duly noted:

There. I've always wanted the excuse to have a title something like that. (Yes, I know enough people who identify themselves as Wicca to know that Kevin Carey is not a member of his local coven...)

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Posted in Random comments at 7:15 AM (Permalink) |

August 8, 2006

Domesday and depressing news

The Domesday Book is online, a wonderful boon to European history teachers everywhere. And New York teen Kiri Davis has replicated Kenneth Clark's 1940s doll work in today's Manhattan, with depressing results. I hope it sparks additional discussion about the work of the Clarks and the controversy over the relationship between social science and the legal system. Hat tips to Tom Smith and Bruce Adelsohn, respectively.

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Posted in History at 1:17 PM (Permalink) |

Prewritten lesson plans in Miami

Matt Pinzur's Miami Herald story yesterday about lesson plans that the Miami-Dade system wrote for every grade, every subject for the beginning of the year (the first 10 days) is interesting. (Sample second-grade lesson in PDF.) The theory of action is that having pre-written plans will help teachers at the beginning of the year who need support, especially first-year teachers, will set the expectation that teachers should be engaged in academic instruction from the very first day, and will encourage teachers to do more long-term planning in the pre-opening days than focusing on detailed lesson plans.

Using the lesson plans is not mandatory—this year, under this superintendent (Rudy Crew). Miami's central bureaucracy claims it will survey teachers to see what they thought. This is different from systems where teachers are told exactly where to be on which day. The principle—support but don't mandate—makes sense in abstract, but there is the expectation created by the plans that if you don't use these, you better be using your own plans and be teaching from the first day. This strikes me as classic Rudy Crew.

My reaction to the lesson plan itself: wow, this is the heavily detailed version of lesson planning. (The actual procedure takes about 30 lines of description, not the 100 or so that's the complete description. The "beginning, middle, end" by itself is pretty mundane, unless spiced up by the teacher, and I have no idea whether the suggested story has anything other than the typical basal reader pap in terms of structure. Also, the independent practice is not about story structure but decoding. Whoops.) I'm sure it was intended as a model, but it might be intimidating instead. If a brand-new teacher needs two pages to link every half-hour segment of teaching to standards, he or she will never be able to finish planning a week, let alone the whole school year.

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Posted in Education policy at 5:33 AM (Permalink) |

Will UCU respond to academic-freedom poll?

Expect a response this week from the University and College Union to the Times higher education supplement poll of academics in the UK indicating a large minority felt under pressure to limit their expression in teaching or research. The online article did not solicit any comment from the UK's higher ed union, but I expect it will be forthcoming.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 5:11 AM (Permalink) |

August 7, 2006

A depressed AP history teacher?

Over at Revise and Dissent is Kevin Levin's description of an AP history workshop, wherein he learns how prepared the AP history teachers of next year truly are (not). I think Levin may be wrong in his interpretation of why many of his fellow teachers were unprepared—secondary history and social studies teachers in Virginia (PDF—see pp. 44-47) do not have a generic "education" degree but fulfill a major-or-hours requirement, where they either have a degree from an approved program, a major in history, or 18 hours in history. Bluefield College's history and social studies program may be fairly typical in having 10 courses in history, which is more than the 6-course "hours" requirement.

So social studies teachers in Virginia who don't go through alternative certification have some history (and more than a course or two). That means that the experience of such teachers with primary documents (what Kevin Levin wrote about) depends on whether history departments make sure that their survey courses use primary sources and require that their students write essays. It's entirely possible that someone could squeak by with a 'C' in all those courses and still not "get" an historian's perspective, but it would be made easier with no-primary-document survey courses.

No, I have no idea if there's any evidence on that question. I can tell you the answers for my own undergraduate institution (where primary sources were central to almost every course) and for my graduate education where I TA'd (where the U.S. history surveys generally eschewed primary sources in the late 1980s). But this question seems to me important in determining whether social studies teachers "get" history.

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Posted in Education policy at 5:26 AM (Permalink) |

August 6, 2006

Want to get a copy of Accountability Frankenstein without paying?

I'm still on chapter 2, which has ballooned beyond the size I anticipated. I'm at the fun stage, filling in holes that largely involve writing what I already know. It's akin to putting the last pieces into a jigsaw puzzle. There are three substantive chunks left and then I need to redraft the chapter conclusion. Then it's on to chapter 3!

