December 30, 2006

Top 10 education news stories in 2006

USA Today and Eduwonk Andy Rotherham have done year-end reviewlets, it's my turn...


  1. The dog that hasn't barked: Has anyone tracked what happened to the Katrina victims who are minors? Yes, it's a serious problem that this isn't an active news story, except for the reopening of colleges in New Orleans. One might even say it's highly disturbing that no one has focused much either on the breaking up of the New Orleans public schools (to be replaced by... I'm not sure what) or on the children who are part of the Katrina Diaspora. (Update: The Census Bureau special split of the 2005 American Community Survey is probably the best place for researchers to start, if you're quantitatively minded.)
  2. NCLB breaking up? The loss of the Republican majority in the November elections threatens to further fragment the coalition that led to the passage of NCLB in late 2001. As Paul Manna's astute book School's In (2006) points out, AYP was known to be a mess during the legislative process, and the sausage still has visible carcass bits. (What is it about the Bush White House that they can't admit when they were completely wrong on factual matters?) I stand by my earlier prediction that the law is most likely to be extended through appropriations and that the insider game will be over the 20% set-aside provision. Flexibility in return for accountability, right ...
  3. Qualified qualifications: Right on schedule, all of the nation's teachers are now 100% highly qualified. ;-) The biggest empirical squabble on that front right now is over the role of collective bargaining agreements in the distribution of qualified teachers (F. Howard Nelson's study is but the latest salvo, and you can expect the ordnance to continue to fly from various camps), but that begs the question of why worry about that instead of making sure that all teachers have skills.
  4. Kids walk: The spring walkouts of students across the country to join immigration rallies is not really related to education policy (except in a minor way: efforts to dissuade the students often failed), but it is amazing and historic. There have been K-12 student walkouts before—Chicano students who boycotted schools in the late 60s, as my colleague Barbara Cruz reminded me—but not on a national scale before or as part of a national political event, as far as I'm aware. That's an amazing bit of social history, even if transient.
  5. Stupid phoenixes: Risky schemes such as the 65% "Solution" and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights went down to flaming defeat in 2006, though they may continue to rise from the ashes. If my memory is correct, only Georgia and Texas are under 65% strictures as a goal, the first by law and the second by executive order. I suspect they'll eventually be repealed.
  6. No obvious compromise on charter schools: There are several substantive problems with charter-school policies in many states:
    • The funding structure is generally not rational by any stretch of the imagination.
    • There remain serious questions about the accountability for charter schools.
    • There are still massive fraud scandals on occasion (this year, in Ohio).
    • There are all-too-evident problems with anti-union suppression when charter-school teachers try to organize.
    It seems to me to be obvious how to solve all of these problems at one swoop: weighted student funding for local public and charter schools; card-check union recognition; charter schools and local public school authorities work for general increases in student funding; a limit of 5 charter schools that an EMO can manage in any state; the accountability provisions of local public schools apply to charter schools (with some adjustments for school size). One wee problem: weighted student funding would prompt resistance from states such as Illinois that have horrific inequities.
  7. A small voucher program dies: The Florida Supreme Court struck down the failing-schools voucher program that was Governor Jeb Bush's pride. The vast majority of students in voucher programs were and remain in the program for students with disabilities and the corporate tax-credit voucher program. The fate of those programs is still unknown, and no lawsuit has been filed (as of yet).
  8. Commissions fizzle, don't sizzle: The final report of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education had recommendations that are largely doomed, which is still better than the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce debacle, which wasn't helped by their trying to sell it instead of distribute it online.
  9. Pick your cause: Locally, Florida's test-score statistics on its own state exams rose this year, which wouldn't be news except that they rose in middle school for the first time this year. Governor Bush of course said that it was his accountability reform. Others said it might have had something to do with the reading coaches that were finally provided as instructional supports in middle schools. Skeptics such as Walt Haney might suggest that this is the first cohort that experienced dramatic retention in third grade, artificially boosting test scores as the proportion of overage students bumps up and the bulge ages into middle schools and soon high schools. Friends of the late Governor Lawton Chiles might instead point to Chiles's Healthy Start program, which kicked in starting in 1992 and 1993 (so the first babies served would have been in 7th and 8th grade last year). I would point out that my daughter was in 8th grade last year, but no one credits my wife and me for boosting Florida's test scores.
  10. Memory of a non-veto: The death of former President Ford is education news. While recollections of the man focus on his demeanor in office after Nixon's resignation and his pardoning of Nixon, few are remembering his 66 vetoes, a rate of 26.4 vetoes per year. That's right behind Truman's 31.3 vetoes per year, but Truman still had a lower veto rate than FDR at a little under 53 vetoes per year, and that rate is still less than the all-time veto champ, Grover Cleveland (first term), whose 304 vetoes averaged out to one veto every 4.8 days in his first term. A quarter of Ford's regular vetoes were overridden (second in the 20th century behind Nixon), which may have been a factor in why he signed Public Law 94-142 despite his misgivings about federal mandates. We now know P.L. 94-142 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the basic special-education law in the country. IDEA will be 31 on November 29, and everyone currently receiving services under it was born after the Board v. Rowley decision in 1982 that gave the central interpretation of what a free, appropriate public education is.
I'm sure that there are other highlights you could have, either nationally or locally, but those are my picks.
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Posted in Education policy at 5:04 PM (Permalink) |

December 28, 2006

Preface passage: accountability and test contracts

My job here is not quite done: I need to write the acknowledgments and complete the marketing questionnaire. But the rest is done. Done. Done! (at least until the copyeditor comes back with 1001 queries)

The following is a short passage from the preface. I scrolled down and up fairly randomly and then snipped a bit from the paragraph:

Many states established a link between testing and school accountability by the end of the 1970s, though the local history varied.... When creating testing programs, state departments of education knew they did not have to write or administer the testing program itself, because the testing industry already existed from the decades-long relationships with local school districts. State officials thus became and remain contract managers, overseeing a private company assigned the responsibility of creating, printing, and scoring tests.

There will be more stuff on the book's themes in the near future, but that's enough for now. 

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 11:52 PM (Permalink) |

2624 missing citations

Here's why you check the text against the references before the manuscript goes to the publisher: With 658 publications listed currently, there are still 26 I mentioned in the text but didn't have in the references section, and there are a bunch in the references section that don't appear in the text. So I'll be double-checking the references that I want to delete and add the 26 I forgot. Then there's one chapter with corrections yet to put in the file, a few odds and ends, a few books to retrieve from the circulation desk and check to see if I really need to cite them or change anything (I doubt either), and then off it goes.

Update: After deletions, there are now only 561 publications listed in the references section, and I found 2 of the missing citations (listed in the text with the wrong authors, such as referring to Marshall Smith's last name as "Marshall"). I will also need to find 1 or 2 additional references for a few last-minute items, but that means I should still keep the references under 600. Sheesh.

