February 28, 2007

Comma interruptus

I'm currently providing advice to some colleagues on a manuscript, and 90% of the changes I'm suggesting are the elimination of commas that come in the middle of a clause between the subject and verb or between the verb and the object. In almost all cases, the commas separate parenthetical comments that would be more effective at the beginning of the sentence.  The following is an example I've drafted (not taken from the paper):

Version 1:

The defendant's lawyer, who later became a well-regarded judge at the circuit level as a result of the publicity from the case, argued vigorously, despite the emotional circumstantial evidence, that his client was innocent.

Version 2:

Despite the emotional circumstantial evidence, the defendant's laywer argued that his client was innocent. Using the case's publicity as a springboard, the lawyer later became elected as a circuit-court judge, enjoying a popular reputation.

Some humorists such as Douglas Adams made great use of parenthetical remarks, many of which in Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide series or Dirk Gently books were longer than the clause which they interrupted. But in most instances, parenthetical comments and apostrophes are interruptions of the flow. This lesson is probably the most important one I've learned from Joseph Williams's Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. And I'm still having to go through my own writing and edit out the, what do you call them again?, parenthetical remarks.

Why do we interrupt ourselves so in writing? I suspect it's the old temptation:  we've taken some effort to become accomplished at reading difficult prose, so we think it must be better.

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Posted in Writing and editing at 8:44 AM (Permalink) |

February 27, 2007

Of Diane Ravitch and presentism

In an amended entry earlier today, I noted my being a Michael Katz student and somehow still not having fits at the sight of Diane Ravitch's name. (As far as I'm aware, Michael doesn't, either.) That doesn't mean that I agree with her substantive scholarship, and I'll repeat here a 2004 contribution I made to the H-Education e-mail list on H-Net. While its intended topic is the historiographical concept of presentism and not Ravitch's Left Back, I do make my views of the book clear:


I've just read Derrick Aldridge's commentary in the December 2003 Educational Research, and in it he describes how he's wrestled with the issue of presentism after being warned about it at a conference. What he describes afterward (on pp. 27-29) is a plausible professional approach, but I'm becoming more and more dissatisfied with the term itself. Ravitch used the label many years ago to criticize what she called revisionist historians [Katz among them], and John Rury then pasted the same label on Ravitch's book Left Back.

I think we should ban the term presentist from our vocabulary as a red herring, full of sound and professional jargon and signifying nothing of substance. Good history has the same characteristics, whether it's making an argument about the development of educational policy in the late 20th century or witchcraft trials of the late 17th, and I challenge anyone to show me differently. Yet presentism is one of the chief bogeymen of historiography. This is especially true with educational history, where we're often caught between educationists who want everything to be immediately relevant and our colleagues in regular history departments who can be skeptical of our subfield.

So what does the term presentist refer to? Most historians would define presentism to include taking events and materials out of context, stretching the interpretation with an eye to the modern implications of the argument. It is a close cousin to teleology, and its red flag sits at our disk right next to the warning flags ready to be waved at the first sign of Whiggish history or the myth of the Golden Age. Maybe an example will illustrate my discomfort. Take John Rury's lambaste of Left Back:

[I]t is largely a history without context, and one that telescopes past ideas about education into a single-minded concern about educational standards, one of Ravitch's pet peeves in current debates about educational policy. In this work we find a classic example of history turned to the purpose of supporting a political agenda.

But that larger description hides more substantive concerns of Rury's: Ravitch's oversimplification of Progressive advocates, the limiting scope of her mini-biographies, the focus on just a few locations, the inconsistency between her critique of Teachers College as an institution and her hagiography of William Bagley (a Teachers College faculty member), the misleading use of a statistic about Kilpatrick's teaching, the exaggeration of evidence about classroom instructional practices in the 20th century, and the inconsistency between her championing disciplinary approaches early in the 20th century and then ignoring the professional judgment of historians in the war over the history standards.

