October 31, 2006

Errata week: mundane typo

I'll end Errata Week here on the blog by noting one embarrassing typo in Creating the Dropout (Praeger, 1996):

Changes in the proportion of nineteen-year-olds dependent on relatives cannot account for the drop; a higher proportion was dependent in 1980 (86 percent) than in 1970 or 1980 (80 and 81 percent, respectively). (p. 20)

This is just a boneheaded proofreading mistake.  The first 1980 should be 1990. It's not my usual type of mistake, either; I'm far more likely to mismatch the number of subject and verb than to get a number wrong. (Often, I hasve to edit my blog entries to correct such mistakes, after publicatoion.) But for the thousands of you who were wondering if they were going a bit crazy on p. 20, no, you weren't. 

Oh, you weren't kept awake by my typographical errors?  I hope that by ending on the mundane, I've made a bit of a point about issuing errata as a professional process: it is not so much the typo (though we should be careful with that) as the sloppy interpretation and omission where we are most likely to make errors that last.

Update: One more (embarrassing) typo from a column July 6 on the Spellings Commission: I typed Barmak Nassirian's name as Barnak. My apologies, Mr. Nassirian.

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Posted in Random comments at 1:12 PM (Permalink) |

Errata week: Primary-source misinterpretation

Sorry for the gap in writing about my mistakes: I needed access to my office for today's entry. In my dissertation, Creating the Dropout (U. Penn, 1992), I wrote the following in a discussion on the silencing of race in the construction of dropping out in the 1960s:

In 1962, Georgia's Deaprtment of Education cosponsored a conference on high school dropouts whose participants included the state superintendent and several representatives from the Atlanta public schools. According to a newsletter written by a consultant for the Georgia Association for Mental Health and distributed to counselors and other mental health professionals, "We succeeded real well [sic] in blocking off any consideration of Negro dropouts, in the conference." (p. 174)

The original was a memo from Frank A. Smith to Frank McFall, 20 July 1962, p. 4, in the Georgia Archives, record series 12-6-71, box 11, in the "Dropouts 1962-63 Summary" folder. (The minor error was describing the quotation as part of a newsletter.) At the time, I read that sentence as a straightforward racist comment about complicity in silencing racial differences in educational outcomes.

Over the next few years, though, I reconsidered my reading to some extent. Yes, Atlanta counselors and psychologists were tools of segregation when they facilitated pupil-placement regulations, and they were willing to talk openly about differences in graduation by race in private, even though the public policy starting in 1961 was to be completely silent on race. Yet I decided I was wrong in interpreting that passage as a straight racist comment.  In the end, I think, the school staff and other officials realized they were playing a publicity game (and a losing one, in the long term) rather than just boldly trying to suppress information.  It doesn't make the larger picture any better (still public silence about differences in outcomes), but here's what I wrote in the book Creating the Dropout (Praeger, 1996), with the changed text in italics:

In 1962, Georgia's Deaprtment of Education cosponsored a conference on high school dropouts whose participants included the state superintendent and several representatives from the Atlanta public schools. Frank Smith, a consultant for the Georgia Association for Mental Health, wrote Executive Director Frank McFall after the conference, on July 20, 1962. According to Smith, educators could not "much longer refuse to consider the implications of inferior Negro education." Nonetheless, he thought it more important to keep racial inequality out of the discussion: "We succeeded real well [sic] in blocking off any consideration of Negro dropouts, in the conference." (p. 103)

One interpretation is of school and other public officials suppressing any discussion of race and dropping out.  The other interpretation is of school and other public officials aware that the time of silence was going to end in the near future and still recognizing that their job required complicity in silence. Does the change matter? It may be a matter of subtle shading more than broad interpretations, but I was bothered by my earlier description of Frank Smith as a heavy-handed manipulator. He described manipulation of the conference but was well aware of the changing circumstances in the South.

In the end, I think that makes him and others in a like position more culpable.  It is one thing to be complicit in a regime you think is inevitable. It is another thing entirely to be complicit in a regime you know will end at some point.  Do you choose to help end it, or do you help prop it up a few more days or years?