When to shut down a school

You probably didn't expect this subject from the title, but the entry today isn't about accountability, it's about public health. The Bloomberg news story today about this year's bird-flu cases has an interesting school angle, as DemFromCT (on DailyKos) notes: one of the simplest community interventions to prevent the spread of a contagious is to close the schools (JPG comparing 1918 flu mortality in Philadelphia and St. Louis; St. Louis schools closed, while Philadelphia's didn't).

One historical and one contemporary note about that: In 1918, the arguments over the right public-health measures were vigorous, and the actual practices varied widely. I suspect similar arguments will exist today in terms of whether it's right to close schools for public-health purposes. The tiny Horseheads Central School District in New York is discussing that right now. It may be at a state level: would a particular governor order schools closed for 2-4 months?

Contemporary note: if you're a parent, what would you do if the schools closed?  The quality of the interregnum would depend on resources, as they currently do with summer vacation. Parents with internet access will probably be able to continue their children's education, and states with "virtual" high schools will suddenly find the demand shooting up while bricks-and-mortar schools are closed. Academic teachers may find themselves working at home on some sort of electronic support for students, but the infrastructure doesn't exist to do that for 50 million schoolchildren.  It'll be a mess, of course.

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Posted in Education policy at 12:43 PM (Permalink) |

December 27, 2006

Down to the scutwork

I think the last substantive revisions are done. Left to do:

  1. Write a paragraph of acknowledgments at the end of the preface.
  2. Check the last two chapters, the last ones that I haven't yet, for awkward phrasing (such as unnecessary, the stuff you don't need, parenthetical comments).
  3. Check references against the text.
  4. Complete the marketing questionnaire for the publisher.

Then it's time to upload the manuscript and questionnaire.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:23 PM (Permalink) |

December 25, 2006

Down to the last few tasks...

I hope everyone who celebrates Christmas is having (or have had) a wonderful day. For those who aren't but keep the Julian calendar system, happy Isaac Newton's birthday! For those of us who operate on the Gregorian (modern) calendar and who don't celebrate Christmas, have a great day anyway. (For most of us, then, Newton's birthday will fall January 4.)

It's raining in Tampa and for me a day to finish off this head cold (I hope!) and knock off a few more tasks for the book. The current to-do list:

  1. In chapter 5, expand section on the outcomes of high-stakes accountability
  2. In chapter 5, tie child-saving better to the overarching argument, perhaps switching it to appear later in the chapter
  3. Cite in-press MS and other materials on consequences of high-stakes testing; find Jones, Jones, & ?.
  4. Insert more from Frankenstein itself
  5. Check references against text.
  6. Complete marketing questionnaire

If you're comparing this to the prior entry, I've completed several pedestrian note-checking tasks and still have left one substantial chunk of writing left along with one organizational issue, two polishing tasks, a required bit of drudgery (which will wait until I can get the 67-page references section printed at work tomorrow), and the task that most academic authors stink at (can I remember everyone and everything news of this should go to?).

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:19 PM (Permalink) |

December 24, 2006

Expertise tackled; the world is next

Whew! I've split up the former chapter 2 into two chapters, expanded the analysis of expertise and the political drives for test-score accountability in the new chapter 2, and polished the new chapter 3 a bit. The rest of the revision checklist is now much narrower:

  1. Change chapter summaries in preface and new chapter 6
  2. Expand section on the outcomes of high-stakes accountability in chapter 5
  3. Cite in-press MS and other materials on consequences of high-stakes testing; find Jones, Jones, & ?.
  4. Insert more from Frankenstein itself
  5. Explain technocracy in the preface
  6. Be clearer on how the goals follow A Nation at Risk in chapter 4 section, "From expectations of schools to..."
  7. Better citations for historical material
  8. Check that each excerpt is < 150 words
  9. Complete marketing questionnaire
  10. Tie child-saving better to the overarching argument in chapter 5, perhaps switching it to appear later in the chapter
  11. In Chapter 5, watch the conflation of working-class with immigrant
  12. Chapter 6, explain Lake Wobegon phenomenon better (more?)
  13. Chapter 6: revise "no illusion" passage
  14. Look for substitute Webster quotes in 1965 volume.

Time for me to head home (I'm currently in a chain cafe). We don't celebrate Christmas, but I think my family will want to see me sometime today.  For those who do celebrate it, have a safe and merry Christmas.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 11:58 AM (Permalink) |

December 23, 2006

180,000 words served

Taking a brief break from polishing the new chapter 2 of Accountability Frankenstein, I copied and pasted every entry of this blog and then counted words. It's 210,000 words in about 720 entries... but it's less than that, because some entries are in more than one category, and the copy/paste job included the tags around entries, etc. A conservative guesstimate is about 180,000 words that I've written in this blog since the first entry in March 2001 (an even 2100 days ago), or just about 86 words per day (the conservative guesstime, remember). It adds up.

Some of this writing is informal, of course, but that small exercise shows how clearly blogging creates an avenue for any academic to become a public intellectual in the way that Russell Jacoby asks us to. And I'm not even among the more prolific academic bloggers! (See Michael Bérubé for the most obvious example.)

So can you write an average of 100 words a day? If so, you can write the equivalent of 2 books over 5 years. It's not hard.

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Posted in Writing and editing at 8:54 PM (Permalink) |

December 22, 2006

To every task there is a season... (and a state of health)

Polishing a 65-page (double-spaced) references section isn't the most thrilling job in the world, and I've been pecking away at it in odd moments for the last few weeks, but when I'm healthy there are too many other, far more rewarding activities to draw my attention.... until I woke up from too little sleep this morning thanks to my cold. "I don't feel like doing anything too energetic," I thought to myself, and headed to page 24 or 25 of the section.

It's now done (or at least all the entries currently in it are reasonably acceptable).

I guess there are some things that one can do better when sick.

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Posted in Writing and editing at 9:54 AM (Permalink) |

December 21, 2006

Theodore Porter, Trust in Numbers, and picking the right fights

On the way to and from my mother-in-law's house today, I finished Theodore Porter's Trust in Numbers (1995). (I should say that I finished it while my spouse was driving!) While I was distraught this morning at Porter's style, I slogged through, a matter which I knew was important. And the book has plenty of food for thought. But the (dis)organization remained problematic, and not surprisingly, the book reviews varied fairly dramatically in terms of how they read the main argument. In particular, the reviews in the Economic History Review and Technology and Culture read Porter's book as less deterministic than I thought he was in the end.


