November 30, 2006

Performance pay in teaching and in business

The following is a partial transcript of my live chat tonight. (I've rearranged a few lines so that the conversation reads more linearly than it really was, and I've done some other light editing for readability.) Paying for performance came up, and a student who works in private business started to talk as if it made no sense to have pay systems without incentives, but she soon realized that conservative proposals for performance pay, at least in Florida, bear little resemblance to her experience in private industry.  Student 1 is currently in private business.  Student 2 is currently a teacher but used to be a chef.

Student 1:  In my job, I am expected to set goals and meet these. If I don't meet them, I don't get all of my possible raise. 

Student 2: what is your job? 

Student 1: Training Team Lead for and IS department of a large healthcare system 

Sherman Dorn: So you set your own goals? 

Student 1: Yes, me and my Director. 

Sherman Dorn: Most ideas of teacher performance pay do NOT have teachers setting their own goals. The major exception: the United Kingdom. 

Student 2: how so?  the UK teachers that is... 

Student 1: You have to buy into goals if you are expected to meet them. Therefore, it makes no sense for someone higher up to make goals for you. 

Sherman Dorn: Mr. Student 2: teachers work out goals in connection with their principals [I believe the term is head of school]. 

Student 1: That is a very corporate model. 

Student 2: okay, got it... 

Sherman Dorn: Ms. Student 1: I also assume that it's possible for EVERY employee to get a raise, if they hit their negotiated goals. 

Student 1: Yes 

Student 2: I worked as a Chef for many years... if food cost was down, bonus was up. Teaching's different...  I can't "pick" my students... at least in the first level... 

Student 1: That is true, our possible raise is based on how the company is doing. 

Sherman Dorn: That's generally not the idea with most proposals for teacher performance pay, which is usually framed as competitive: only a certain % would be able to get it. 

Student 2: like [Florida's] STAR "Special teachers are rewarded" 

Student 1: Really!!!! That is terrible. 

Student 2: 25% get bonuses based on the new plan...  as if to say, 75% of us aren't worth it 

Student 1: That is a terrible way to motivate teachers! 

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Posted in Education policy at 12:06 AM (Permalink) |

November 26, 2006

Ironic turns of phrase

From a friend who goes as kestrel's nest:

The phrase ["building a Red America"] caught me up short, remembering the jingos of my adolescence, one of which was "better dead than red" in reference to Communism. Back then, "Red" was synonymous with evil, anti-democratic, "anti-American" politics. Now it is used to mean "Republican, right-wing 'ultra-American' and ultra-Conservative." Does anyone else find that ironic?


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Posted in History at 6:00 PM (Permalink) |

November 25, 2006

Tough lessons

Paul Tough's What It Takes To Make A Student is the cover story in this week's New York Times Magazine. Plenty of things to talk about here, plenty of things to quibble about, but Tough's central point—and one that should resonate for most people—is that the failure to educate children is a political failure, and that it includes both resources and a bunch of other issues.

We'll see who picks up on which issue in the next few days.

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Posted in Education policy at 11:31 PM (Permalink) |

Draft of Accountability Frankenstein completed

The manuscript is done, or at least the initial drafting is done. It's a relatively short MS—approximately 68,000 words, excluding references. In revision, that will probably stretch to 70,000, but it's unlikely to get much larger. (December 28 update: The revised manuscript is about 73,000 words, with 12,800 words in the references section.) In contrast, Jennifer Hochschild and Nathan Scovronick's The American Dream and the Public Schools (2003) is 97,000 words long, excluding references. Their book has about 200 pp. of text.

This is the last call for anyone who wants to read parts of or the entire manuscript. If you have the time to read it and return thoughtful criticism to me by December 8, you will have my eternal gratitude and a copy of the published book. Just e-mail me with your interest.

I thought I'd finish yesterday, but I had a tough nut to crack with readings on expertise. Is the problem of our reliance on test scores and policy autopilot one of kowtowing to experts? It didn't match up well to the concerns of the existing literature on technocracy and professional expertise (whether critics such as Frank Fischer or more measured analysts such as Stephen Turner, who is a fellow faculty member at USF). I've decided that the authority given psychometricians is less the cognitive authority that Merton and Turner discuss than a referential authority ("the Thing exists, and there are Experts who can handle it") and the blithe assumption that test scores mean something concrete. While I have some concerns about the closed process, the greater danger is the assumption of the reality of test scores beyond a limited heuristic purpose.

But my conceptual wrestling is over, or at least the first round. Sometime in the next few days I need to start cleaning up the references section, which is currently 66 double-spaced pages long (about 14,000 words). It'll get a page or two longer as I flesh out some sketchy citations, but most of it is wrestling things into APA shape. And then on to substantive revisions.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 1:31 PM (Permalink) |

November 24, 2006

Lit-review frustrations, part 397

The next time I read someone claiming to derive postmodernism from quantum mechanics and chaos theory, I'm going to scream. This misunderstanding of physics usually ruins what otherwise would be interesting reading.

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Posted in Reading at 3:44 PM (Permalink) |

Brief gloss on pragmatism vs. sociology of knowledge

I'm now done with drafting everything in Accountability Frankenstein except one section, on the problem of expertise in society. For a variety of reasons, I've been thinking about this in connection with John Dewey, Walter Lippmann, Karl Mannheim, and William James. And I've figured out the difference between the sociologist of knowledge and the pragmatist philosopher.

The sociologist of knowledge said, "Science and other endeavors of discovery are inevitably bound up with the social context in which they arise. Even the basic questions are interwoven not only with the state of knowledge at the time but the circumstances of the researchers and thinkers themselves."

The pragmatist said, "Yes, and that's good."

The sociologist of knowledge shook her head and said, "You don't understand."

The pragmatist said, "Yes, I do, and in case my reasoning's shoddy, I've got the epistemologists just in case."

The sociologist of knowledge stared back. "That's an unfair trump card. Epistemologists are just rationalizing what people do anyway."

The pragmatist smiled and whispered, "Well, yes, of course. That's what we designed them for. And isn't your whole modus operandi a trump card to put social processes above science?"

The sociologist of knowledge narrowed her eyes. "The only reason why you said that is because you think your mother never loved you."

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 2:37 PM (Permalink) |

November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

This holiday, like so many, is proof that we make our own traditions, even when the historical genealogy isn't as clear as young children are told.

In my household, the pumpkin pie is in the oven, the (homemade) cranberry sauce is in the fridge, the (homegrown) sweetpotatoes are cut up, ready for cooking, and the (homemade) breading is made and reading for turning into stuffing. That's right: this vegetarian household has stuffing even without something to stuff.

Oh, wait: our stomachs.

To my fellow U.S. citizens, a happy Thanksgiving. To everyone else, have a great 4th Thursday in November!

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Posted in Random comments at 12:22 PM (Permalink) |

November 22, 2006

More on teaching to the test

Jal Mehta (guest blogger for Eduwonk) continues the blogule discussion of teaching to the test with a lament about the inability to follow through on the New Standards Project desire for high-quality tests that were not easily susceptible to test-prep.

For some reason, this strikes me as very similar to the laments I hear about the death of trolleys in mid-20th century L.A., except that nostalgia for the heady days of the early 90s seems, well, a bit misplaced. For that matter, so is the nostalgia for the Red Cars, which were geared as much to opening up the San Fernando Valley (see a system map from 1910) as to mass transit, and probably more geared towards speculative land development.

There are a few things that are important about the proposal to create demanding performance tests:
  • When tried, performance tests have been expensive, and the psychometric qualities controversial, to say the least.
  • Very quickly, states figured out they could 'hybridize' the idea (to use Larry Cuban's expression) by incorporating some performance items in a test that would remain mostly multiple-choice, satisfying the demand for some performance items while lowering the cost and the statistical problems (in the eyes of such officials); here, Florida was a leader.
  • Where it was tried more extensively, it's unclear to see how the existence of performance tasks dramatically changed the dynamics of high-stakes systems. Of the states that tried performance items, one was killed for political reasons (in California). The history of Kentucky's KIRIS system gets read in many different ways, but that was a substantial package of reforms, where pulling out the test format and other characteristics is hard to justify, analytically.
  • The proposal for demanding performance assessments demonstrates that focusing on tests puts the cart before the horse. Suppose we established a mandatory history test in Florida that would be essay-based. Take any item in the national history standards (which are essentially essay prompts), and make a student write on that for an hour. (Example: Evaluate how minorities organized to gain access to wartime jobs in WW2 and how they confronted discrimination.) That's meaningful and demanding, and getting students to the point where they could succeed on such a task might require most of a decade in terms of changing the curriculum, textbooks, and history-class routines. But the sequence that Tucker and Resnick suggested would bollix that up—we are so focused on short-term changes in test results that everyone would assume that lousy scores for several years means that history teachers aren't changing things, even if there's a deliberate effort to change practices.