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Posted in Random comments at 12:58 PM (Permalink) |

October 30, 2006

New paper on attainment using census records

My fall conference paper for the Social Science History Association, Long-Term Educational Attainment Trends in the US: A New Look (2.0 MB), is available as a working paper. Lots of small-multiples. I'm sure there are lots of omissions and errors. (Feel free to point them out in comments!) The text is fairly bare-bones, because of the 23 pages of figures.

Incidentally, it was a blast doing the number-crunching.

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Posted in Research at 7:00 PM (Permalink) |

October 29, 2006

Truck Exhaust, Asthma, and Education

Today's NY Times has a story, Study Links Truck Exhaust To Schoolchildren's Asthma, which describes a study of NYU's George Thurston, among other researchers, who sent 10 public-school students in the Bronx around with equipment-stuffed backpacks. Not surprisingly, the pollutants from the diesel trucks on the expressways, in the large Bronx markets, and on the clogged roads leading to waste treatment facilities were surprisingly high. Or, rather, not surprising at all to anyone who is familiar with traffic in the Bronx.

Asthma does not account for all educational difficulties, but it's amazing what you can do when you can breathe. In this particular case, aggressive enforcement of environmental air-quality standards is educational policy.

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Posted in Education policy at 1:19 AM (Permalink) |

October 28, 2006

Mistakes and big mistakes

I'm taking a break from Errata Week here because it was my nephew T.'s bar mitzvah today, and his Torah portion was Noah, the ark, and a certain extreme weather event. I think that story represents enough mistakes for the day, and I'll continue tomorrow.

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October 27, 2006

Errata week: What to do when you can't track down a citation?

Back when I was finishing Creating the Dropout (1996), I had an ethical dilemma.  I knew I wanted to draw on a short reading I had seen in my anthropology of education course (taken at Penn from Michele Foster some years before). The selection I remembered was a wonderful three-page observation of U.S. graduation ceremonies seen through the Nacirema lens (Miner, 1956). (For those who don't know the piece, spell Nacirema backwards.) But the selection in the course packet didn't have the citation information (or maybe I had lost the course packet), and Michele Foster didn't remember it when I contacted her by e-mail. I sent an e-mail out to a few lists, asking for help, but no one had an answer (or at least no one replied other than saying how they were glad others found the Nacirema concept useful).

So what do you do when the academic culture says, "Acknowledge your sources," you know that a particular concept (in this case, the cultural value of rites of passage) came from a source, but you can't find the citation?

I fudged.  I cited Joseph Kett's Rites of Passage (1977) and (I think) another anthropologist who talked about graduation ceremonies.  But there was this debt I hadn't repaid.

Some years later, when I was putting together a satirical piece on high-stakes testing, I searched again and, thanks to the internet, finally found the piece, which had originally appeared in Bock's (1974) cultural anthropology text.  Whew!  Unfortunately, several education journal editors found it entertaining but a bit outside their scope. So I turned it into a photoessay in 2004, Pencil Art of the Nacirema, and cited Bock there.

But that photoessay is tucked away on my personal site, and I haven't called much attention to it. So, while I'm engaged in online errata, it's time to acknowledge the debt here.  Thanks, Professor Bock (professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico).

I've also found two other pieces on Nacirema education, which I've cited below. All are witty and provide a different perspective on modern formal education. (Isn't that what good cultural anthropology does?)


Bock, P. K. (1974). Nacirema initiation ceremonies. In Bock, Modern cultural anthropology: An introduction (2nd ed.) (pp. 83-85). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Available on pp. 97-98 of ERIC Document ED 403140.

Miner, H. (1956). Body ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58, 503-507.

Muller, J. (1971). Nacireman academies dysfunctional? A rejoinder. American Anthropologist, 73, 267.

Walker, W. (1970). The retention of folk linguistic concepts and the ti’yčir caste in contemporary Nacireman culture. American Anthropologist, 72(1), 102-105.