That determinism is a critical question. Is autonomy such a driving force that weak disciplines and administrative apparatuses under political threat will resort to statistics as a buffering mechanism to protect autonomy, even while higher-status disciplines or bureaucracies can still turn to networks of trust and rely on elite status? If so, then test-score accountability was inevitable, as Stephen Turner suggests. But I think the details in Porter's book belie that argument of virtual inevitability (which Porter makes clear, I think, in the second-to-last chapter). As Porter notes, weights and measures have historically been more negotiable than we assume today, and his description of the origins of the Chicago futures market is a fascinating tale of contingent events. There was nothing inevitable in it.

We don't have to look at NCLB and debates over NAEP to see how flexible truth is and the porous factual claims that permeate education. Evidence of how negotiable education "facts" are lies in the current debate over measuring graduation—or, as is more common, mismeasuring graduation. There is no agreement on how to measure graduation, the sides are frequently identified as biased in terms of other issues (support of public schools v. vouchers), and even the terms of the debate are vigorously argued, an argument that suggests that education facts are not completely behind the boundaries of expertise.

The debatability of education facts suggests another way of looking at accountability: given the fact that accountability systems will produce arguments, maybe one way of thinking about them is to structure the system so you get the argument that you want. If proponents of high-stakes accountability are sick of educators responding to accountability by blaming parents, maybe they should look in the mirror: didn't the system predictably set up that argument?  And if so, what's the argument that you want to have? 

Maybe it's because my father grew up on Flatbush Avenue, but I don't think there's anything wrong with a good argument, as long as it's about the right things. Do we really want to keep arguing about whether the scores mean something or who's responsible? I can predict continuing arguments precisely on these issues for as long as accountability is based entirely on test scores. I know of one commendable accountability mechanism—Rhode Island's site-visit system—that produces enormous discomfort in schools that are judged wanting and some arguments, but I think they're arguments worth having, about the nature of the school, what isn't happening, and what could be happening. Those arguments can only happen if you get beyond test scores.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:53 PM (Permalink) |

Kids, don't write these sentences at home

I was wondering why I just couldn't get far in Theodore Porter's Trust in Numbers (1995) until I came across the following (on p. 15):

Lorraine Daston instances Charles Dufay, a French researcher of the 1720s and 1730s, to epitomize a different experimental ideal.

So it's not my lagging attention due to a virus. It's just subtly awful writing. Porter's book is looming large in the revisions of Accountability Frankenstein, but his frequently elliptical (dis)organization and style make the reading painful.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 9:22 AM (Permalink) |

December 20, 2006

College affordability, the public university flagship version

Tamar Lewin's New York Times article this morning profiles my state's flagship university and the tensions between reputational ambitions and the public mission of the institution. Good piece.  Go read it.

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Posted in Education policy at 6:46 AM (Permalink) |

Proselytizing teachers

Tina Kelley's New York Times story about David Paszkiewicz's proselytizing in a high school class has raised a number of questions about the First Amendment and whether a teacher's academic freedom should trump parental concerns that their children not be subject to inappropriate pressures outside the curriculum. Let me cut to the chase: what Paszkiewicz did (which was apparently caught on tape—see the transcript) is inappropriate, but my entirely non-legal view is that it's not a First Amendment issue until his supervisors know of it and do nothing. It's the point when the student or parents complain that the school's responsibility really starts. Myth-fact time...


Myth: Academic freedom doesn't exist for K-12 teachers.
Fact: Legally, K-12 teachers generally have fewer rights than courts will recognize, except those written into collective-bargaining agreements. I don't know of any K-12 union contract that has the type of language on academic freedom that mine at a university level does. But K-12 teachers have some substantive rights in the classroom; see Daly, Schall, and Skeele, eds., Protecting the Right to Teach and Learn (2001), as well as a 1999 article by John Strope, for a broader discussion.
Myth: Academic freedom allows teachers to proselytize.
Fact: Ha! Er, um, let me expand a bit on that. Teachers have wide latitude in the classroom in instructional methods and what they teach, and they're allowed to be devil's advocates in all sorts of situations. (I push the argument for vouchers when I get a class when everyone is dead-set against vouchers, argue against them when everyone is for, and in general take a contrary position whenever the class opinion clearly needs challenging.) Furthermore, in many ways it's foolish to micromanage a classroom; in that regard, John Wilson is correct that one of the reasons for academic freedom is "not because we like teachers to be so stupid, but because the dangers of trying to restrict such comments are substantial." On the other hand, that doesn't give either K-12 teachers or higher-education faculty free reign. Minor goofs are one thing. Behavior that actively interferes with students' rights or ability to learn is something entirely different.  The position of that dividing line is debatable, and the conditions for examining what happens in the classroom are up for discussion, but the line and those conditions exist.
Myth: It's (il)legal to record your teacher as evidence about alleged teacher misbehavior.
Fact: The legal standing of such recording depends on state law. The controversy over Paszkiewicz's actions is only the latest example of what Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik has called the YouTube effect. University of Florida management lecturer John Hall was caught on tape apparently stoned (though he was recorded through a university program that he knew about, not by a student), and Orange Coast College teacher Kenneth Hearlson was vindicated (after considerable pressure) when the tape a student made in an attempt to incriminate Hearlson turned out not to have the events that the complaining students alleged.
Myth: The teacher was violating the First Amendment when proselytizing.
Fact: Here's the tricky bit: Is a public-school teacher an employee of the state or The State when teaching? Remember that teachers have the ordinary right to free expression when not "on duty" as a teacher as well as some rights in the classroom that distance the teacher from being The State -- so, for example, a Prostestant teacher is not required to take off a necklace with a small cross when starting his or her day. In addition, teachers are human beings, and for us to insist that classroom K-12 teachers keep straight when they are Acting As the State and acting as an individual is an unreasonable expectation. Much saner: the school district and school are part of the state and responsible for having policies that follow the First Amendment and supervising teachers. Following those policies or principal's directives is what the teacher is responsible for.
Myth: Was there a violation of the First Amendment?
Fact: According to both sides, the teacher stopped proselytizing when the administration directed that it stop.

Why is the LeClair family suing the school district, if the teacher stopped proselytizing? From father Paul LeClair's discussion forum explanation November 26, I infer there are two possible reasons: the student asked for an apology (an acknowledgment that the behavior was wrong) and never received it, and the student reported verbal retaliation by the teacher.

The teacher's response was to stop the behavior (he had no choice), but no apology. On the contrary, he started making remarks in class that were directed against Matthew, though at that time none of the other students knew what had happened. All they knew was that something was different. Had the teacher responded appropriately and had appropriate corrections been made, that would have ended the matter.

If the retaliation is documented, that's the worse thing for the school district to allow. And technically, I suspect that Matthew LeClair would have had a greater claim (and probably more chance of success) requesting that the administration acknowledge that proselytizing was wrong and stating clearly that it would not allow further proselytizing or retaliation. I'm curious, though, why Paul LeClair didn't write a cease-and-desist letter to the district. That usually comes before a lawsuit, and it's often effective.