I'd love to believe the New Standards theory of action, because it's comforting to think that we just have to craft the right test. Nor am I saying that we should be happy with what currently exists! But I'm afraid the New Standards story is a bit of a fairy tale. You can't just tweak the test and expect the rest to follow.

All right: enough procrastinating. Time to get back to the last chapter and describe how we can save the world...

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 1:11 PM (Permalink) |

Reading of the day on graduation rates

Strongly recommended (if belatedly found!): Charles Hirschman, Nikolas Pharris-Ciurej, and Joseph Willhoft, How Many Students Really Graduate from High School? The Process of High School Attrition. This working paper is a revision of a poster session I saw at the Population Association of America meeting in March, and it's very solidly done, including a clever way of estimating the true out-migration/out-transfer rate of students (i.e., sorting out who is really transferring versus dropping out).

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Posted in Research at 10:14 AM (Permalink) |

November 21, 2006

Paul Peterson to head education-policy transition group for Crist

Via Naked Politics comes word that Paul Peterson will be heading up a "citizen review panel" on education policy during the transition to the Charlie Crist administration in Florida.

Most of the other figures named by Crist as transition heads are known to him personally and come from the state. To be honest, I'm surprised he imported Peterson. Hmmn...

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Posted in Education policy at 6:09 PM (Permalink) |

One more study of accountability using aggregate NAEP scores

Yesterday, EPAA published Relationships between High-Stakes Testing Policies and Student Achievement after Controlling for Demographic Factors in Aggregated Data, by Gregory J. Marchant, Sharon E. Paulson, and Adam Shunk of Ball State University. Its conclusions:

The few relationships between high-stakes testing and achievement or improvement in reading, writing, or science tended to appear only when demographic data were missing; and the minimal relationships with math achievement were consistent with findings in previous research. Considering the cost and potential unintended negative consequences, high-stakes testing policies seem to provide a questionable means of improving student learning.

Marchant et al. worked very hard on this study (go read it!), and it tends to reinforce what we've read elsewhere (e.g., Nichols, Glass, and Berliner's work earlier this year). I think, though, that given the availability of individual-level NAEP data, it would be wonderful to see people start to use that, and so today, I have my first editorial, No More Aggregate NAEP Studies? It is not a criticism of the work that people have already done using aggregate data to want researchers to use the finer detail now available. The board members were wonderful in providing honest feedback when I circulated a draft a few weeks ago, and the short editorial is better for their input.

Department of Ed folks know their gramher

Some months after requesting age disaggregation of college-grad literacy stats from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, I haven't had a response, so I sent an e-mail followup. A staff member replied promptly, saying it was probably a problem with the website request form. But there was no longer any analytical staff available to the project, or as the staff person wrote, "All the staff people that was available for data analysis is no longer available." I'm certainly not perfect, but that was, um, notable, given the context (NAAL).

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Posted in Education policy at 10:54 AM (Permalink) |

The last chapter problem

In Improving Poor People (1997), Michael Katz wrote:

Historians and other social scientists who offer interpretive accounts of social issues always face a "last chapter" problem. Readers expect them to extract clear lessons from history, offer unambiguous recommendations, and foresee the future. My standard response—my role is to analyze and explain the problem; I have no special expertise in devising solutions—although honest, rarely satisfies. When historians tack on a set of conclusions, more often than not they appear utopian, banal, not very different from what others have suggested, marginally related to the analysis that precedes them and far less subtle. The reason, of course, is that no set of recommendations flows directly from any historical analysis. Understanding the origins and dimensions of a social issue can lead in very different policy directions. (p. 7)

As someone (Groucho Marx?) once said, I resemble those remarks! I've spent 80% (or more) of my current book-in-progress analyzing high-stakes accountability from different perspectives (often historically rooted), and I'm now in the last chapter. Do I repeat what Katz said and wash my hands of any specific recommendations? I can't. I'm too deeply into this and, what's more important, a significant part of my argument is that test experts have no business trying to decide what a democratic process should craft.  To say that I demur because I am not an expert would be hypocritical! So I will take a citizen's and not an historian's right to make recommendations, however rooted they are in my sense of humanity's quirks and the institutional and political legacies we have inherited.

However, Katz's warnings about utopianism, banality, and the disconnect from the rest of the book are well-warranted. I have no magic charms against banality, but I can take a few steps against the others. After returning home bleary-eyed after 10 pm last night, I told my spouse I had just spent a few hours skimming over the chapters already drafted so I could be consistent.  She nodded, "Readers might have a few concerns if you're essentially making a new and completely different argument in the last chapter." 

And to make sure that I don't step towards utopianism, I will describe three utopian accountability mechanisms that will not appear in the book. Correction: One does appear in the book, largely to explain why it wouldn't work. (Why these are utopian is left as an exercise for the reader.)

  • A recursive system based entirely on formative assessment: teachers analyze student data formatively, then principals analyze teachers formatively using how teachers use data formatively, and those over principals analyze principals formatively using... you get the picture.
  • A high-tech way of finding out what students are working on: sample the written work of five students in each grade daily.  Have a random draw of students in the morning, get them to turn in the previous evening's homework and anything completed that day, cover up their names and the teachers' names, scan their written work, and upload it to a central server that's entirely public.
  • TeacherCam: A video camera in every classroom and in the hallways, allowing the public to see what happens anywhere in any school.

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, it's time to write about something that's workable.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:48 AM (Permalink) |

November 19, 2006

NCLB prediction: 20% impurities

Take a gander at the NCLB reauthorization recommendations from the National Association of State Title I Directors, compiled early in October. Most of the recommendations are a standard opening gambit, but then there are recommendations 4-6:

  1. Districts may pay for reasonable administrative costs from the 20
    percent set aside to implement supplemental educational services
    (SES) and public school choice.
  2. SEAs receive additional federal funding to fulfill their
    administrative responsibilities for public school choice and
    supplemental educational services (SES).
  3. Provided the LEA is in compliance with parent notification
    requirements and there is a good faith effort to expend the funds,
    with SEA approval, districts are permitted to annually exceed the
    15 percent carryover by the amount of unspent Title I funds set
    aside for public school choice and supplemental educational
    services (SES).

Then look at the National School Board Association's NCLB Recommendation #8: provide school choice and tutoring only to the subgroups not meeting AYP.

Now what in the world is going on here?  From the education blogule, I thought that the big fights in NCLB are going to be about growth models, ELL testing, instructional-level testing for students with disabilities, etc. And they are, but not in the next two years. I'll stick to my (and others') predictions that NCLB will not be reauthorized until 2009 but will be extended until then, as long as there is a tacit agreement between Congress and the White House about not changing the statutory language on AYP. So I'm fairly sure that's what will happen, in terms of the apparently major stuff. I may not be 99% pure or sure, but I'm close, at least on the second adjective.

On the other hand... there has been considerable griping about the rigidity of the Needs Improvement intervention list, and even a (non-statutory?) waiver allowing a few places to reverse tutoring and choice. So the White House will probably accept an appropriations extension with more flexibility in the list.

Given that fact, and depending on the signals given out by the White House, school boards and the states might push for what looks like minor statutory changes but would dramatically change the consequences of NCLB:

  • There will be heavy insider negotiations about the 20% set-aside restrictions. (What? you ask.  Explained below...)
  • There will be heavy insider negotiations about targetting choice and tutoring, aiming directly at the group identified as not meeting AYP.

In both cases, the federal law creates huge logistical problems for school districts.  Consider this year's pupil-allocation letter from my state's Title I director to the local district Title I directors. It explains how the 20% set-aside rule works: School districts must set aside 20% of Title I funds (or an equivalent amount) to be used for various consequences, including "corrective action." But they don't know how they're supposed to use that money. 5% is supposed to go for tutoring (for students signed up for it), and 5% is supposed to go to transportation for public-choice plans. But the district cannot plan for that money until well after the rest of the budget planning process is over, because each district must wait for parents to exercise options. For districts whose public choice and tutoring provisions are underenrolled, that set-aside leaves a huge chunk of change sitting around, doing nothing. Title I directors are probably aghast at the waste mandated by federal processes. They could imagine plenty of ways to spend that money... but by the time they've waited for parents, often there's nothing they can do productively with the funds, but they can't carry over that money to the next year beyond a 15% limit. Of course, districts which have huge enrollment for choice or tutoring find that they are not paid nearly as much by the federal government as the programs cost. It's a horrible Catch 22.