Now, I could add some additional criticisms after wading through the book last year. She acknowledges in the prefatory matter that there was no Golden Age of education (p. 13), and then proceeds to describe the justifiable pride of earlier ages on pp. 19, 21, 25, 30, and 89 (and probably elsewhere). She describes the Committee of Ten report as the first to make curriculum recommendations on secondary education to the country (p. 42), ignoring the legacy of the Yale Report earlier in the 19th century. She claims that the book focuses on the curriculum, but she has a large chunk of material on the reading methods wars in the last few decades. She complete[ly] ignores David Labaree's work on high schools, and while she notes Tyack and Kliebard's work, they appeared to have no influence on the book (either shaping it actively or as serious arguments to counter). The margins of my copy is filled with specific comments, and I found it as frustrating a read as I expect John Rury did, from his review.

And yet I am reluctant to slap a label on it. It is frustrating in part because of the sloppiness of the historical argument and the handling of evidence. But it is also frustrating because I can see the construction of a popularly-appealing book. She mixes detail inside each chapter and the patina of careful history with overblown rhetoric at the beginning and end of most chapters. But that's my fear that many readers will pay more attention to the rhetoric than to the rest of the book.

The problem with Left Back is not that it is "history turned to the purpose of supporting a political agenda," as Rury claims. There is plenty of wonderful, provocative history motivated by political or social beliefs; my favorite is C. Vann Woodward's Origins of the New South. Those good works are just as presentist as Left Back. They're just better at handling evidence and the nuances of writing an historical argument. I've decided that presentism is a label, not a useful analytical concept in historiography.

Someday soon, I'll tackle another perennial bogeyman of history, the number of history doctoral programs in the U.S.

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Posted in Education policy at 11:00 PM (Permalink) |

The myth of apolitical education policy

Monday in Get Schooled, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Bridget Gutierrez asked,

But will public education ever not be political?

This is a classic statement that gets a mental "facepalm" reaction from me.  How can you have education connected to citizenship (either education for citizenship or education attached to citizenship as a right) and then expect that somehow there wouldn't be a politics of education?

Historically, the desire for "removing politics from education" has been a rhetorical trump card, most famously in the Progressive Era (see David Tyack's The One Best System, 1974, for the most famous history of Progressive-Era bureaucratization). Usually, it hasn't removed politics from education so much as shifting education policymaking to a different political arena.

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

Welcome Meier and Ravitch to the blogosphere

Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch have finally started their blog Bridging Differences. It should be an interesting and readable conversation.

Update: One commenter writes, "I thought Michael [B.] Katz hated Ravitch--well, he trashed her scholarly work, anyway. Isn't she out of favor now?"

Yes, I'm a former Michael Katz student (Michael Katz, the historian of education at Penn, not Michael Katz the philosopher of education at San Jose State). (More on this and why I'm a history-education half-breed at another time.) And since this has come up, I'll talk about my views of Ravitch's most recent history of ed book in an entry later tonight. But I don't have to agree with someone's scholarship to welcome them to a conversation, especially if it's in the form of a dialog with Deborah Meier. One fact is obvious: Regardless of various professional views of her scholarship, Ravitch is a recognized voice on education policy. There are plenty of people I correspond with who have fewer claims to expertise, so I can either have a snit-fit about that or deal, and at this point, having a snit-fit is darned close to sexism and uber-testosterone in education policy studies.

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Posted in Education policy at 3:19 PM (Permalink) |

February 21, 2007

At least this test-preparation didn't steal instructional time...

According to the St. Pete Times blog The Gradebook, a small-town Florida elementary principal and several of her teachers prayed for student success the Friday evening before the state writing test early this month.

Then they anointed student desks with prayer oil.

Apart from the church-state issues involved—praying for your students on your own time is constitutionally protected, but I suspect that distributing prayer oil on the desks of students who are from different religions or no religion isn't—I know plenty of Catholic educators who believe in the power of prayer but don't think that prayer is a substitute for instruction.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 7:25 PM (Permalink) |

February 20, 2007

Politician's logic on school reform

According to the St. Pete Times Gradebook, the Florida House education committee chair is interested in mandating single-sex classrooms and uniforms for low-rated schools: "Something has to be done to improve D and F schools. What we're doing now is not enough."