Update: Paul LeClair notes that they have not (yet) sued.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 6:08 AM (Permalink) |

Danziger, Contructing the Subject, and the dangers of following the trail

Thanks to a trail of other readings, I'm now delving into Theodore Potter's Trust in Numbers (1995) and Kurt Danziger's Constructing the Subject (1990), both relatively dense books discussing topics on the edges of my concerns with testing and professional expertise. While reading the page proofs of a book that will be coming out in just a few months, I've already had one basic assumption rattled (it's a minor point in the book, David, but it forces me to rethink the question of psychometrics as a profession and how we treat teachers). Then I picked up Stephen Turner's Liberal Democracy 3.0 (2003), about whose provocative arguments about expertise and democratic political theory I've written elsewhere (on Education Policy Blog).


So in this trail of expertise, professional history, and our social trust in test scores, I've come to two very different chunks of the literature. Theodore Potter has written two books on the social history of statistics, one on The Rise in Statistical Thinking (1988) in the 19th century and a second one (Trust in Numbers), which is a little more broad and ambitious in its argument. I've left that fairly early to tackle the Danziger book, which is a brilliant little book that rocks you with a gem of insight every chapter. Danziger argues that Wundt's laboratory circle in Leipzig both established the concept of subject and also became an alternative view of subject (where the experimenter and observer frequently exchanged roles) to the later, more common notion of subject as of a different social status and knowledge position than the experimenter (and report author).

One point that is both suggestive and devastating is Danziger's suggestion that schools may have influenced the path of psychology as much as the other way around, for three reasons: first, schools created a huge resource of subjects once those became defined as a separate social group from experimenters; second, schools became a target of marketing of applied research; and third, in their dramatic expansion in the late 19th century and the organization around bureaucratic forms (graded multi-classroom schools, for example), the new bureaucratic school systems both produced and consumed huge numbers of the type of population statistics that are akin to censuses, creating the idea that one could capture the sense of schools and children with a sort of social census. That statistical consumption may have shaped psychology's turn from reporting the introspective observations of individuals to the reporting of aggregate statistics, what Danziger calls a "psychological census."

In turn, this broad (and ironic) argument brings me to two other issues: John Dewey and Daniel Calhoun. Most people in education describe Dewey as a sort of demi-god, creating a humane vision of education. What my colleague Erwin Johanningmeier argues is that Dewey used schools as a way to inform his writings on pragmatism more than attempting to define what schools should do. I suspect this may be a matter of different perspectives on the same writings, but Johanningmeier's argument parallels Danziger's.

The second is that Danziger cites Calhoun's The Intelligence of a People (1973), of which Dorothy Ross aptly said, "Any reader who spends a few minutes with Calhoun's ... book will learn that it is infuriatingly difficult of access." She also noted, again accurately, "But it will repay the reader's persistence." So I need to delve back into that (which I haven't touched since grad school). There are two copies on the shelf in my library: BF431 .C256. Please don't grab both, as I need them. 

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:18 AM (Permalink) |

December 18, 2006

So there's debate among NCLB critics? Big deal...

The reaction of Mike Antonucci to news that Susan Ohanian calls the NEA's leadership distancing themselves from the "dismantle NCLB" petition "bullying"? "[F]un watching NEA and Ohanian thrash it out for themselves." (Hat tip: Eduwonk.)

Maybe Antonucci is unfamiliar with something called deliberative decisionmaking, which involves discussion, decisions, and acknowledgment of dissent, but the NEA has had that on NCLB, in its last annual meeting. The NEA is acting consistent with the decision of its 9,000-plus delegates.  Ohanian doesn't have to like it (she obviously doesn't), but I don't think that disagreements are a problem in public debate.  We call that democracy in this part of the world.

Disclosure: I've already commented on the petition.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 4:30 PM (Permalink) |

Miami Herald "legacy" piece on Jeb Bush

Marc Caputo has a smart article, Exam has changed how teachers teach, on the FCAT. He points out the double standard on accountability (how voucher schools are not accountable in the same way) and how Jeb Bush can be considered an education policy hero if only kids graduated high school at the end of fourth grade.

Note the letter in response by John Kirtley, Tampa millionaire, Republican contributor, and now vice chair of the Alliance for School Choice.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 1:51 PM (Permalink) |

Why did some New York charter-school proponents decline a grand compromise?

I'm generally not a fan of conspiracy theories, for a variety of reasons: they tend to be untestable (conspiracy theorists can generally rework their claims within half a second of being shown counterevidence), they tend to ignore alternative hypotheses, they tend to lack crucial evidence of contiguity (i.e., that the pieces of the supposed conspiracy are as close as claimed), and even there is such evidence, conspiracy theorists tend to confuse contiguity with cause. So while any decently-spun conspiracy theory can "explain a whole lot," that doesn't mean that there's evidence to support it. Thus, I'm going to need a lot of evidence before I'm convinced that the FBI killed JFK or George W. Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks.

On the other hand, conspiracies do exist and can even be uncovered in certain contexts. The attempted cover-up of the Watergate break-in's connections with Nixon's 1972 campaign was a conspiracy. I have a conspiracy with my wife to raise our children in certain ways.  Oh, wait: that's an agreement, not a conspiracy. More seriously, my skepticism doesn't forbid my consideration of various claims; it's an historian's skepticism of any simplistic explanation of events.

Thus, we come to yesterday's Edwize entry on the New York Charter School Association, and this morning's follow-up by Ed Muir on the financial ties between the NYCSA and various conservative organizations....


The UFT and AFT is essentially accusing the NYCSA of being anti-union and (crucially) being anti-union because they receive significant support from anti-union corporations and individuals. The roots of this claim come from two directions. The first piece comes from the experiences of charter-school teachers trying to organize in New York and elsewhere, where the charter-school managers engaged in the labor equivalent of trench warfare after the majority of teachers signed collective-bargaining authorization cards, including firing activist teachers. Ed Muir has uncovered some prima facia evidence of financial and organizational contiguity, explaining perhaps why NYCSA brought in union-hostile management consultants to teach charter-school managers how to fight the trench warfare.

The second piece comes from the politics of the charter-school cap in New York state. Not being in the state, I'm reluctant to make too many evaluative comments, but I suspect it's safe to say that there are some charter-school advocates who would like the floodgates opened without any accountability or regulations, and that there are also teachers and some union activists who would like charter schools to disappear. But looking at the controversy from afar, I wondered why the obvious Grand Compromise didn't evolve: lift the cap in return for card-check recognition (where union representation would follow majority approval on collective-bargaining authorization cards--see a back-and-forth by Joe Williams and Edwize) and accountability parallel to that applicable to local public schools. (Card-check recognition would not tie charter schools to a grinding bargaining process, and a Grand Compromise could easily have some type of binding mediation built into recognition.)