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Posted in Random comments at 1:16 PM (Permalink) |

October 26, 2006

Errata week: acknowledgments omission

Today's entry is the second in a week of acknowledging professional errors I have made. A few weeks ago I was looking at one of my co-edited volumes, Schools as Imagined Communities, and I noticed something about my chapter on special education and communities.

Or, rather, it was what was not there: "This work was partially funded by U.S. Department of Education Award H023N60001. The funding agency is not responsible for errors of fact or interpretation."

Yikes.  It's standard practice to acknowledge grants, and I completely blew it. So to Lou Danielson and every other program officer in the Office of Special Education Programs, please accept my humble and public apology.  I goofed.

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October 25, 2006

Errata week: To be read (yet)

I'm declaring the next week or so to be Errata Week, where I declare a bunch of mistakes I've made professionally. One of the obligations of academics is to acknowledge these openly. Since publishers don't print errata sheets frequently, it's time to use blogs to do that instead.

Today, I'll start with a list of very specific omissions (and omissions count as errors): books I've committed to reading in a very concrete way, by buying them, but where I haven't cracked the covers (yet). When I was studying for comprehensive exams in 1989-90, I realized I had three lists of books in my head: books I wanted to read, books I should read, and books I should have read two weeks some time ago. That last category has grown considerably in the past 17 years.

I'm amazed at The Little Professor's frequent This Week's Acquisitions notes (a personal version of an academic library's recently acquired list), and I admit that I don't scarf down books as voluminously as Miriam Burstein because, well, I'm not as persistent. So here's the tip of the hat to Miriam and a commitment to get to the following books Very Soon Now:

  • Steven Mintz, Huck's Raft
  • Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods
  • Richard Neumann, Sixties Legacy
  • Lee Jones, ed., Brothers of the Academy
  • Roger Geiger, Knowledge and Money
  • Clive Griggs, The TUC and Education Reform, 1926-1970
  • Beverly Daniel Tatum, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?"
  • Philippe Meyer, The Child and the State
  • Judith Sealander, Private Wealth and Public Life
  • Antwone Fisher, Finding Fish
  • Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel
  • Vincent Harding, Hope and History
  • Lisbeth Schorr, Within our Reach
  • Etta Kralovec, Schools that Do too Much
  • Linda Christensen and Stan Karp, ed., Rethinking School Reform
  • Viviana Zelizer, The Social Meaning of Money
  • Candace Falk, Love, Anarchy, and Emma Goldman (though I think someone else picked this out in the bookstore, it's lying in my pile)
  • Pauline Vaillancourt Rosenau, The Competition Paradigm
  • Scott Sandage, Born Losers

And adding to that list is a package on its way to me this week:

  • Michael Bérubé, What's Liberal about the Liberal Arts?
  • David Nye, America as Second Creation
  • Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones, Agendas and Instability in American Politics
  • Thomas Misa, Leonardo to the Internet
  • Natalie McMaster, No Boundaries
  • Cape Breton by Request (2 vols.)
  • Harold Jones, Let us Break Bread Together

Oh, wait: Those last items are CDs, but at least the last one deserves to be on the list. Jones's chamber group played at my wedding more than 18 years ago (my wonderful mother-in-law knew him for years while living in New York), and I should've gotten it before now.

Tomorrow's errata: acknowledgment omissions of various types.

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Posted in Random comments at 7:05 AM (Permalink) |

October 23, 2006

Book progress pleasurable but costly

I have one paragraph left before I finish the third chapter of Accountability Frankenstein. Unfortunately for my sanity and time, I think I'll be reading the equivalent of 3-4 books to write that paragraph (international perspectives on curriculum decision-making). But I'm quite happy with how the chapter ended. I've divided our education woes into three fundamental questions (generational challenges, inequalities, and true crises) and tried to think through and write clearly about setting goals (standards would be the current buzzword).

If I've done my job right, forceful advocates of both high-stakes testing and no standards at all will be gritting their teeth at the end of the chapter, but most should acknowledge that they have to defend their views in different ways because of it.

At this point, I think the manuscript is a little over 200 pages. Approximately 150 pages are text, and a little over 50 pages comprise the draft references section.

The next chapter will require additional reading in an area I don't usually read (industrial and organizational psychology). Time to bone up!