My guess is that school officials will push for minor tinkering in statutory language to get rid of the 20% problem and to help districts whose first corrective programs (choice and tutoring) are oversubscribed. Will they be happy if NCLB is reuthorized just with those changes? Probably not. But they'll be happy NCLB isn't getting worse (yet), and if they can start a 2009 reauthorization having solved the 20% set-aside and oversubscription problems, many school officials will be relieved.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 11:49 PM (Permalink) |

Carrots and sticks in education

I'm now more convinced than ever that discussions of consequences in K-12 accountability systems happen in bunkers, without enough understanding of how things work together (or don't).

But first, a digression about literature searches. I'm in the middle of writing chapter 4 of Accountability Frankenstein, a chapter tentatively titled "Consequential Thinking," about the consequence systems that make accountability high-stakes. I have my own historian's spin on this, but the general arguments I've read in various places are heavy on management jargon, moderate on cognitive-psych jargon (extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivations), and very thin on research in fields that should take this on (industrial-organizational psychology and industrial-relations research). There's something about this impression that struck me as wrong, so tried to find anything I could in "I-O" psychology to bring to bear. (Odden and Kelley's 2002 book discusses theories of motivation, drawn from I-O and other realms, but they're an exception, I'm not sure how many policymakers have that book, and I have a few concerns about that chapter that I won't get into.)

Consider, for example, goal-setting theory, which posits that establishing goals is crucial for motivating most people on their jobs. But how do I search for that in the literature on teacher pay or school probation? Goal setting is a generic enough term (in contrast to expectancy theory--see one MBA-ish website for a brief explanation, and then please me a better URL in comments!), and looking for that was frustrating. 

But there's a marvelous trick to use: citation indices. The most well known is ISI's Web of Science, which includes the Science Citation Index and the Social Science Citation Index. There's also a citation tracker in Google Scholar. The most common use of citation indices some years ago was to find out who cites whom, in terms of influence on a field of study. (Junior faculty going up for tenure generally do this in the year before going up.) But there's another use: looking for literature that cites a germinal article. The most recent "classic" article on goal-setting theory is Locke and Latham's "Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation" (American Psychologist, 2002). Is there anything with teacher pay, merit pay, performance pay, or similar terms, which cite this article?  Yes.  Marsden and Belfield's Pay for performance where output is hard to measure: the case of performance pay for school teachers (a book chapter published this year) cites the Locke and Latham in the literature review.

The fact that few in the area cite this work (or a 1990 book by the same authors) is troubling.  There's the Odden & Kelley book and there's also a 1998 Heneman article on Charlotte's school-based performance pay system. Heneman's use of the 1990 book is especially problematic:

Moreover, borrowing from goal-setting theory (Locke & Latham, 1990), characteristics of the student achievement goals may help shape expectancy perceptions in terms of intensity, focus, and persistence. In particular, goals that are perceived as meaningful, clear, specific, and challenging will foster high expectancy perceptions by teachers. (p. 45)

Unfortunately, there's also a body of literature contrasting goal-setting for simple tasks (i.e., can unionized truck drivers get higher loads on their trucks, to save a company time?) and the more complex tasks involved in teaching. My understanding is that while goal-setting is important, its effect depends dramatically on context. Distant goals are less useful than proximate ones, and goals involving complex skills may be better to combine with specific goals targetting acquisition of strategies to accomplish the distant, slightly vague goals in a complex area.

My conclusion: the performance-pay advocates are even more in isolated bunkers than I expected, with folks not looking closely at relevant literature bases elsewhere. And that doesn't even touch the question of whether anybody discusses carrots and sticks in combination.  But that's for another entry...

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 2:07 PM (Permalink) |

November 18, 2006

One small task for an editor, and one article waiting for a tiny thing

It took me about a day and a half to scrounge together enough time to whip the next article into shape. When you see it, you'll understand: more than 20 tables. The authors did a very nice job of getting the tables about 90% of the way, but I'm finicky on some things. But that's done, as well as a disposition letter that's been hanging for half a week. Online editorial-board conferencing the week after Thanksgiving.

And next week is carving-out-time week. I hope!

Added: To answer profgrrrrl's question (in commnts) about what an editor does, my situation is a bit unusual (though growing more common), since Education Policy Analysis Archives is an online, open-access (i.e., "free") journal. It's free to those who read it, and since Gene Glass founded it in 1993, it's operated without page charges, either. As John Willinsky put it in The Access Principle, it's a zero-budget journal, at least in terms of cash changing hands.

That's not true, of course. The colleges of education at Arizona State University and the University of South Florida have given Gene, Gustavo Fischman, Chris Murrell, and me time to edit and do the technical stuff on the journal, and I assume Pablo Gentili's institution (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro) has as well. But while there's a little available to do some translations of abstracts, there is no "publisher" outside the institutions. So we do everything.

When the weeks go well, I can devote at least Monday to editing duties. Here's an incomplete list of activities, in a rough workflow order for article processing:

  1. Read incoming manuscripts (to see if they're good enough to criculate to reviewers)
  2. Identify potential reviewers (look through the existing pool in the editorial board and other volunteers, then scrounge through my memory and other resources for volunteers)
  3. Send reviewers a request and correspond as necessary to follow up
  4. If reviewers decline, go through steps 2-3 again if necessary
  5. Thank reviewers who have completed reviews
  6. Read reviews. Reread manuscript. Make a decision
  7. Write letter to author explaining decision
  8. Check webpage for revisions
  9. Read revisions ... (this can be a recursive process, but I'll skip the graphic on that)
  10. Send authors of accepted manuscripts a note explaining what they need to do to prepare a final copy
  11. Send the title and manuscript out for translation
  12. Take the authors' prepared copy and prepare it for publication (a process that can be painless with manuscripts that are polished and more involved depending on the number of tables and the quality of the writing and citation mechanics).
  13. Send authors the 'galley' and any specific requests for clarification as necessary
  14. Make corrections as necessary
  15. Send file to Chris Murrell for uploading. Send notice out in various ways.

The task that can bog me down, because it takes 30-60 minutes per submission and because I have to focus about as hard as I ever have to, is finding reviewers. For example, if a paper comes in on funding prekindergarten Montessori programs in Tasmania, I need to find folks who are familiar with Australian education financing, or maybe Australian preschool programs, or ... and that can be a fun scavenger hunt, and I usually learn a great deal about scholarship by having to find reviewers, but not if 4 manuscripts come in simultaneously (or close to it).

This list does not address the other issues involved in editing, such as nagging various indexers to figure out whether they'll carry the journal, setting up various projects (e.g., the applications and review process to create the new-scholar board early in my editorial tenure, or a few other things in the works), etc.

November 16, 2006

... and some days the bear gets you

Anatomy of a latté fix:

  • An AERA symposium proposal on the grad-rate debate was rejected, a session which would have been a discussion with Larry Mishel, Chris Swanson, Rob Warren, and Nikolas Pharris-Ciurej. (I will not identify the division to protect the guilty.)
  • Two local campus-political things are going mildly wonky, but wonky nonetheless.
  • Various appointments and child-care issues swallowed up huge chunks of the week.
  • Work is piling up seriously.
  • Sometimes, a fellow youth athletics parent doesn't show up with necessary equipment. Head coaches can be called out of town suddenly. Too few kids might show up for what we were planning anyway.
  • Paying two minor bills late doesn't hurt the credit rating but doesn't contribute to the week's productivity, either.

Most of these are relatively minor bumps in life, more irritatants than anything—and there are some definitely good things going on—but the irritants are making this stretch of road a bit jangly. Time to find one thing to do for a few hours and do it.

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Posted in Random comments at 8:21 PM (Permalink) |

Milton Friedman, 94

Noted economist Milton Friedman has died at age 94. (See a brief chronology at, what else, the Wall Street Journal.) It's important to note the twists and turns that his proposal for vouchers has taken, from his main argument to replace all public schooling with vouchers to the Alum Rock non-experiment in the 1970s to Milwaukee and Cleveland, then Florida in various guises, etc. His arguments about efficiency are far down in the public debate, but vouchers advocates will be singing his praises, and probably for good reason in terms of intellectual genealogy. I think he was largely wrong in his arguments about the direction of public policy, but you cannot deny his importance as an icon for modern conservatives.

I suspect there will be some provocative but not very historically-minded biographies of him in the next few years. There should be an intellectual history of vouchers as well (No, Andrew Coulson's Market Education doesn't count), but I'm not sure who'd do it. Nancy Beadie and Kim Tolley have done good work on the fuzzy line between public and private in the 19th century, and Jurgen Herbst's School Choice and School Governance (2006) is a comparative study (U.S. and Germany) that I've been looking forward to (and haven't yet read—don't nag me! I have too many urgent things at the moment). Anyone want to volunteer?