In May, there were some semi-private discussions about the United Federation of Teacher's support for raising the cap on charter schools in New York state (see discussions in Eduwonk May 12 and Edwize May 15). UFT made a public commitment to the outlines of a compromise, something that probably earned it some enmity of fellow unionists in the state (and the city), perhaps because, in the words of Andy Rotherham (Eduwonk), "the way to marginalize the genuine union-haters is to come to the table." So UFT did. But as far as I can tell, the NYCSA and others never agreed to the outlines of the compromise. Of course, I'm not privy to those discussions, but it's frustrating to see on the outside. Now that UFT did come "to the table," does that mean that the NYCSA really is a bunch of "genuine union-haters" who are more interested in keeping unions out of charter schools than in lifting the cap?

Let me note that the UFT and AFT are not making an explicit conspiracy theory that says the Walton big bucks are driving New York education politics. I'm skeptical of that claim, simply because New Yorkers are proud of their ability to think independently; it would be sort of like saying New Yorkers would ever vote to elect as U.S. Senator an Illinois native who didn't live in New York before the election.  Oh, wait, ...

On the other hand, the evidence challenges the independence of NYCSA in representing the interests of charter schools in New York. Are prospective charter-school operators in New York aware that NYCSA may have thrown away an opportunity to let them open schools?  Let me also state one very clear way of testing the broader claims being made by UFT and AFT: If NYCSA comes back to the table and can come to an agreement with UFT on the obvious Grand Compromise, that's solid counterevidence against any conspiracy. So what about it?

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Posted in Education policy at 9:50 AM (Permalink) |

December 16, 2006

The "New" Commission and Jurgen Herbst

Achieve, Inc.-National Center on Education and the Economy smackdown program notes: Has anyone else noticed that the redesign recommendations of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce are just a wee bit inconsistent with Achieve Inc.'s American Diploma Project? End high school as we know it at the end of grade 10 versus boosting the academic demands of high school.  Maybe it's time for that Marc Tucker-Lou Gerstner WWF headliner. But let's get to the more substantive comments on the New Commission report...


The New Commission's structural recommendations are close to the shift that Jurgen Herbst recommended in The Once and Future School (1995), the high-school history that came out about the same time as Bill Reese's Origins of the American High School (1995). Herbst said the period of state-subsidized universal schooling should start and end earlier and, lo! and behold!, that's what the New Commission recommends, too (or maybe "recommends 2" since it's the Commission Mark II). I'm not going to expect to see any citation of Herbst in the full report (which I haven't seen since it's not online). But you shouldn't be surprised at the failure to know the historical literature, since this type of commission usually has a faux historical perspective, if any.

The best argument in favor of such a shift is not that globalization requires restructuring (these commissions never recommend economic policy changes) but rather that it conforms better to the needs of families: A much larger proportion of mothers are working at preschool ages than several decades ago, and so preschool and daycare are the experiences of the vast majority of children in the U.S. Given that, and the downward shift in academic expectations, having state-subsidized preschool experiences would piggyback on the expectations of families anyway (which is that children will be in institutionalized environments earlier than decades ago). On the upper end of the age range, a substantial proportion of 17- and 18-year-olds work part-time during the school year, and a substantial minority of juniors and seniors work long enough hours to interfere with serious schoolwork. You can fight that in a number of ways (reducing the hours that minors can work, for example), or you can "go with the flow" and eliminate the pseudo-universal claims of high school's last two years.

Herbst's proposal for a downward age shift was informed by his comparative perspective (he's also written a comparative book, School Choice and School Governance, which came out this year on, well, ... just reread the title, okay?), and I suspect that the New Commission Mark II also was, but from a more superficial angle.  (Hey, Marc: Put your full report online so I don't have to guess!) In Herbst's case, it's a case of "the current system isn't inevitable; get over yourself and structure the system to work better." In the case of most commissions, the comparative perspective is often phrased as a "let's see what our competitors do and then respond to them" argument; the 1980s was full of shallow "let's mimic Japanese education" arguments. (Note: does anyone on these commissions know what the social role of Japanese preschools has been? Those in the U.S. will probably be surprised, if you don't know already.) This set of recommendations isn't quite as crass, and the New Commission's staff-produced and -commissioned papers (a Commission's commission? hmmn...) are decent descriptive pieces, if a bit pedestrian, but I have the sense that they were used to flesh out a predetermined structure rather than to inform discussion. For example, Lynne Sacks and Betsy Brown Ruzzi's Overview of Education Ministries in Selected Countries contains the important note that not all countries have a national curriculum, but does that inform the recommendations, and will anyone pay attention?

There are a variety of concerns many will raise about recommendations of the New Commission Mark II, Junior. (For one of the first out of the chute, see AFT's response.)  One that was rehearsed in the 1980s—when other comparatively-derived proposals looked at European tracking practices as a model—is that tracking students' educational careers at age 16 will make the inequalities in the current system harder to root out. Right now, many systems have a semi-soft tracking system: a substantial minority of students are actively encouraged to take challenging courses, while others are either actively discouraged (or encouraged to take non-challenging or remedial courses) or just not told about opportunities. That's the underlying purpose of Jay Mathews and other advocates of AP classes, to push schools to actively encourage students to take challenging academic classes in high school. Some school systems have started to soften that implicit tracking, encouraging a broader range of students to take AP and other challenging classes. If we end high school at age 16 and then track students into different types of institutions, we will risk increasing the inequalities in educational opportunities. As Fairtest head Monty Neill wrote yesterday,

If 16 year olds will be separated based on test scores, barring not only changes in school and in preschool but also in a wide range of other societal aspects, low income kids, kids of color, those whose first language are not English, those with disabilities, will be sorted out into some pretense of voc training (like McDonalds as was previously posted).

I don't know if Education Trust has weighed in yet on the recommendations of the New and Improved Commission Mark II, Junior, but if I were a betting man, I'd predict that they'll oppose it on these grounds.

A second argument against the structural recommendation for adolescents is about adult supervision of minors. If 16-year-olds are not only not required to attend school but are signaled, "Here's where school ends," then you'll have a much larger proportion of teenagers who will end their schooling. In the last several decades, young adults have had higher unemployment rates than adults over 25, so one possible consequence is a larger number of teens (maybe a little larger, maybe much larger) having nothing to do. I suspect that school boards will argue that if the common curriculum ends at age 16, crime will increase.