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 9:34 PM (Permalink) |

October 22, 2006

On standards, the curriculum, and acorns

One of my frustrations with some types of education policy writing is its irritatingly acontextual nature, as if nothing but that era (usually This Era) and the conceptualization in use at the time (i.e., a particular buzzword) is relevant for the question at hand. The writing-that-frustrates-Dorn can often be very detailed, accurate, and descriptive, but in a flat, largely uninteresting way. Make connections! one part of my mind screams as I plod through the piece. But, inevitably, the only connections made are to last year, or to nearby states, and only with regard to the buzzword-in-focus.

The standards movement is one of those buzzwords that is a particular magnet for acontextual writing. Writing that assumes meaningful curriculum development didn't exist before the late 1980s makes me want to pull my hair out. No, not really; I just squirm in my seat, with muscles in my torso and arms tensing. There are multiple problems with the term standards movement, including the elision of different types of expectations (the purpose of schools with our expectations of student performance) and the elision of two separate developments in the late 1980s and early 1990s (performance assessment commonly associated with the New Standards Project and Laura Resnick, on the one hand, with efforts to create state or national curricula, on the other).

But the greater problem with most writing on standards is a failure both to look at curriculum history broadly conceived and also to think comparatively, with the U.S. as one of many countries with curriculum policy. Advocates of standards often talk about the need for alignment: we test what we say we expect from students, which should have something to do with what we plan for them to learn. Curriculum-studies folks would point out that this is parallel to their observations for many decades that there are different levels of curriculum.  Terms such as the formal curriculum, the taught curriculum, and the tested curriculum abound in curriculum writings, and essentially the argument for alignment is that the formal, tested, and taught curriculum should be identical. Alignment is really about aligning different types or levels of curriculum. In abstract, that's fine as far as it goes, but alignment doesn't guarantee that the learned curriculum will be the same, nor that alignment will eliminate the hidden curriculum.

The ahistorical nature of most writing on the standards movement is more problematic. It is true that the early 1990s was the first time when we could witness most states trying to write formal curriculum expectations across a range of academic subjects. But states have written expectations before into specific parts of the curriculum, and somehow advocates for aligning different curriculum levels haven't been interested in looking at that history. The narrow definition of alignment also assumes that those who have gone before and only focused on one type of curriculum (say, the tested curriculum if you look at minimum competency testing) didn't know what they were doing in terms of its effects.  And I suspect that's baloney: Even if a particular effort only targeted one chain in the desired link from expectations to what happens in student minds, advocates often have had a very clear idea of what they hoped would happen. Connecticut common-school advocate Henry Barnard, for example, hoped that blindly-graded admissions testing to high schools would drive the curriculum in grammar schools, even when only a small minority attended high schools at the time. We cannot clearly identify what is truly new in the last 15-20 years of curriculum (including the standards movement, for want of a better term) unless we look at the history with more than very narrowly-defined questions.

So, too, with international perspectives. Advocates of standards and alignment occasionally will refer to the existence of a national curriculum in other countries, most famously France, but it is not true that every other industrialized country has a long history of a centralized curriculum. I am not a comparativist, but I have a sneaky suspicion that parents have often thought that parts of the French national curriculum are compartmentalized drivel, but that's less important than a little bit of skepticism we need about the inevitability of centralized curriculum. (We can talk about de Tocqueville's model of history later.) For decades, West Germany had a clearly-articulated lack of national curriculum in reaction to the national curriculum of the Nazis. After the end of apartheid, South Africans (of all ethnic and racial groups) started looking at its prior national curriculum with considerable shame. Looking internationally, I don't get the sense that the U.S. is out of step with some universal consensus on curriculum centralization.