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Posted in Education policy at 5:15 PM (Permalink) |

Want a higher-ed union job?

The United Faculty of Florida's wonderful executive director, Steve Weinberger, is leaving Florida and his job, and we need a replacement.  Want a challenge?  Fill his shoes!


Vacancy Announcement

POSITION: UFF Executive Director/FEA Manager of Higher Education

LOCATION: A service unit of one local with approximately 4,000 members in twenty-four bargaining chapters (11 state university faculty, 1 private college faculty, 9 community college faculty, and 3 graduate assistant) throughout the state. The unit’s office is located in Tallahassee, Florida.

RESPONSIBILITIES: To supervise and administer the day-to-day operations and programs of the state UFF office. Supervise and manage the other staff of the service unit, consisting of two professional and three associate staff. Oversee the office and business operations of the service unit, and report to the unit’s President, Steering Committee, Council of Presidents, and Senate. Provide consultation and assistance to elected leaders and members in the areas of bargaining, contract administration/grievance adjudication, business management, membership development, leadership and organizational development, internal and external communications, governmental and political advocacy, member and human rights, education reform, and other areas of interest or concern to the organization and its members. Represent the interests of Higher Education faculty and graduate assistants to the Florida Legislature and other appropriate public agencies.

QUALIFICATIONS: Master’s Degree minimum; Doctoral Degree preferred. Familiarity with Association work as member, leader or staff. At least two years as Higher Education service unit or organizing staff or comparable experience preferred; including organizing, bargaining, contract administration/grievance adjudication, office and budget management, membership development, leadership and organizational development, internal and external communications, governmental and political advocacy, member and human rights, and education reform. Management experience in working with staff and programs.

COMPENSATION & BENEFITS: Salary commensurate with qualifications, training and experience. Association provided medical, disability, life and dental insurance; employer-paid retirement; vacation, sick leave, and holidays.

CONTACT: Send letter of application, resume, and personal references to: Ms. Lynn Cavall, Director of Organizational Development/Human Resources, Florida Education Association, 213 South Adams Street, Tallahassee, Florida, 32301.


EMPLOYMENT DATE: As soon as possible.

UNITED FACULTY OF FLORIDA/FLORIDA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION IS AN AFFIRMATIVE ACTION/EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER. Consistent with the FEA Affirmative Action Plan, minority, female and physically challenged applicants are encouraged to apply.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 6:20 AM (Permalink) |

November 15, 2006

You go, profgrrrrl!

Just after I read Michael Bérubé's discursion on blogs as a professorial discourse came profgrrrrl's on being a grrrrl -- blog identity issues, which is as pointed an example of Bérubé's argument as anything else you'll find this month on the 'net.

Incidentally, as a vegetarian I avoid the meaty metaphors used in the Bérubéan analysis of raw and cooked blogs, as in, "Most blogs are somewhere between raw and cooked, perhaps half-cooked or medium rare."  This blog?  It's half-baked.

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Posted in Random comments at 1:19 PM (Permalink) |

Test-prep debate

Craig Jerald's comments on test-prep sparked Matt Yglesias's discussion and a debate about test prep, and then Jerald's follow-up.

I don't think there's that much disagreement about the facts: some schools respond to test pressures in inappropriate ways by narrowing the curriculum or engaging in instruction that they'd stop (and often do) right after testing. The question is why and how to get better responses.

Some advocates of high-stakes testing say that the problem lies with administrators, not tests.  To some extent, that's correct: the existence of a test does not require drill-and-kill responses. But on the other hand, as Yglesias notes, you can't expect the existence of a test by itself to change dysfunctional behavior into functional behavior. Schools that are truly in crisis are in that way not generally because its teachers are lazy but because many principals and teachers don't know how to teach any better.

Compounding this problem (and the failure of high-stakes policies to acknowledge or address it) is another simple, nasty fact: the test-prep genie is out of the bottle. Not only do people generally acknowledge that somewhere, somehow, people are getting higher test scores without learning or knowing more, but they think it's a good idea! Ask parents if they think high schools should teach kids how to score highly on the SATs and ACTs, and the answer will be, Heck, yes! I want my son/daughter to get scholarships, and it's the responsibility of schools to prepare kids for college. Because we often associate schooling with the private interests of getting ahead (i.e., social mobility), and because test-prep is framed as an activity that benefits individual mobility, many parents and others view the job of schools to prepare kids for testing.

Regardless of the origins, the long and short of it is that parents and others see test-prep as legitimate activities in response to high-stakes pressures. Any advocate of high-stakes testing who does not address that fact is failing to follow a simple rule: you need compliance with what you'd like to happen in classrooms more than you need paper compliance.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:00 AM (Permalink) |

November 14, 2006

Manichean views of motivation in school politics

Joe Williams's column in the Daily News Saturday, Johnny got a raw deal, will have a tone very familiar to readers of his book, Cheating our Kids (2005):

Mayor Bloomberg and Randi Weingarten flashed smiles this week after an unprecedented early contract deal between the city and the 80,000-strong teachers union she leads. Her smiles were understandable - the deal will enrich lots of teachers, many of whom deserve it. His were not. This agreement was not a real step forward for the city's 1.1 million schoolkids.

The underlying narrative here is important: Teachers unions act only in the material interest of their members and bargaining units. Politicians need to act on behalf of kids' interests. Teachers have material interests, not interests in schools, Williams has proclaimed over and over again. In contrast, he says, we adults have to protect the real interests of children. 

This argument is very appealing, and it's wrong on several fronts:

  • There's something fundamentally inconsistent with saying that groups of teachers looking after their material interest is bad, but "real performance pay" (whatever that is) is good. Wouldn't performance pay be motivating teachers with ... their material self-interest?
  • Reducing anyone's motivations to self-interest ("greed," as one of the words in the subtitle of Williams's book) is reductionist. Aren't we motivated by a mix of self-interest and our broader sense of self, the ideals we've invested in? I'd say that the second is more powerful for the majority of people, including teachers.
  • There's something naive about claiming that there is a single definition of children's interests. Who made Joe Williams the arbiter of that? For the record, I'm not claiming the authority, but I don't think Williams has it, either, and it's not always self-evident.

Williams is a good journalist in terms of describing serious corruption. He's not very reflective about his own language and his black-and-white view of motivations.

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Posted in Education policy at 5:41 AM (Permalink) |

November 13, 2006

No one knows how to turn around a school

Eduwonk today writes the following:

Everyone likes to say that we know what works, money, class size, choice, private management, etc...but that's BS. "Turn-arounds" are complicated and hit or miss and that's not all that surprising, it's a human endeavor.

No argument here on that point. I have three concerns of various urgency about schooling:

  • The generational challenge: How to make sure my children's generation is smarter and wiser than mine.
  • The equity challenge: How to make sure we largely close inequities in educational and life opportunities.
  • The management crisis: How to identify students, teachers, schools, and systems that are truly in crisis and figure out how to help them.

In accountability, we often confuse these three issues.  Because our kids don't know everything, we often hear that all of public education is in crisis.  That's baloney.  We want schooling to improve generation to generation, but that's an eternal goal (at least for an optimistic nation), not a crisis.

Inequalities are a threat to the integrity of the society. But that's an endemic problem, and it's carried in a set of social and institutional structures that need cold analysis, not panicky treatments.

It's the last issue—individuals and systems truly in crisis (often shaped by the second one)—where we just don't have a great handle on how to address problems. Correction: We do have some ways to help kids who are in serious trouble. And I suspect there is some solid research on recovering teachers in crisis (and I mean schools recovering the talent and investment, not recovery from addictions). But organizations?  Rick Mintrop's Schools on Probation (2003) very nicely documents the dramatic variations in how schools respond to labels and interventions.

But Rick's research, and that of many others, largely tells us that organizational intervention right now doesn't work. I don't know of a large body of literature on figuring out how help schools or systems that are floundering.  NCLB fails to help and distracts in two different ways:

  • It focuses more on identification of crises than on interventions.
  • It overidentifies true crises.  It is not true that the state of Florida needs to intervene directly in the majority of schools, even though the majority of schools failed to meet AYP in the state in the last year.

Because we tend to identify loads of things as educational crises, we are not doing the hard work of separating out long-term and structural issues from short-term crises, let alone creating a realistic triage and response system.

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Posted in Education policy at 12:53 PM (Permalink) |

The election and Florida education policy

Now that I've written about the national elections and K-12 and higher-ed policy, it's time to turn my attention to the states. I know my own state best, so I'll start there.