The appeal of a third argument is superficial, but I suspect it will be more important than the others in sinking the recommendations of the New and Improved 5% More Free! Commission Mark II, Junior:  If you end the standard school program at 16, there go high school athletics and much of the extracurricular activities that millions of Americans remember as the best part of high school. That common experience helps create what David Tyack and Larry Cuban have called the grammar of schooling, or what Mary Metz called the "real school" script. To many adults, a "real school" has a football team, cheerleaders, a high school newspaper, senior prom, a yearbook, etc. Efforts to end the common academic program at 16 will have to fight the positive memories of millions of Americans and a century-plus discourse on the need to appeal to (and sometimes appease) the tastes of teens. 

This is not to say that we shouldn't rethink the structure of schooling: we certainly should, regularly. As I've written before, there are significant historiographical flaws in Tyack and Cuban's Tinkering toward Utopia (1995), an historical brief for incrementalism. But at a first glance (i.e., the executive summary and some of the attached papers), the New and Improved 5% More Free! Commission Mark II, Junior, has gone about the redesign effort in the all-too-common ahistorical and narrowly-framed way.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:57 AM (Permalink) |

December 15, 2006

Indiana Governor Daniels lays down a marker on higher ed

Mitch Daniels' new proposal to lease the lottery to benefit higher ed may well be doomed in the legislature, but it's one of the few recent examples of efforts to increase higher-education funding in some structural way. The last time I saw something like this was Georgia's creation of the HOPE scholarship from a lottery, something that inspired other states to follow suit (in both some lottery-funded scholarship and providing a feel-good reason to support public lotteries).

Indiana faces a very specific problem, a perceived brain-drain, and probably the most creative approach is a loan forgiveness program for college graduates who stay in the state. It may be doable without a lease program if the program is restricted to high-status programs that are perceived to be high-productivity (i.e., engineering, sciences), and we'll see if that happens either in Indiana or elsewhere.

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Posted in Education policy at 6:39 AM (Permalink) |

"New" Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, Old Hat

All the buzz this weekend about the report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce will probably damp down fairly quickly, for a few reasons:

  • It's so mind-bogglingly "new" and "fresh" that it has the same title as what produced America's Choice with "New" in front of it.
  • It's so mind-bogglingly "new" and "fresh" that the thing that interests Eduwonk Andy Rotherham is that it doesn't call for new funding.
  • There's a huge inertia in the system that tends to bury redesign efforts (see Tyack and Cuban's Tinkering toward Utopia).
  • The Democrats' political motivations will still drive things in very different directions.
  • It's being released close to the weekend in the middle of December.
  • To read the whole thing, you have to pay for it.

That's right: the well-funded National Center on Education and the Economy only has the executive summary online, and you have to pay $20 for the whole thing. In an age when everyone and her or his brother release PDF reports for the whole world to download and read, Marc Tucker is using a very old technique to push a radical redesign. My prediction: no one outside the Beltway and a few dozen people will read the report in full unless it's available for free.

In other words, Tucker is Scrooging his own commission's work.

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Posted in Education policy at 5:57 AM (Permalink) |

December 14, 2006

Freudian slip of the day

From an otherwise well-written paper: "money is the fist necessity."

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

Poking away...

Having a cold is not fun. Having a cold when you're trying to grade papers, revise a book manuscript, keep up with journal editing stuff, and chaffeur children is particularly not fun.  And then having a cold when it's your spouse's birthday?  Yes, of course I'll still pick the younger child up from school.  What part of "spouse's birthday" don't you understand?

In the meantime, I'll be plodding away on small tasks. No brilliant insights for me, today.

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

The problem with the McGraw-Hill conflict-of-interest argument

Since Stephen Metcalf's 2002 article on family ties between the McGraw-Hill publishing company and the Bush family, it has become a minor cottage industry to assert that the (quite possible) conflict of interest is evidence of the inherent corruption of No Child Left Behind. (See the Students against Testing, DailyKos diary entry, Jim Trelease, and Jim Horn pages on this as examples.) The same narrative has been played out with the Inspector General's report on Reading First and conflicts of interest. (See the response by Jim Horn, as an example.)

I don't think anyone outside a small circle will contest the problems with conflicts of interest in education programs. But I also don't think that basing criticism of accountability on conflicts of interest will work. Conflict of interest stories are a recurring theme in the politics of liberal democracies, and there is a standard solution: require arm's-length decision-making. There is nothing inherently in the existence of a conflict of interest that dooms the program touched (though the stench can force restructuring or at least a fig-leaf version of reform). Gary Stager's column on Reading First illustrates that. He's disgusted with what he sees as corruption, but it's all within the normal liberal parameters of wanting clean policy that's based on science.

Note: I've put up a few more extensive discussions of testing and their role in a democracy over at Education Policy Blog, which is up for a 2006 Weblog award (vote for us!). See part 1 and part 2 of that longer discussion.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:30 AM (Permalink) |

December 13, 2006

Peter Boyle, RIP

Wouldn't you know it: I'm revising the manuscript to Accountability Frankenstein, and Peter Boyle dies.

For those who don't know, he was The Creature in Young Frankenstein.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 11:15 PM (Permalink) |

December 12, 2006

NCLB odds

Eduwonk Andy Rotherham lays out the first set of NCLB reauthorization odds this morning. He and I agree that the most likely scenario is everyone's punting until after the '08 election. But he puts straight reauthorization as more likely than a dramatic revision by what he calls NEA's "rewrit[ing] the law to its liking" or a "Conservatives['] rollback [of] the federal role in elementary and secondary education." I think all of that is equally unlikely, perhaps because Rotherham and I have different political sources (and his are much, much closer to "the action").

If the stars line up, reauthorization may happen in 2007 with minor revisions, probably adding a growth component and changing the consequences of AYP failure. But that's looking unlikely to me, primarily because the Democrats will have a harder time finding internal unity on this issue, and there are other issues that have higher apparent political salience.

What is more likely is that we'll end up with a two-year discussion of NCLB in Congress, with no reauthorization in sight once we hit 2008 but with some bipartisan agreement on some substantial changes after the 2008 election. If we get into 2008, I suspect The Powers That Be (of various sorts) will realize that growth models don't solve the underlying political questions. Congresscritters on both sides of the aisles may well acknowledge the need to revise or toss the current AYP formula and probably invent a whole new mechanism based on some state's version of accountability. The real wonkish readers here may recognize an opportunity for strategists to start planning a la John Kingdon's triple-stream approach.

None of this necessarily addresses what should happen, of course, though it affects the likelihood of what should happen happening.

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

December 11, 2006

The value of foreign languages

Why does Kevin Carey's dissing of foreign-language instruction seems remarkably like Richard Cohen's I hate math and am proud of it column, What is the value of algebra? Both reason from personal experience with the subject at hand. Would Carey accept Cohen's logic?  I doubt it.  But he's using the same construction (I took the subject, I didn't get much out of it, so we shouldn't worry too much about teaching it to everyone).