In fact, as my astute spouse has pointed out to me on occasion, we have a nationalized curriculum in the oddest places. One of the cultural norms of elementary schools in the U.S. is to teach about the calendar. We want young children to get a sense of time, and one way to help them understand the concept of a year is to talk about seasons.  But the way we do so, in all parts of the country, is tied to temperate parts of the country.  In southern California and Florida, kids learn about temperate climates--that leaves turn colors in fall, that it snows in winter, and so forth. In Florida??? Leaves don't turn colors in the fall here, and deciduous trees often drop their leaves in February (especially oaks). In Florida, fall is the time of year when acorns fall, and when it gets a bit drier and more comfortable after Halloween. And don't even talk to me about teaching kids about snow. But you'll see plastic colored maple leaves in Florida classrooms this time of year. I remember the same growing up in southern California, and I suspect it's also the same in many Hawaii, Arizona, and New Mexico classrooms. We don't follow Noah Webster's exhortations to speak with the same accent, but we have the same plastic maple leaves!  

(A slightly different version appears on Education Policy Blog.)

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 9:00 AM (Permalink) |

October 21, 2006

MOO if you love Shakespeare

The Synthetic Worlds Institute at Indiana University is apparently building Arden, a virtual world based on Shakespeare's works, thanks to the MacArthur Foundation. See the IU news release about it.

All the [virtual] world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
(As You Like It, II, vii)

(Hat tip: kip-w.)

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Posted in Random comments at 1:43 PM (Permalink) |

October 20, 2006

Best-laid plans aft gang agly and other meeting war stories

My semester has gone fairly well thus far with my attempting to spend an hour or two Sunday evening or early Monday getting everything out of my head and then sorting through my several-hundred-item task list for the highest-priority items for the week in various categories. That was one tweak of my internal attempts at organization.  With my children's leaving the house at about the same time most days, this has helped a significant chunk. The business-guru (MBA porn?) organizational system Getting Things Done suggest a "weekly review" on Fridays and then a daily scan, but a consolidated review-and-prioritize time is working better for me.

And then the other, critical step was to reorganize my week so I could devote a day to one type of work, whether journal editing, teaching, research/writing, or union work.  Since my time is divided roughly into 25% chunks, that leaves Friday as meeting/catchup time.  It's worked reasonably well for a month.

...until this week and its 11 meetings, with at least one every day of the week, plus a morning child-shuttling task one day.  So how would you say squeak in Scottish Gaelic? Fortunately, the meetings were all worthwhile, except for adding to my already-full plate. But I've been playing catchup all week.

Nonetheless, if I hadn't reorganized my work habits this semester, I'd now be tearing my hair out.  Now, I will just let it fall out of its own accord, if that's fate. See, I'm letting go of the unimportant stuff...

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Posted in Random comments at 8:44 AM (Permalink) |

October 17, 2006


Sorry for the lack of entries recently—my professional life has just become crazy-busy (and more than usual). I'm keeping my head above water, not a problem with that, but some things will drop off as priorities shift. And I love blogging, but there are only 30 hours in the day.

Or something like that.

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Posted in Random comments at 5:31 PM (Permalink) |

October 13, 2006

Why I'm not a member of the American Historical Association and speech codes

Since October 7th's Clipatria blog entry by Ralph Luker about the anti-speech-code resolution he and David Beito are sponsoring for January 2007 meeting of the American Historical Association, I've been wondering how to respond. It wasn't about the resolution itself (about which I'll talk later) but the fact that I haven't been an AHA member for years, and why I haven't.

It's the Job Registry, also known as the Professional Respect Abattoir. I don't mean that search committees kill professional respect.  Outside the Job Registry (and similar institutions at the American Philosophical Association and other professional organizations), they're as good as they can be (though I have heard my share of horror stories from colleagues about their job searches).  And inside the Job Registry, they do their best laboring in a structure that is guaranteed to treat applicants as scam victims.

Let me start with the AHA's own guidelines for the hiring process: "Interviewing and hiring should be based solely on professional criteria." But that's not what happens at the Job Registry, which weeds out starving grad students and other applicants who cannot afford to travel to the AHA.  To interview at a campus, an applicant needs to have sent in an application, prepare a job talk and several things if there is a teaching exercise, have appropriate professional attire, and go. To interview at the Job Registry, an applicant needs to do the above, pay the registration fees, housing costs, and then travel and eat in an expensive convention-hotel area.  Because search committees don't contact applicants until late in the fall, after the best airfares are often gone, those who are on a job search generally have to make plans (and pay for travel) before hearing whether they'll actually be interviewed.