Jeb Bush will be leaving office, and there is no chance that Charlie Crist will keep Bush's focus on high-stakes accountability. Much of the structure (grading schools based on the FCAT) is in statute, but the state supreme court already struck down the 'failing'-school voucher, and the monetization of accountability depends on the budget every year. Depending on what happens with the state budget, the School Recognition Program might have a lot less money in it during the Crist administration than in the Bush reign.

And the story for the next few years will focus on the state budget for several reasons:

  • The cuts to Florida's slim tax base in the past few years, including the elimination of our one progressive tax (the intangible-property tax), leaves the state vulnerable to almost any downturn.  In some ways, the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons rescued the end of Bush's governorship from some painful choices.
  • The constitutional cap on class sizes will create real crunches, as first school class averages and then individual classrooms will have to meet the caps (18 students for PK-3, 22 for grades 4-8, and 25 students for high schoolers). No one has yet tested the constitutional requirement that the state pay the excess costs, but if someone does, my guess is that South Florida will have a lot of construction money headed its way.
  • Crist has promised higher salaries for teachers and a cut in insurance rates and property-tax relief, all without raising taxes.
  • The Medicaid funding crisis is still looming for Florida.
  • The baby boom echo is hitting the state's higher-ed system, with fewer capital-construction dollars to build classrooms.

The items above are the ones that are sure to hit.  The other possible factors:

  • The erosion of the housing market may have some nasty surprises for the state in the next year.
  • In Bush v. Holmes, the state supreme court indicated (in dicta) that it would entertain adequacy lawsuits.
  • The University of Florida's effort to raise money through student fees (though they're not called fees, because they're just charges—can someone explain this to me?) may result in a backlash if it looks like a way to get around previous restrictions on raising tuition.  (Ya think??)

In all this, the legacy personnel from the Bush years will be facing some other consequences:

  • The state overpromised in setting proficiency thresholds for AYP purposes. As a result, the majority of Florida schools have already been labeled as failing (even while the state considers the majority of schools to be A or B schools). While Florida has just been named as a growth-model pilot state, the project hasn't been finally approved, and the statutory requirement of 100% proficiency by 2014 is still out there.  (I don't know the details of Florida's latest proposal. The last version from February, rejected by the USDOE, had a predictive model where a student would be identified as meeting the goal if the trajectory of a student's growth would lead to their being identified as proficient within 3 years.)
  • Many Bush staffers were recently hired by the state house majority (the Republicans). They'll be keeping watch on the legacy, at least partly, while being rewarded for their loyalty and hard work.
  • The primary education bulldog in the lower chamber, former Rep. Ralph Arza, resigned and shut down his reelection campaign just a few days before the election, after he and a relative were caught using the n-word in voicemail messages to a Florida House colleague. This was the second (and more punishing) defeat for Arza, after his hand-picked candidate failed to beat state Sen. Alex Villalobos, who rallied enough moderate Republican senators in the spring session to defeat Bush measures to restore the failing-school voucher program and to water down the class size cap.
  • With Bush leaving office, Governor-Elect Crist will have to figure out how to fill various appointments in the state Board of Education, in approximately half of the Board of Governors, and in each state university Board of Trustees. In turn, that will reshape the leadership politics of each university and in the state department of education. If Commissioner John Winn doesn't make any obvious goofs, my guess is that he will stay as long as he wants.
  • The politics of the state's attempt to impose the more crass versions of merit pay will change, as Crist tries to find money for teacher salary hikes and will want some cooperation with teachers unions.  I suspect he will be very different from Bush in that regard, and the relationship between the new governor's staff and the Florida Education Association will be fascinating to watch.

That's it for today's versions of soothsaying. Play the game at home and see how many of my claims turn out to be dead wrong!

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Posted in Education policy at 12:22 AM (Permalink) |

November 12, 2006

English professors and the biological trope

Is there something in the air this month that compels English professors to seek metaphors in the natural world when describing their discipline? Miriam Burstein calls the squinting modifier a rara avis, and Margaret Soltan says she is looking forward to seeing a movie with an English-professor main character to examine the latest representative of the breed. I know that paperwork tends to reproduce in the darkness unless you firmly take charge of it (proof that de Tocqueville was right and Malthus was wrong when one examines bureaucracy), but this seems, well, the odd end of interdisciplinary work.

Then again, there's the pleasant tome on writing, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, so I could be wrong.

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Posted in Random comments at 11:05 AM (Permalink) |

November 11, 2006

The election and higher-ed policy

This morning, I'll look at the national election results and higher-ed policy.  (I've already discussed the election results and national K-12 policy.) None of this should be earth-shaking, and much has already been discussed in the relevant Inside Higher Ed and Chronicle of Higher Ed articles.

  1. The primary higher-ed goal for Democrats is affordability. There are three targets within that:
    • The ability of poor young adults to attend any college: this is the politics of the Pell grant.
    • The ability of middle-class parents to send their children to good out-of-state public universities: this is the politics of student-loan interest rates. (You think it's about sending kids to Harvard or Yale?  It's much more about the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of North Carolina, and so forth. We're talking the affordability of $18,000/year tuition, not the affordability of $42,000/year packages.)
    • The ability of older adults to attend college, either for the first time or to return for a vocational certificate at community colleges or for a masters program: this is the politics of the lifelong-learning tax credit, or whatever will be the updated version. I suspect this will be left off the table at the end of the session, but I could easily be wrong.
  2. The discussion of accountability will be largely an intracommittee (and intrasubcommittee) issue, as Republicans bargain for what they can in return for not blocking an affordability package. This will be the test of a return to standard bargaining in Congress: will the Democrats try to logroll the changes in financial-aid policy, or will they engage in the type of horse-trading that was common (no matter who was in the majority) before the Karl Rove era?
    • At rock bottom, accountability will be about transparency in financial aid. On this, I suspect both Democrats and Republicans can agree, so the heavy negotiations involve the private colleges and universities. The irony here is that the greatest violation of academic principles are with public university spending on merit- vs. need-based aid. But as with the unit-records database controversy (see the anonymous diploma registration proposal for more on this), the publics will probably let the privates fight the first battles.
    • Direct intervention in the curriculum is probably dead. There may be some discussion of grade inflation, defending liberal arts, and so forth, but I don't think there will be anything tangible. It's just too far from the central motivations for most Members of Congress.
    • I doubt accountability would involve high-stakes tests, at least as a federal issue. George Miller signed onto NCLB's testing provision, so he's committed to that, but he strikes me as shrewd enough to see that the backlash in K-12 is mild compared to the uproar that would accompany similar maneuvers in higher ed.
    • I don't see any chance of having Congressional authorization for something federal to replace the awful U.S. News rankings.
    • Unit records are still dead, at least as a federal mandate.
  3. As others have noted, the for-profits have lost a significant chance at rewriting the statutory definitions of what a college is. They'll continue to push, but I just don't think that'll be on the table.
  4. Earmarking will be an interesting battle. The worst example of earmarking abuse was the FY 2005 appropriations for the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), which had so many earmarks that program officers had to cancel (CHE: sub) the merit-based proposal process for that year. As Peter Levine notes, earmarking is probably more important, money-wise, in larger programs, but the smaller higher-ed programs are susceptible to it because it's an easy target of earmarking as "constituent service" and "bringing home the bacon."

I fully expect to be wrong a bunch of these predictions: I'm an historian, not a soothsayer. But it's occasionally interesting to try the crystal-ball routine.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:24 AM (Permalink) |

November 10, 2006

Fun with historical GIS

My wonderful spouse has consistently reminded me over the years that as a union member, it is a violation of my principles to work on any specific task during a paid holiday. Today was a paid holiday, and I've tried to follow her advice by doing something new and completely unplanned, even if work-related. (There was also the chauffeur duty for a zebra finch and a 14-year-old daughter, but we'll skip the stories on those for now, except that my daughter acquitted herself well as the solos/ensembles festival in the county.)

So I tried playing around with GIS. I'd been wanting to use the National Historical Geographic Information System for some time but was intimidated by the cost of commercial software. Turns out there's now a nice open-source desktop program, QuantumGIS, and as soon as I figured out that the social variables (for thematic maps) needed to be inserted into the .dbf file for the shapefile set (actually a collection of files, one of them in DBase4 format), it was relatively easy. So where do I start?

Over last weekend, John Rury and I talked about the dramatic growth of secondary attendance and attainment in the post-WW2 years. This is a time when the secondary attainment gap shrank dramatically, and we're both exploring this in separate projects, John using census microdata and archival sources, me with my Georgia school reports from the late 1930s through the early 1960s. One starting point you could choose is 1940, when the county-level census statistics include the numbers of the school-aged population attending school, by relatively small age intervals. One of those age intervals is 16 and 17 year old adolescents, almost precisely the focus of John's work and a great indicator given the ages at which teens start to leave school (one way or another).