But to the offer: I'm interested in getting outside perspectives on chapter drafts as I finish them. 2-3 readers per chapter would be useful. And here's the deal: if you volunteer to read a chapter and I choose you, I'd send you a draft chapter and would need a 1-2 page response (strengths/weaknesses) in 2-3 weeks. When the book is completely drafted, you get the file (though I wouldn't be looking for in-depth critiques then). Then, when the book comes out, you get a copy. And you get into the acknowledgments, of course.

If you're interested, please e-mail me.

(P.S. Did anyone notice the typo in the original version of this entry? Are there any left?)

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 6:38 AM (Permalink) |

August 5, 2006

Was there a difference between intelligence and achievement tests 80 years ago?

Today's passage touched briefly on the overlapping development of intelligence and achievement tests early in the 20th century. Most of the historiography has focused on so-called IQ tests, their flaws, and their political uses. But at the same time that school districts were purchasing millions of IQ tests, they were also purchasing millions of the early achievement tests in academic subjects as well as the early achievement batteries. Lewis Terman had a heavy hand in prominent tests on both sides (the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test and the Stanford Achievement Tests), and I wonder whether there is much evidence that school districts saw a difference between the two in the 1920s and 1930s. Chris Mazzeo's 2001 article in Teachers College Record documents the uses of testing for guidance purposes in the first half-century of standardized testing, and that could use either IQ or achievement tests.

Aggregate achievement test results were reported for what one might call quasi-evaluative purposes (sometimes publicly in the Progressive Era, often internally through the mid-20th century, as I've seen in archives). But I wonder if that was mostly an afterthought piggybacking on using testing for tracking purposes, at least initially. By the 1960s, I know some state officials were interested in using achievement testing for evaluative purposes (what we call accountability today), and I wonder if anyone might be able to trace that development in a concrete case or two.

But I wonder if there's an important lesson in the overlapping of so-called intelligence and achievement testing. We see that overlap in the ambiguity in the meaning of the SATs, which has stood at different times for Scholastic Aptitude, Scholastic Achievement, and Scholastic Assessment Test. The primary motivation for purchasing tests 80 years ago could have been very similar. And we know that the skills involved in profitable test-publishing (both in test construction and also marketing/contracting) were similar. Hmmn...

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:43 PM (Permalink) |

Willard Daggett, demotivational speaker

Last Monday, the teachers in Hillsborough County had to suffer through a bus ride downtown and stuffing themselves in our portside arena to hear Willard Daggett, most well known for ... well, for talking and making lots of money talking about whatever strikes his fancy. From one friend in the system who e-mailed me:

He was a huge disappointment. I thought that at least he might be entertaining, but he wasn't even that. Also, at least half of what he said was pure hogwash. It seems we could've done much better.

Daggett's received a Rotten Apple from Gerald Bracey for spouting homespun "hogwash," as my friend puts it, and he then tried to sue Bracey for his work in publicizing David Lloyd's exposé of what Daggett said at an "in-service" in Grosse Point, Michigan. I've seen Daggett speak once, and it seemed to me that, yes, he spoke a lot of hogwash—e.g., I remember that when speaking at my college in the late 1990s, he claimed that there were instances of doctors performing surgery over the internet. (As far as I'm aware, there are only experiments involving long-distance surgical techniques right now, not actual surgeries, and certainly none at the time he spoke. Do you want your appendectomy done using Windows software?) My dear wife read through several of his speeches (or what was transcribed from them and available through USF's library) and decided that he hasn't seen a bandwagon he hasn't jumped on.

The cost? I'm guessing that Daggett makes $10-$20K a pop, but that's far less than the other costs—renting a facility, paying for the gas and the driving of buses, paying for security around the facility, and then paying a day's wages for everyone shipped in. Hillsborough does some things very well, but I can't see this as anything but a waste of money.

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Posted in Education policy at 9:47 AM (Permalink) |

August 4, 2006

Educational historiography on Youtube

I've taken a few pieces from the historiography of common-school reform, mashed it up a famous pop-culture icon, and ruined it, but for instructional purposes. Oh, yes, and I've uploaded it to YouTube. See Version 1 starring Orestes Brownson as well as Version 2 starring Horace Mann (each 73 seconds long). Now, if only someone would make the movies to go along with the introductory text.

Background: several years ago, when I was retooling my only online course, I wanted to establish more social presence (a word I learned from Brookfield and Preskill's Discussion as a Way of Teaching, even though I didn't know that term then). So I figured I needed to use a bit of creativity in creating online presentations, something with a bit of humor in ways that could still get points across. So, for a presentation discussing some aspects of common-school reform, I used Blender software to create movie introductions to capture very different perspectives on common-school reform. It certainly worked in terms of getting my students' attention, though I didn't have time or any ideas on background music (and borrowing from the John Williams score was right out, obviously), so I just talked over the images.