And then there's the environment of the job registry itself.  From a 1972 report of the AHA:

Too often graduate students have been forced to think of the annual convention as, indeed, a slave block, and the arrangements provided have done nothing to diminish that impression. As employment opportunities have decreased, this sense has become even more acute.

I wrote about this in 1998 and 2001, but if you don't believe me that the registry is doomed to have a graveyard stench, take a more recent gander of the sense of Another Damned Medievalist (from 2004):

People were right. The meat market set-up tends to create a group of job-sekers who exude fear, paranoia, jealousy, and hatred.

What I wrote more than five years ago is still true: I am certain that AHA officials have gone to great efforts to make an essentially humiliating experience a tad less like a meat market. Maybe it's now a quieter abattoir. Departments continue to spend hundreds of dollars to send exhausted faculty to places where they get headaches listening to desperate graduate students or Ph.D.s who spent hundreds of dollars getting to the AHA for the sole purpose of the job registry. Why? Because that's how history departments "have always" conducted searches since the change from old-boy networks to advertised searches with bureaucratized procedures. Having interviews at the AHA has an opportunity cost, given fixed costs for searches: reducing the number of candidates invited to campus. I'm not saying that academic searches in fields without a similar forum are more ethical or less painful for the unsuccessful applicants. However, they are less expensive for both applicants and the searching campus. In today's environment, with the capacity to have teleconferencing at a relatively low cost to an institution (given the existing infrastructure), and where grad students and independent scholars can participate in such virtual interviews at low cost to them, it's inexcusable to use "the way we've done it in the past" to justify the continued existence of the Job Registry.

So, back to the AHA resolution on speech codes.  See more from Michael Berube, Hiram Hover, Luker's response, and Hover's rebuttal. I'm surprised that Hiram Hover refers to the AAUP statement on speech codes, since it uses the term in precisely the way that HH thinks is sloppy and is forceful in a way that HH doesn't find justified.  But no matter: if you are going to quibble about the terminology (which I think is essentially what's going on), then suggest alternative language.  Since the AHA passed the resolution on the misnamed Academic Bill of Rights last year, it's perfectly appropriate to push something on speech codes.

Also, the AHA is in Atlanta on a weekend where there's another event I frequent, so I could combine business with pleasure (I'm not sure which would be which).  But if this resolution passes, maybe I'll become active, if only to shut down the Job Registry once and for all.  Anyone want to help me with the logistics of getting a resolution to the floor removing the Job Registry?

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Posted in Academic freedom at 10:11 PM (Permalink) |

October 11, 2006

Preview release of Social Explorer

Definitely head over to Social Explorer, a great historical interactive map site from Andy Beveridge and colleagues at Queens College (CUNY). Right now, it's in preview mode, but if you want to get census-tract-level maps on a whole host of social data, definitely look at it!

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Posted in History at 9:25 PM (Permalink) |

October 10, 2006

Have New Yorkers forgotten their manners?

What is it with academic-freedom news from the Big Apple recently, from the interruption of a speech by a Minuteman founder at Columbia to the cancellation of a speech by Tony Judt at the Polish Consulate? Is there something in the water? 

I can talk about this because my father was from Brooklyn (Flatbush, in fact) and my wife is from New York. My older paternal uncle was born and died in New York. I know what New York manners are:

First you let them speak.  Then you yell at them.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 10:25 AM (Permalink) |

October 9, 2006

On teaching as a perpetual activity

New Kid on the Hallway's entry today on watching the (rebroadcast) Eyes on the Prize has me focusing on two thoughts:

  1. Wow. This really is evidence of how long the series has been unavailable to too many people.
  2. NK's comments show how much education really is a matter of making sure that information and perspectives don't disappear. I remember the Eyes series almost as if it were yesterday. I shouldn't be surprised that someone seeing it for the first time this month will be similarly affected.  And, moreover, there's nothing wrong with that repetition.
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Posted in History at 9:36 PM (Permalink) |

Narrators of academic and political life

To new scholars hired into academic jobs:  Remember that your colleagues are unreliable narrators. That doesn't mean that they are necessarily vicious, mean, backstabbing folks (and I hope you don't run into those types, because they unfortunately exist). I mean that people to whom you look for advice on institutional morays have their own sets of lenses that distort and color the world. They are unreliable in the classic literary sense:  Trust them as people. Just don't trust them as the definitive anthropologists of your institution. This includes me, by the way; I'd like to think of myself as an astute observer, but I'm going to have my own limitations.