Could I get a map of the continental U.S. counties in 1940 showing the proportion of 16 and 17 year olds attending school? Check in the full entry!

16 and 17 year olds in school 1940 by county.png

Source: John S. Adams, William C. Block, Mark Lindberg, Robert McMaster, Steven Ruggles, and Wendy Thomas, National Historical Geographic Information System: Pre-release Version 0.1 Minneapolis: Minnesota Population Center University of Minnesota, 2004.

Just a reminder: everything in this blog falls under a Creative Commons license unless noted otherwise. You are free to use this image as long as it is attributed to me, there are no changes to it, and it is for noncommercial use. And if you're using this in a course, I'd greatly appreciate if you'd click on the Comments link below and let me know which course and university the material is being used.

Yes, I'm intending to create more over the next year. I'm teaching a history of ed course in the spring, so I have an incentive!

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Posted in Teaching at 7:42 PM (Permalink) |

November 8, 2006

The election and K-12 education policy

This morning, I'll look at the consequences of the national election results for K-12 education policy:

  1. As others have noted, ESEA/NCLB reauthorization is on hold until 2009. My guess is that the political compromise will be to extend it through the appropriations process for the next few years.
  2. Waiting on the reauthorization process until the president leaves office will mean that AYP as currently formulated is probably terminal. I expect that George Miller (the incoming chair of the House committee that covers education) has no intentions of letting reauthorization move forward without something accountability-wise, but it won't be the current scheme. No matter what the result, I'm fairly sure that advocates on various sides will find a way to claim victory.
  3. The testing of growth models at the state level will confirm that looking at growth, by itself, is the less-than-holy grail (Harvey Goldstein's quip).  We still have to ask, what do we expect students to learn? You can have growth targets that are high or low or unconnected to any rational process (and you can combine two of those), and you can have status targets that are high or low or unconnected to any rational process. So having a bit of a breather before the reauthorization donnybrook is probably a healthy thing for the debate, in the long term.
  4. Similarly, the consequences in reauthorization are likely to be less lock-step than the current sequence.
  5. National vouchers are dead for now, except for the programs currently in place.
  6. Democratic political strategists will struggle with the Money Framing question: how do you propose spending more money on education without looking profligate? Almost any spending proposals will be vetoed, unless very modest, and Democrats will not only have to choose between passing appropriations bills that will be signed and those that will be vetoed but will also have to figure out how to sell their proposals politically (the 2008 election already looming the day after the 2006 vote). Case in point: will Democratics say anything about pre-k, and how will they frame it?

There are certainly other consequences, but these are the ones that I see as obvious, at least this morning.  More on higher ed and state-level issues in the coming days!

Update (11/10): In comments, Alexander Russo notes that he blogged about the likely NCLB reauthorization delay before Andy Rotherham. True, and I've changed the links above, but, guys, will you stop making like Leibniz and Newton? Or, wait, do the genius-invent-a-new-type-of-math bit but not the contentious rivalry.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:09 AM (Permalink) |

November 6, 2006

On first reactions to anonymous diploma registration proposal

I'm in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport right now, waiting for my flight.  (Pay no attention to the date and time this gets posted.  I really am writing this entry in the airport and just posting it later, since I'm not willing to pay $8 for internet access for an hour.) Responses to the anonymous diploma registration proposal in the full entry...

Online responses

The immediate reactions to my anonymous diploma registration proposal (or the higher-ed version of it) are available at the bottom of my Inside Higher Ed column.

Existing databases?

One of note comes from Daniel R. Boehmer, president of the National Student Clearinghouse. He wrote:

There already exists a database of college enrollment and degrees—the National Student Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse has enrollment data on 91% of the nation's students and 80% of all degrees granted in the nation. This database is open to researchers wishing to know the subsequent enrollment and degree attainment of their alumni, "drop-outs", and admits that declined to enroll. College Registrars voluntarily populate the database by providing frequent data updates.

I had thought of the clearinghouse as a diploma verification service that institutions can use for individual students, but I'm delighted that Boehmer says researchers can use it. I'll have to look into that. If it checks out, the higher-ed part of what I propose may not be necessary, in terms of a federal (as opposed to national) database.

Financial aid

The other reactions I saw before my internet access was cut off, from Jonathan Dresner and Tod Massa, was about my argument that a diploma registration system shouldn't have financial-aid data.  Dresner writes:

[T]he pressure to create the "unit-records" database is... coming from politicians and administrators who want precisely the information that Mr. Dorn doesn't want to share—financial aid and grades. It's concern about grade inflation and the possible abuse of financial aid—both of which are real, though desparately overhyped, issues—that make graduation rates relevant.

I'm glad Dresner and Massa raise this point, because this is precisely the type of question that an anonymous registration system (or the National Student Clearinghouse, if it's open to researchers) would be able to answer in general but not about specific students. Suppose you wanted to know in general about the relationship between different types of financial aid structures in community colleges and B.A. completion rates.  One could probably negotiate a research project with several community colleges to get the distribution of financial aid among students and then, after classifying the financial aid and agreeing on a matching procedure (propensity-score would probably be the easiest), get birthdates of students in the various categories of financial aid. With that batch of birthdates from each institution, it's a relatively simple matter to estimate the number of students who eventually graduated.

If the point is to identify fraud, that's already illegal and I'm sure there are structures in place to look at potential patterns of abuse. I doubt that a unit-records database is superior to the financial-aid databases that already exist. And if the point is just to snoop on private institutions' patterns of aid, it seems absolutely ludicrous to build a multi-billion-dollar system just to be petty about a handful of private colleges and universities.

And about grade inflation... doesn't it seem silly to invade student privacy for this purpose, when national longitudinal panels can answer the question much better? For individual institutions, state legislators mandate all sorts of reports from public institutions, and relevant questions such as this one can be easily answered for institutions that cover the vast majority of students.

In general, the legitimate question driving this is to track the completion of students who move among different institutions, and I suppose one could treat the reaction to this proposal as a Rorschach test. I suppose some advocates of the unit-records database will not be satisfied until they can go on fishing expeditions for embarrassing information about private colleges and universities If this proposal sniffs out the illegitimate intentions for a unit-records database (all of which constitute a waste of taxpayer's money), I won't mind.

"You College of Ed Folks are Incompetent"

No, I don't think (or can't quite be sure) that's the point Glen McGhee of the Florida Higher Education Accountability Project made when he wrote,

If, as Sherman contends, "Florida and some other states have extensive experience with unit records..." where are the mountains of research and studies and discoveries that this should be producing?
Rather than blame this lack on the fact that "very few researchers use the data [and] data sets are complicated [and] the expertise needed to understand and work with the structures is specialized," shouldn't we be pointing the finger at the CoEs? Why aren't these brain-trusts being represented at Florida's Articulation Coordinating Committee meetings, and giving their input?

I'm not sure whether CoEs refers to Colleges of Education and perhaps me personally. Apart from the fact that I've never been invited to these meetings...? More seriously, there can be more research conducted, but it requires collaboration between Institutional Research staff who have expertise in working with the data structures and faculty who have specific attainment issues in their research agenda (usually established in graduate school, when almost all of them were outside Florida). From talking a few times with IR folks, I suspect most would welcome such collaborative efforts as long as the resources/time existed. I don't know if there are any faculty with that interest in Florida, but there are nationally. Often, these networking connections are idiosyncratic, with researchers not knowing about the availability of data. (My personal research agenda at the moment is not about higher ed attainment specifically, incidentally. But I think those of us working mostly on K-12 research and mostly on higher ed research should be able to talk to each other!) McGhee also wrote,

There is, I believe, as massive disconnect between the researchers on the ground, and the policy makers at the very top.

Agreed.  I think that's true no matter where you define researcher. But I know there is plenty of work ongoing with IR staff, so I include them in the term researcher. Those of us who are faculty do have an obligation to try to reach those policymakers.  Maybe writing that column and writing more in this blog (and elsewhere) can be part of that connection effort...

Responses in the seminar

I was a bit surprised that I only had a few questions and comments in the seminar itself.  That may have been my fault, since I spoke for about 45-50 minutes when I had intended to only go 35-40.  Or maybe I spoke too quickly for attendees to follow. Or maybe what I said was just Too Darned Obvious.  (That last possibility is not bad, in itself. If my various audiences think of what I say as obvious, but no one else has said it before, I've still taught something.) Here are the themes I remember right now...

"How do I calculate a graduation rate?"