Moreover, I'm surprised that Carey ignores the fact that maybe we don't have great language instruction because we rely on a curriculum model that delays most language instruction until adolescence, after the age when children find it easiest to pick up on languages.

Hey, here's a crazy idea: Combine prekindergarten programs, where you commonly have two teachers in a class, with two-way bilingualism.  Maybe that's a simple way of introducing language instruction.  Nah... too obvious, too easy. 

Update: Kevin Carey rethinks and decides he's in favor of early language instruction. I still think it's too rigid to say Spanish Is It. For preschool programs, for example, why not use the languages in use in the community? Often that will be Spanish, but not always. But early is good.

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Posted in Education policy at 7:55 AM (Permalink) |

December 10, 2006

Why Sherman's not blogging today (excuse note)

Apologies to Pat Cooksey

Dear Readers I will plead with you, don't have a fit of pique.
This blog will start up once again for you to read next week.
My mind is all quite bloodied, and my thoughts a formless mess.
I write this entry 'cause our blogs are here for to confess.

I wish that I could tell you of what befell my work.
But I can't claim bricks or buckets fell, to excuse a day of shirk.
I have a spouse, a preteen son, and a teenage lass.
And I have to keep up with a journal, book, and class.

While grading in my office, exams I have to read.
And while I work with students, there's silence on the feed.
I thought that I would scatter them across the building's stairs.
But someone told me doing that just wasn't very fair.

I opened up a file that a student sent to me.
It had a software virus, and quickly I could see
my hard drive was evaporating, useless to me now.
I had to get the data back; I didn't know quite how.

I walked up to the library, which had computer folk.
I told them what had happened, and they said it was a joke.
They told me not to write this song, they told me I was haughty.
So I went around the corner to get a decaf latté.

So, in other words, the reason why I'm not blogging daily this week is ... Starbucks!

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Posted in Random comments at 9:00 AM (Permalink) |

Ninth grade angst—for everyone

This morning, the St. Petersburg Times published an entire section devoted to a feature on ninth grade by reporter Ron Matus and photographer Lara Cerri. Matus and Cerri followed ninth graders in 2005-06 and did a remarkable job of earning their trust and watching several go through serious crises. I'm not done with the article, but this is one of those stories that should be read by anyone who cares about high schools and teenagers.

Regardless of previous kudos about what had been talked about as the most important education article in the year, I can only say, move over, Paul Tough. Ron Matus just ate your lunch, reporting-wise.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:38 AM (Permalink) |

Resegregation perspectives

In my local paper today (the St. Pete Times) is a smart (and sad) column on school resegregation by Thomas Tobin. Recommended reading.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:31 AM (Permalink) |

December 7, 2006

Whoops! We undermined it again

This morning's Inside Higher Education edition has a Scott Jaschik article reporting on an American Council on Education-commissioned poll on American attitudes about higher education (PDF). There are at least two major findings, one that the poll report by consultant The Winston Group highlighted: U.S. residents now believe that the primary motivation for companies' shifting operations overseas is because of cheap labor, not because of greater skills (i.e., the educational attainment in other countries). As Jaschik notes, "it seems that call centers in developing nations have made more of an impact on the public than have Ph.D.'s from those countries."

The finding that Jaschik finds buried at the end of the report is equally important: a clear majority (64%) of those polled see the primary purpose of a college education as "get[ting] a good job after graduation" (from the report). This confirms in a very concrete way the sense of historians and sociologists that human-capital rhetoric has colonized the consciousness of most people about the purpose of education... but it's probably less a matter of creating ideas than solidifying what David Labaree has argued is an historical tendency for the individual-mobility purposes of education to undermine collective goals.

This focus on individual mobility—the private purposes of education—has trumped education reform rhetoric that focuses on human capital from a collective standpoint—"We must reform so we can be competitive!" Students and their parents are skeptical of the human-capital arguments in a global sense and more worried about local competition in a job market, what Lester Thurow and others have called the queueing consequences of education.

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Posted in Education policy at 7:15 AM (Permalink) |

December 6, 2006

Education has only non-Florida leaders in Crist transition

According to the Crist transition site list of leaders of citizen review boards, everyone except those leading the group on education are from Florida or (in a few cases) has strong ties to the state from living here at least a few years.  The exceptions?  Paul Peterson and Marty West, who head the education group. Peterson was a prime mover in the Hoover Institution's Reforming Education in Florida (2006). According to West's vitae, he just graduated from Harvard's government/social policy doctoral program, with Peterson as his advisor.

Why the exception in education? I can speculate, but this would be a great thing for reporters to go after. I suspect they won't, because the half-million-dollar donations that the governor-elect is asking for his inauguration are just too juicy, especially with a surprising lack of disclosure about the donors.

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Posted in Education policy at 11:34 PM (Permalink) |

December 5, 2006

The final death of race-conscious desegregation

Given the news stories after yesterday's oral argument in the Seattle and Louisville cases, it seems clear that the Supreme Court is going to strike down desegregation plans that are

  • not court-ordered
  • cognizant of race in any formulaic sense

Affirmative action in the individualized way that Sandra Day O'Connor accepted in the Michigan law school case a few years ago may survive, but you can't do that in K-12 school systems except in districts so small that the practice won't affect more than a tiny proportion of students.

The court may change with a different president, reversing whatever opinions are written here, but I suspect some school districts will go the Raleigh route and try to rewrite desegregation plans to focus on social class. I don't think those will be any less divisive, but my guess is that they'll withstand court scrutiny: in the Rodriguez case many years ago, the court said that social class was not the suspect classification basis that race was.

However, I expect that most of the (few) remaining desegregation plans will simply be dismantled. That doesn't mean we're returning entirely to the days of separate-and-unequal: wealthy parents will be able to buy access to desegregated schooling. And parents who are willing to bus their kids across town will sometimes have access to desegegated schooling. (Both of my children attended a magnet middle school where the student population was more diverse than their zoned middle school.) And without desegregation plans, there will be some low-level exposure to children of other races in the majority of schools.

But our society has missed a tremendous opportunity that opened up for it, first in the late 1950s when massive resistance blocked the first efforts to desegregate schools and again in the 1970s when school districts could have responded to busing orders with efforts to change the housing market.* As many others have written, residential segregation limits the extent of school desegregation.

Where do we go from here? I wish I knew. I am not sanguine about the claims that accountability and choice will solve the multiple problems of schools that are entirely segregated and serve students in poor neighborhoods. Nor am I claiming that desegregation was any cure-all. But there is something immensely sad about knowing that a moment has passed and that the country has irrevocably lost an opportunity.