As Iraq has continued to descend into chaos, with our involvement in it following apace, I've been wondering about the political version of this phenomenon: major politicians' self-delusions.  We all delude ourselves in some ways, whether minor or major, and I can't think of a president that hasn't had at least one historically significant self-delusion.  The current president's delusions about Iraq are now all too plain, but I wonder how a political history would look if written with an eye to identifying historically significant delusions operating in different eras, whether held by individuals or groups. Now that project would be an interesting version of psychohistory!

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Posted in History at 8:33 PM (Permalink) |

October 8, 2006

ACTA discussions

So where would you have a serious discussion about the future of academe, where you'd talk about a thoughtful core curriculum across the country, because you think everyone has a right to the intellectual tools of a good liberal education?  You know, the stuff that shouldn't be the exclusive privilege of the elite?

Harvard's faculty club, of course.

Maybe I'm stuck in a backwater with only 40,000+ students, more than $100 million in annual faculty salaries, a few hundred millions in extramural grants, etc., but am I wrong in thinking that an obsession with whatever Harvard does, including its curriculum, and putting an ACTA roundtable at Harvard is just a mite unhealthy?

See ACTA's blog entry and also Margaret Soltan's blogging on the day, part I, part II, and part III. ACTA gets credit for inviting John Wilson to be on a panel about academic freedom (why not someone from AAUP?). Soltan's also right that ACTA needs to have some serious engagement with faculty who disagree with their perspective (not about faculty largely in their absence).

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:37 PM (Permalink) |

October 6, 2006

Statistical magic and record linkage

Highly recommended link on a way-cool statistical technique in record linkage: The Bristol Observatory, where Steven Banks and John Pandiani have developed probabilistic population estimation, using two data sets with just birthdates. It's not really magic but relies on a classic puzzle in probability (and an elementary one to solve, apparently).

Banks and Pandiani developed this technique to solve a serious evaluation problem with mental health programs: how do you identify who used two services, or showed up in two different places, if the two agencies cannot reveal personally-identifiable information for privacy reasons? 

They went around that problem to rephrase it:  the operative question for program evaluation is not who shows up in two places but how many. The first requires invading privacy to some extent. The second, not at all.  Their technique requires information only about birthdates and such other nonidentifiable information as would allow them to subdivide a population for greater accuracy, but no names, addresses, phone numbers, or Social Security numbers. They don't even need to know the unduplicated birthdates. It also bypasses all the attendant problems of keeping separate databases up-to-date.

Is this applicable to education research and my own work? Well, suppose you want to know if a specific intervention leads kids to graduate from high school, but the local school district (or some relevant agency) won't release identifiable information.  All you need is the birthdates, sex, and maybe ethnicity of those who graduate from the district (though since ethnicity is more malleable than sex, that's a problem), and you can estimate the numbers of graduates who also came from your participants (or a segment of your participants).

Banks and Pandiani have patented their work, so someone wanting use this specific procedure needs to work with them, but there is another technique that is similar and publicly usable. I'll post on that one after I've had a chance to absorb it.  (I have a demography masters and can read statistical explanations, but sometimes I need more time to absorb it.)

But definitely go to Banks and Pandiani's website.  And check out the video, which explains the principles of their technique!

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 4:32 PM (Permalink) |

October 3, 2006

10% of public K-12 teachers work part-time

I'm working with a friend on a small project about teacher persistence (I'm just assisting in some technical details). And then he told me something that I didn't know before: 10% of public K-12 teachers are part-time.  We have to exclude this population from study because the estimates of some key variables by age group would be unstable.