One attendee was a school official in the St. Paul schools, and another was from Hennepin County schools (or at least the county name was written on her lanyard). In both cases, they've been struggling with measurements of graduation rates, and I hope I made it clear that the fault lay not in themselves but in the institutional basis for the various rates that there isn't a simple method. In St. Paul, for example, a number of recent immigrants enter schools as teenagers but a grade or more behind their same-age peers, and they graduate a little later. Or a lot later: St. Paul divides students into graduated, left school, and continuing in school. The staff member wondered about how to measure graduation under those circumstances, and my brief answer was that it's easier to look at things by age and adjust for a few things, and that transfers/migration is the tougher issue. (If you're the official from St. Paul, could you please e-mail me? I had wanted to talk with you after the seminar about how to use the age-based data, but you left before I could get to you!) Maybe I should offer a seminar at the 2008 AERA on calculating graduation rates using age-based data. First, I'd need to work with some local school officials to make sure my ideas are practical on the local level.

"Americans are too hung up on privacy"

I'm not the only person who stayed on in Minneapolis after the end of the Social Science History Association meeting. The members of the coordinating group for the North Atlantic Population Project are conducting meetings early this week, and I had a very nice dinner with them and a few Minnesota Population Center staff members last night. A few stayed through their lunch to listen to me, and one came up to me and said he was astounded that we think it's possible to have a modern society without individual tracking.

His point was more subtle than the heading I've put up there. He pointed out that our Social Security numbers are regularly abused, and that all sorts of marketing databases have information about us that are bought, sold, folded, spindled, and mutilated. "Bad data is a worse invasion of privacy than good data," he said, and he may have a point. Ever been a victim of identity theft?

I don't think that we can assume, however, that the creation of accurate individual-level databases will mean the end of inaccurate invasions of privacy. The marketing-database clock cannot run backwards (or the genie is out of the bottle: pick your metaphor). And I suspect that many of those around the world (not just in our idiosyncratic republic) would disagree with my thoughtful colleague about modernity as an inevitable cause of encroachments on privacy.

Limitations on research using an anonymous database

A few comments suggested that what I proposed will not get at individual experiences or at more complex questions, and I absolutely agreed. An anonymous diploma registration system is not meant for individually-based, multi-level analysis. But the systems proposed for longitudinal analysis aren't great for that, either, or at least there are substantial tradeoffs.

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Posted in Education policy at 11:28 PM (Permalink) |

Student suggestions on writing

This semester, I promised my masters-course students that they'd see every draft chapter of Accountability Frankenstein, and I've given them credit for ripping the chapters apart as they've come to them.

It was one of the best things I've ever done in my career.

Not only has the pressure pushed me to write faster than I otherwise would (and think of it as part of my teaching load), but I've had some wonderful suggestions. I've peeked at the comments this week (some students have finished writing them though they're not due until tomorrow night), and one student suggested I put chapter 3 at the start of the book. I've skimmed through the chapter and apart from one passage that I'll have to shift to another chapter, it works better in the sequence of presentation. Wow. Thanks, C. P.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 7:51 AM (Permalink) |

Anonymous diploma registration

This afternoon, I give a presentation at the Minnesota Population Center, "The Graduation-Rate Debate, Higher-Education Unit Records, and Public Policy:
Serious Academic Discussion, Political Tragedy, or Farce?" The MPC was very kind to ask me to stay after the conference here and be a seminar speaker. In the talk, I will present the idea of anonymous diploma registration as a technical solution to measuring graduation in both K-12 and higher education. This morning's column in Inside Higher Ed, A Compromise on Unit Records, is the higher ed piece, and I have put together an online tutorial on the general idea. The audio was recorded during the conference, so it's not polished, but it will get the gist across.

The talk this afternoon is not just about anonymous diploma registration. It's about the problems of graduation measures as an interesting puzzle in the sociology of knowledge. Why are the measures so bad? is relatively trivial if you look at the technical issues, but it's fascinating if you realize that we've had several waves of folks proposing mediocre attrition and completion measures (at best), corresponding with waves of public arguments about dropping out.

For those of you who navigated here from Inside Higher Ed, welcome, and look around!

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Posted in Education policy at 7:21 AM (Permalink) |

November 5, 2006

Trains! (conference liveblogging)

Back at the Social Science History Association for an early-morning Sunday session. Going to a session Sunday morning at 8:15 is one of those character tests, largely because a large chunk of a weekend conference has either left or is in the process of checking out of a hotel and getting to the airport. I'm staying in town to give a seminar tomorrow, so it's a matter of academic citizenship in some way to go to some session, any session, and stay awake through the whole thing.  There was no session at 8:15 in the education network, so I'm free to indulge.  And I chose a session on historical geographic analyses of railroads.  The attendance is about 15, darned good for an early Sunday morning session. And there was a reason for that... (details of the session in the full entry)

After the session chair opened up with a set of puns (I'll try to keep everyone on the rails), Richard Healey starts with a discussion of railroad and economic development in 19th-century Pennsylvania. The operative question is how closely railroad development is linked to mine developments. He compared three human-crafted transportation modes (plank roads [where the ruts were only two inches deep], canals, and railroads). The advantage of going to a GIS (geographic information systems) session is that there are plenty of maps, in this case historical maps and constructed analytical maps along with some photographs. Healey has a great photograph of a crash of several boats at a bridge from the pond freshet method of transportation, which was simply a bunch of folks on boats waiting for someone else to release a significant part of water from a pond and then try to go downriver on the gravity wave... until a bridge appeared ahead. With the raw bitum iron industry, Healey says that there were several waves of development (and one bust associated with the 1857 bank collapse). In the case of Pennsylvania oil fields, railroads had a hard time keeping pace, and there were multiple ways of trying to transport oil.  The coke coal region near Pittsburgh had awful coincidences before the Civil War because it was hard to make canals there and the Pennsylvania Railroad decided not to finance it because of low anticipated traffic.  And then a railroad line was finally laid... in 1857 (economic crash!). So the coalfield region in Connellsville didn't seriously develop until the 1870s (which Healey thinks is tied more closely to the industrial advantages of Connesville coke coal). 

William Thomas is discussing railroad development more broadly, the difference between regional networking and a national consequence.  He started with a picture of 1880s railroad development along the eastern shore of Virginia, which he thinks is the last place to get a railroad in the continental U.S. (It was the 19th century equivalent of being offline, for those of us addicted to the internet.) Thomas's project is multifaceted, stretching from the mundane to the the way that engineers/managers' visual representations of elevations and systems created new models for spacial representation. (That was a surprise; I thought he'd talk about paintings and sketches that included railroads in 19th century landscape imagery.) His phrase "national system" makes me think about Henry Clay's idea of a national system and the difference between the ideology of a nation (which was old) and the ways in which everyday life clues us into social networks beyond our daily life.  You need to have everyday things that give one awareness of a larger sense of humanity to get that sense of networks.  This morning, in the middle of a session, I could (but won't!) check my bank account, e-mail my spouse and friends, etc. I have my cell phone in my pocket (silenced!), with which I could call home or anywhere in the world. This morning, I ate breakfast in a chain breakfast place. Enough digression. The surprise of this presentation is that there is not yet an historical GIS database of national railroad development. He'll probably get a grant to develop it (or someone will). His website on Nebraska and Iowa is matched by Healey's Pennsylvania system GIS project.

Robert Schwartz has done an enormous amount of historical GIS stuff on railroads. His course website on the Industrial Revolution and the Railway System is a good example of leading-edge visual material use in teaching. (Just go explore.)  He starts by contrasting Schwartz's project for the U.S. with the French system in the 19th century, where "all roads lead to Paris." His main presentation is on railways and agricultural crises in England and France in the late 19th century. While the population shifted to urban areas and non-agricultural employment and the franchise expanded in both countries, the decreases in transportation costs created agricultural depressions, what Karl Kautsky called The Agrarian Question (1899). Kautsky explained the persistence of farms as self-exploitation. Schwartz points out that half of the world's population is tied to agriculture, so we should pay attention to the continuing dismantling of household economies. Economic historians, on the other hand, say that those depressions were more illusion than reality. Schwartz says that the extension of railroads into the British countryside had some interesting economic consequences beyond the agrarian economy in subregions. But there were variations in the crisis, with less of a crisis (in the region where Tess of the D'Urbervilles is set) in the valleys where dairying may have ameliorated the stress, in contrast with the arable parts of the chalklands. Schwartz then discusses France's agrarian crisis. The general story is of rail transportation creating economic expansion and intense competition, and it transformed the agrarian landscape.

Ian Gregory's comments are not that surprising.  He's also glad there were plenty of graphics early Sunday morning. He's struggling with the central question with historical GIS: how do we work with space in more than another way to do multiple regression. He applauded the presenters for using the spatial analysis to get at context and scale issues.