* In my fantasy, Southern school systems would have made two policy choices to reshape housing markets: Telling developers that they would reward new mixed-income housing with truly neighborhood, walkable schools; and asking judges to exempt from busing orders any neighborhood that became and remained stably desegregated.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:46 PM (Permalink) |

Headachey woes

Oh, lovely: first day I've had in several weeks to devote to more in-depth projects (the type that require intense concentration either because of intellectual requirements or sheer mundanity), and I've got a headache. Or, rather, the minor headache I took naproxen for about six hours ago is still with me and growing.  Do I risk another pain-reliever at this point or give up until I can?  I know the intelligent answer: go relax until either the headache disappears or you can take another pain-reliever.  I'm not feeling that smart right now, so I'll just be disciplined and walk away from the computer for an hour or so.

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Posted in Random comments at 1:41 PM (Permalink) |

Death by dictionary

Rule #13.5 for students: Do not cite dictionaries in social-science or humanities courses!  Sometimes I'm tempted to strangle the K-12 teachers who encourage this bad habit. How Webster's defines discrimination has nothing to do with demonstrating understanding of course material. It's a distraction from what the student needs to do in a paper, it's poor debating technique, and it is trite.

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Posted in Teaching at 12:11 PM (Permalink) |

Margaret Spellings or T'ai Chi?

February's American Council on Education's Annual Meeting has an online program schedule for the world to browse. A few clues to the changing political environment in Washington: the theme of the meeting is officially "The Access Imperative" though U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is on the agenda for a plenary session and the plenaries and breakouts are on a variety of topics. Keys to the meeting: which topics are the bailiwick of Terry Hartle (an issues overview the morning of Feb. 10; public-survey data at lunch on Feb. 11; and a mysteriously titled "Scenes from a Russian Novel" talk Feb. 12) and which corporations (and nonprofits in a few cases) are sponsoring various events:

  • Korn/Ferry International
  • SunGard Higher Education
  • New York Times
  • Datatel, Inc.
  • Fidelity Investments
  • Witt/Kieffer
  • Academic Search, Inc.
  • Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
  • Hewlett Packard
  • Spencer Stuart
  • TIAA-CREF Institute
  • Edward W. Kelley & Partners
  • Johnson Controls, Inc.
  • Kaludis Consulting
  • ING

Quasi-sponsorships: slots on the panel that allow various consultants and firm bigwigs to showcase their expertise:

  • Williams & Connolly LLP
  • AGB
  • Jackson Hole Higher Education Group, Inc.
  • Qorvis

If you're an academic officer and going to the ACE meeting, definitely consider the "Is Enrollment Management Crippling Access?" breakout session 3-4:30 on February 12. It features Barmak Nassirian, one of the sharper folks in the higher-ed world. (Among the breakout sessions, it's cross-scheduled against "Increasing Access in Latin America: Challenges for Reform," which has Judy Genshaft, USF's president, as moderator. So I say "definitely consider" instead of "just go!")

Oh, yes, and there are opportunities for presidents, chancellors, and provosts who run or do T'ai Chi to find fellow morning exercisers. No, it's not cross-scheduled against Spellings's talk. 

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Posted in Education policy at 8:41 AM (Permalink) |

December 3, 2006

George Tindall, 1921-2006

Southern historian George Tindall has died at 85.  Ralph Luker has a very nice tribute to him (and great teaching stuff!) at Cliopatria. I remember being introduced to a wonderful stylist in The Emergence of the New South, 1913-1945 (1967). When I initially read it, the first chapter ("In the House of their Fathers") was the most subtle and damning indictment of Woodrow Wilson I had ever seen. Just now, I reread Bennett Wall's review in the American Historical Review, and while it's a bit effervescent to me, Wall's right about Tindall's writing.

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Posted in History at 7:00 AM (Permalink) |

December 2, 2006

Meetings swallow up the week

I had nineteen events on my calendar this week, mostly meetings. I missed two of the events by planning, thanks to a colleague who took my place, and missed two because the aftermath of one meeting ran over the others. As a consequence, I am severely behind in two or three obligations.

And this weekend, my wonderful mother is in town. This is a good thing. It also would complicate the catching-up, except that she lives in California, so she will be here by 8 am... Pacific time. Time to get to that paper draft that's been sitting for several days while I've been in meetings, and then to as many other things as I can.;

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Posted in Random comments at 6:10 AM (Permalink) |

Thoughtful response to Tough

And the award this week for the best response to the New York Times magazine piece by Paul Tough, What It Takes To Make a Student, goes to Leo Casey for Out, Out, Damn Fact!

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Posted in Education policy at 5:58 AM (Permalink) |

December 1, 2006

The NCLB-dismantling petition

I've been intending to write about the online petition calling for the dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act for several days, but it's been a very busy week, and I've been trying to sort through my thoughts.

As of 4 pm today, the petition had over 11,000 signatories.  Some of them are "heavyweight" opponents of high-stakes accountability such as Susan Ohanian, but my guess is that the vast majority are teachers and parents. One signatory (A.J. Horkey, # 7584), wrote the following:

NClb has been a thorn in educators sides because it was not created by educators, but politicians who know very little, if anything about teaching children. The expectations are too high for children who have low abilities, learning disabled, etc. . I took an early retirement from education because of the stressors of NCLB. I could no longer be creative, innovative and motivate my students because of the confinements of government mandates that government had no knowledge of constraints put on educators. Such constraints of lack of parent and administrative support, lack of understanding of the educational process of the community and the lack of the ability to redirect behavior problems with children.

Such sentiments are clearly heartfelt, and I agree with some of the concerns raised by the petition.  While I am deeply concerned with the privatization rhetoric associated with some advocates of NCLB, and the consequences of NCLB outsource essential functions of schools (heck, my advisor has probably been called a Marxist or neo-Marxist more times than most of the signatories combined), it is a mistake to call NCLB "corporatist." That dramatically oversimplifies both the legislation and the political roots of accountability.

More troubling, however, is the vagueness of the petition, which doesn't give a concrete statement of what should happen. Dismantle: what does that mean? Does it mean that we toss away the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, on which hundreds of school districts and thousands of schools depend to have any semblance of sufficient funding? Does it just mean stripping away the accountability provisions added in 2001? I've corresponded with some of the key people behind the petition (and am working with several in another project), and I haven't yet gotten a clear answer. One correspondent told me that the name No Child Left Behind is just odious at this point. I understand the visceral reactions, but that's not something on which to hang effective political action.

I contrast the petition with the Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind from late 2004. The joint statement, now signed by more than 90 organizations, has 14 recommendations for reauthorization. Some of them are more concrete than others, but they are all more specific than dismantle.

Both petitions are critical of NCLB but have different approaches. One petition is entirely criticism. The other focuses on policy recommendations.  I understand the appeal of the first, but I will not sign it.

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Posted in Education policy at 4:30 PM (Permalink) |