But the number took me aback a bit. Sometimes people are part-time because they're the K-12 equivalent of adjuncts, experts in some career area who teach career education part-time. Or they're in a part-time position or job-sharing. But a good number of those are long-term substitutes, permanent subs, so to speak.

No great policy insight here.  Just a number.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:52 AM (Permalink) |

To inspiring teachers

Military historian Mark Grimsley writes today about visiting his ninth-grade teacher Billie Cranford. Go read.  Just go read it.

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Posted in Teaching at 6:55 AM (Permalink) |

October 2, 2006

The answer to the ultimate question of dropping out, graduating, and unit records

As someone who blogs about K-12 and higher education, I should perhaps do something productive with this crossover, right? And since at the conclusion of my next solar circumnavigation I'm going to be the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything (at least according to Douglas Adams), while I may not know the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, at least I can frame the ultimate question of dropping out, graduating, and the unit-record database controversy:

Is there a way to collect information efficiently that would allow us to track high school graduation and also college attainment given transfers among institutions and address the student-privacy concerns of those who oppose a federal unit-record database?

I think the answer is a fortunate yes. Oh, wait.  That's not the ultimate question.  The ultimate question is How?

And for that answer, you'll have to wait until I give a talk, "The Graduation-Rate Debate, Higher-Education Unit Records, and Public Policy: Serious Academic Discussions, Political Tragedy, or Farce?" at the Minnesota Population Center Monday, November 6, 2006, 12:15-1:15 pm. (I'll also be gut-checking the higher-ed piece with a few institutional-research folks beforehand.)

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Posted in Education policy at 9:02 AM (Permalink) |

October 1, 2006

Ruling on Federal 'No Child' Lawsuit

The Hartford Courant reported last week on the federal court dismissal of three of the state's four claims about Margaret Spellings's denial of waivers for the testing in Connecticut. A reader might find the title—State's 'No Child' Lawsuit Still Alive—a little odd, but the headline is accurate. Technically, the judge said that courts couldn't rule on the legality of a DoE action until the DoE actually ruled that Connecticut was violating the law and then reduced Title I funding to the state. 

State A.G. Richard Blumenthal said he'll appeal, and that's one of two ways that the 3 dismissed counts can be reinstated.  The other would be for the feds to dun the state some money, which could moot the judge's concerns about ruling prematurely.

I suspect Blumenthal's appeal won't be successful (just gut instinct, no legal analysis), and Spellings won't give Blumenthal a chance to get the more substantive path in to court by reducing Connecticut's funds. Ironically, the legal incentive right now is for Spellings to give Connecticut a free pass by ignoring whatever the state does.

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Posted in Education policy at 11:02 PM (Permalink) |

I blame Bob Mondello

My family loves me. After all, I'm still alive after they came with me to Half Nelson, which I asked for since Bob Mondello gave it a positive review in August. It didn't open in Tampa, so we had to wait until it came here this week at the Tampa Theatre.

(Warning: movie spoiler ahead.)

Mondello's review was the most misleading recommendation of a movie I've relied on since my mother assured my father and I almost 20 years ago that Prick up your Ears was a comic farce. Mondello correctly described Half Nelson as the reverse of the standard heroic-teacher genre of film. But the film is better as a negative object lesson of everything you don't want a teacher to do than as serious film. This pitiful excuse for a teacher still ends up as a magnet for 13-year-old Drey. And in the end, the writers left Drey rejecting the neighborhood drug dealer and riding off on her bike... to go find the teacher after a late-night binge.  The false dichotomy (what about going home and spending time with her mom?) says a great deal about the ability of even so-called avant-garde film to reinforce stereotypes. A cliché reversal can still reinforce the source cliché.

My wife wanted the teacher to drive his car off a cliff. But the movie was also set up for him to die by overdose, with Drey's mom (an EMT) finding him dead. Too bad the movie didn't take that alternative ending.

I have no problems with oddly structured or challenging movies. But in Half Nelson I didn't find myself challenging prior beliefs about education, race, social justice, or drug use. I just found myself challenged to believe I was still in my seat by the end.

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