The presentation files were humongous and this upcoming semester, I'm trying to be a little lighter with them, using one of the commercial software packages for turning presentations into Flash packages—that way, the bulk of the file is the audio. But I wanted those text animations! And I wanted some background music. So today, after my daughter came home from school, I downloaded SuperJAM, set up a style within it to create background music that is entirely different from what any viewer would expect but still fits the genre, and melded it to the movies that already existed. A little bit more work, and now it's available for anyone who wants to be a victim of my "creativity." Bwahahaha!

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Posted in History at 7:15 PM (Permalink) |

August 2, 2006

The historians' full employment act

ACTA has sent a letter to Arizona Governor Napolitano urging that the state require that undergraduates take history, something that is discussed in an Arizona Republic article today as well as in an ACTA blog entry. As any history department website in Texas will tell you, Texas has a core curriculum, and if I remember correctly, the Texas undergrad history requirement goes back further than the 1997 core-curriculum law (though I couldn't find the specifics in a quick search).

As an historian and union member, I have absolutely no problem with this requirement. It's the historian's full-employment act, if it's replicated across the country, and we all know that given the oversupply of Ph.D.'s, we need something like that. Since we're most oversupplied with Americanists, who can argue? Too bad history occurs in other countries, too, so the requirement might distort what departments look like—less intellectual diversity might result (though I'm sure Timothy Burke and others can point out several ways in which a U.S. history requirement can be structured to give a variety of perspectives on our North American past).

On the other hand, the emphasis on a fairly rigid notion of a core curriculum is—er, eum—being ahistorical, as Lawrence Levine's The Opening of the American Mind points out. Anyone know if there's evidence that having a core curriculum, or a history requirement, means that graduating Texas students know more history than their peers in other states? Or what actually happens in Texas these days, undergraduate-wise, that's different with the core curriculum? Any creative interpretations? I'm sure we're going to hear the reductionist debate on this, but I'd like there to be something a bit more substantive on the ground.

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Posted in History at 7:43 PM (Permalink) |

Why teacher unions

Leo Casey has a great autobiographical entry on his entry into union activism. Hat tip to Sara Mead. Leo finishes with a discussion about the intertwining of teachers' and students' lives and contrasting that fact with claims that teachers and unions are only about material self-interest.

Reframing the self-interest claim would be healthy for the education policy debate. As the person who conducted my coaching certification class earlier this summer noted, few who volunteer to coach youth sports do it "for the kids." Or at least he was skeptical. Unless any of my readers put in the weakest kids at a critical point in the game, I think you'd have to admit most youth sports coaches like to win. They also want to think of themselves as being "for the kids." That need to reconcile one's actions with one's ideals is also a matter of self-interest, and it's a powerful motivator. Too bad we don't see the analysis of different levels of self-interest all that often in education politics. But we don't, because the phrase is used as rhetoric to attempt to delegitimize one's opponents, not as a tool fo analysis.

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Posted in Education policy at 7:25 PM (Permalink) |

August 1, 2006

Annotation and teaching

All this Web 2.0 stuff has gotten to my head. A friend of mine has convinced me that trying to use the collaborative concept-map software CMAP would be a mistake in a masters class (which I reluctantly agreed was probable), even though I'm fairly certain there's a reasonable application, if not in my classes. Then there's the class of edit-in-place applications (examples 1, 2, 3, and 4), which look to be fairly simple tools that are halfway between web annotation and wikidom and might fit well in a teaching environment.

The problem I've discovered with wikis is that they can be too flexible, to the point where I've had former students who merrily created pages with no links to their team, and these orphan pages then became problems. And web annotation typically is browser-specific and relies on a third-party server to link a class's annotations and bookmarks, and relying on a third-party server is never a wise thing with a time-limited class (I know from experience). But a section of a page that is edit-in-place (like Flickr's titles and captions) could serve as an annotation space. And, if it works with multiple browsers, it's fairly simple to explain to students, Go to this page. Click on this paragraph and add to it. Now, if only there were versioning...

In other teaching news, I've been having fun putting together another directed reading (which puts me in the position of having to read several new books, always a good thing) and figuring out which hot-button issues I put in my online class this fall.

Oh, and my thanks to profgrrrrl for recommending Brookfield and Preskill's Discussion as a Way of Teaching (2nd ed., 2005). Some useful tips, and I haven't delved into the college teaching-methods literature for a few years.

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Posted in Teaching at 11:40 PM (Permalink) |