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Posted in History at 10:16 AM (Permalink) |

November 4, 2006

Race, ethnicity, and public audiences (conference liveblogging and random ruminations)

This afternoon, I'm at another paper session at the Social Science History Association (SSHA) meeting in Minneapolis.  This paper session is about the construction of race relations and various constructors' "publics." (Audiences and Publics is the theme for this year, and a core of panels has this theme as the organizing concept.)

(Session details in the full entry.)

Leah Gordon, a grad student at the University of Pennsylvania, has a paper on the individualistic construction of race relations research at the University of Chicago under the Park group of grad students and researchers studying urban relations (see the archival records of the Committee on Education, Training, and Research in Race Relations). Today, she was focusing on a measure of racial tensions (literally called a tension barometer), based on attitudinal surveys of whites (and whites only) and seeing structural factors as immutable and not deserving of focus. To Gordon, the Park School's individualistic focus and the inertia of once-started projects played a significant role in the paucity of structural models of race relations.

Hernan Sorgentini, a grad student at SUNY Stony Brook, is presenting his research on the Brazilian construction of racial democracy (as a concept). Sorgentini describes a complex set of symbolism involving race, gender, and power.  Images and metaphors of racialized sex (or sexualized race relations) are fairly prominent in the story he tells about Gilberto Freyre. I'm not familiar with Brazilian history (let alone Brazilian national ideologies), but this sounds fascinating (and weird, if no stranger than the parallel aspects of history of the U.S.).

Jennifer Hochschild, Traci Burch, and Vesla Weaver (the latter two are Hochschild's grad students) have a paper on "explaining the skin color paradox." They're interested in the social-class ties to skin tone within broad racial groupings (if you want a pop culture version, see Spike Lee's School Daze, though Hochschild doesn't say this is limited to African Americans; Hochschild et al. say that political scientists generally ignore this, apart from Cathy J. Cohen's The Boundaries of Blackness and her notion of "secondary marginalization") and the simultaneous political need for unity within race and ethnicity groupings. Very briefly, they think that there are environmental conditions that sometimes suppress the public recognition of within-race class-color relationships (what they call colorism). Hochschild et al. propose that eras of dramatic population change create conditions for all sorts of flux, including allowing colorism to become more visible and recognized. With a conference presentation, she can only give a smidgen of the evidence, but she's whetted things with the promise that they have evidence about political involvement. As usual, Hochschild and coauthors have gripped a subject with a clearly focused question or dilemma. This is the first time I've heard her present at a conference, and she is as interesting in a live presentation as her writing.

While listening to this panel, I've been thinking about the nature of SSHA and interdisciplinary conversations. In part, I've been thinking of such conversations because of my attendance at the conference (which is explicitly interdisciplinary) but because of the H-Education mailing list discussion on historians of education and "interdisciplines" and a question a USF grad student had some time ago about how I became interested in social stratification and education.

So a bit of a tangent here before I get back to the panel: last night, at a panel about the past and future of quantitative social history, I was talking with a geographer about how my advisor pushed me to take classes in Penn's Graduate School of Education and the sociology department.  That led me to a course in anthropology of education and another in social psychology, as well as the introductory demography course and a demography masters, eventually. Michael Katz (my advisor) was very firm in explaining that history-department jobs were rare and that I needed additional skills to be more flexible in looking for jobs. But it wasn't just his push. Lynn Hunt, who taught the first-year proseminar my entering year, had most of the readings in different social models (Marx, Toqueville, Weber, Foucault, etc.), and I had taken a very solid sociology of education course. So I suppose I had been primed to think about social history as more than idiosyncratic events and patterns. Very roughly speaking, I had no problem with believing that social history is more than description, and that we need some technical tools to investigate key questions.

So in grad school I was looking for different ideas to hang the notion of inequality on. Towards the end of coursework, I had conversations with my committee members (Katz, Michelle Fine, and Bob Engs) and some others about potential dissertation topics. All were about inequality and education. In the end, I chose the construction of dropping out combined with some statistics on graduation and local cases of dropout prevention/amelioration practices, but my particular research projects are less important for me in this sense than the hunger for both historical specificity and social modeling.

And we get to the SSHA, which is deliberately interdisciplinary and international (though we don't have nearly enough humanities scholars and scholars from Asia and Africa). At its best, we get great ideas and great attention to historical specificity. I think we have that in this panel.  In some cases, as with a book session this morning on Bob Brueggman's Sprawl: A Compact History, you get some participants not quite looking at the two sides clearly. But inconsistency is the nature of conferences, and you head to a conference hoping for high points. Since Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) has written that her spectator sport of choice is opera, I suppose mine is an interdisciplinary conference.

Back to the session and the comments/discussion. Robert Wolff is tying the papers together by saying that all papers in some sense address or uncover issues of disciplinary creation and reshaping. Cohen explicitly raises it. Sorgentini uses one of the classics in Brazilian race relations. And Wolff asks Hochschild if she could explain how political science constructs race and race relations.

The responses by the presenters is fascinating, and I'm not going to try to follow it in any organized sense.  To some extent, the questions directed at Hochschild are challenging the specifics of the story she and her coauthors tell, either about invariance on colorism or the specifics of changes in the late 1920s and early 1930s (when Hochschild and others claim the visibility of colorism dissipates). Again comes the tension between powerful explanations and specifics.

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Posted in History at 2:44 PM (Permalink) |

November 3, 2006

Teachers and their publics (conference liveblogging!)

I'm in Minneapolis this weekend at the Social Science History Association annual meeting, currently at an early-morning session on teachers and crafting professional identities.

(Session details in the full entry.)

First up is Diana D'Amico (an NYU grad student), with Orchids or Activists: New York City Teachers Unions and the Gendering of a Profession, 1935-1941. In her presentation, she's started with AFT Local 5's growth and struggles in the 1930s (the focus on younger, unmarried, and more radical teachers), and the splitting of AFT Local 5 and the creation of the New York Teachers Guild. In contrast to what she describes as the standard historiography of this local picture as a political and ideological struggle or political and generational struggle, D'Amico says gender is important here. She says that gender creates a much more interesting picture of the NYC teachers split. She says gender plays an important role in the crafting of professional, union identities. It looks like the direction she'll go in is that this dynamic led to a split and gendered identity in the early years of the UFT several decades later (with different actors). I can't do justice to the whole paper, of course.

Jonna Perillo's paper, From Militant to Mainstream: Albert Shanker, Teacher Power, and the New York Times, is in a new direction for her.  (Her dissertation at NYU was on teacher journalism; she's now at University of Texas El Paso.) Shanker's weekly ad (it looked like an op-ed column) came out of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville controversy, and Perillo is interested in the uses of the press and the "battle over visibility and the media" after the various adversaries became aware of and responded to negative images in print and broadcast media.  Where We Stand was occupied with his rivals and local adversaries, promoting an alternative version of civil rights rhetoric. Apparently the Amsterdam News considered publishing Shanker's column until irate readers objected.  (That's new to me and fascinating!) I'll leave the rest of her analysis of Where We Stand (including the national controversies which are fairly well known) for when she publishes the paper formally.

It's now time for Karen Benjamin's Curriculum Experimentation at the Grassroots Level: Teacher Initiative in the Segregated Schools of Raleigh and Wheeling. This is one chunk of her dissertation project (Benjamin is a grad student in Wisconsin's Educational Policy Studies and History program), with Houston as the third case she didn't discuss today. Pointing out the patterns of the more humanistic progressive education in a segregated environment is an important tack, it strikes me. In this case, Benjamin sees teachers as critical agents here. She notes the parental opposition to local building programs but not to teachers' initiatives of child-centered education. Definitely an interesting set of case studies.

Chris Ogren's commentary focuses on the umbrella concept of teachers' voices and the identity of the public (intended audience, at least), in addition to comments on the individual papers. Towards the end of discussion, session chair Paul Mattingly points out that the interwar era for two of the papers was a time of increasing bureaucratization, including the bureaucratic context of many of the concepts the authors were working with. Fun conversation!

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Posted in History at 9:23 AM (Permalink) |

November 1, 2006

Gallaudet protests and trenches

One of the remarkable things about the Gallaudet student protests in the last few weeks is how rare such direct-action protests are in K-12 education. I was speaking with a student today about Ira Katznelson's City Trenches (1981) and realized that his point about the channeling of conflict into routinized paths is true of K-12 special education: through its history, the primary paths for addressing conflict are consultation, lobbying, administrative (due-process) hearings, and the courts. When was the last time you heard of mass protests about the quality of special education?

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Posted in Education policy at 10:58 PM (Permalink) |