As fans of Yes, Prime Minister's Antony Jay would recognize, this is politician's logic: Something must be done; this is something; therefore, we must do it. Even if there is solid research that uniform policies are only symbolic.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 1:54 PM (Permalink) |

February 17, 2007

Shameless book plugs

If you visit my home page, you'll now see links to a brief bio as well as to separate pages describing the four books I've written or co-edited:


If my guess is right, the latest two books will be appearing in press less than a month apart, so I'm polishing the blog and web space a bit.

*—Royalties from the two anthologies go entirely to non-profit organizations.

(Disclosure: I'm a member of Amazon.com's affiliates and a Powell's Books partner, but the links on the anthologies are affiliate/partner-code free, and if you don't want me to get the referrals for the other books, you can use the links to the main bookstore web pages which I've just provided and search for the books.)

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Posted in Writing and editing at 11:49 PM (Permalink) |

February 16, 2007

Arizona legislators want historians to stop talking about Brown v. Board of Education

John Wilson points out the obvious flaws in Arizona SB 1612, the latest attempt to channel David Horowitz's idiocy. To wit, the proposed 15-511(D)(3) Arizona Statutes would be created, prohibiting Arizona faculty from being able to ...

Endorse, support or oppose any pending or proposed litigation in a local, state or federal court or endorse, support or oppose any judicial action taken by a local, state or federal court.

That means that if an history teacher in any Arizona public school or an historian employed at an Arizona university says that Brown v. Board of Education was the right decision in 1954 (i.e., endorsing "a judicial action taken by a ... federal court"), they'd be breaking the law.

Incidentally, that would also be true for anyone commenting on Marbury v. Madison.

Sweet.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 6:01 PM (Permalink) |

Hot cocoa

We're expecting an Arctic mass coming through the Gulf and to Florida overnight, so it might be freezing overnight, but right now it's a Florida-freezing but everywhere-else-toasty 50 F. In sympathy with everyone who's reading this from snow country, and because I have a head cold while trying to ignore my e-mail and finish a manuscript today, it's time to fill our covered mug with the type of cocoa that can be justified as Good for You:

  • 2 heaping T. cocoa
  • 3 T. milk powder (mine is nonfat)
  • sweeteners to taste (none for me this morning)
  • a healthy sprinkling of chipotle chili powder

Yes, it should be chipotle, if you want a liquid version of Moonstruck Chocolate's ocumarian truffle.  Trust me on this.  The key to making cocoa with dried milk powder is to add just enough hot water at first to make a smooth paste.  Get all the lumps out in the paste stage. Then add enough water to fill the regular-sized mug.

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Posted in Random comments at 7:32 AM (Permalink) |

February 14, 2007

Parsing growth and grossing the Parthenon

Kevin Carey criticizes Leo Casey's take on growth measures to evaluate teacher effectiveness.  Casey cited a 2003 RAND Corp. study which cast doubt on the use of student-achievement growth measures to evaluate teachers (something pushed by the Aspen Commission).


Carey makes two points:

  1. How to use the imperfect data tools we currently have available is a policy decision. To Kevin Carey, this type of decision-making includes issues such as the acknowledgment and discounting of technical flaws (in multiple possible meanings of discounting).
  2. One possible reason for the lack of evidence of growth models' ability to be used to judge teachers is resistance to their use in the U.S., except for Tennessee and a few other jurisdictions.

I completely agree with #1. It is the authority of policymakers to tangle with the technical details of policy and the implications of those technical details. Not only do I have no problems with this claim, but I argue that point in Accountability Frankenstein. But the authority also implies responsibility to do so, and I hope Carey understands that placing the marker down at this point means that he'll be holding policymakers to making reasonable judgments on those technical details: No hand-waving and displacing responsibility onto invisible bureaucracies, right? Of course, I doubt he or anyone else can point to any legislature that has set a cut-score for any graduation or teacher competency test... or bar exam, electrical contracting exam, general contractors' license exam, etc. No, I'm not arguing that legislatures should really do that, but Carey's point is all on theoretical authority and very little on acknowledging the fact that legislatures generally do displace responsibility for technical details.

The second point is something I'm going to quibble about.  Yes, Tennessee has had something called "value-added assessment" since the early 1990s, but I have yet to see any evidence that Bill Sanders' system consistently distinguishes anything more than a small proportion of teachers from the vast, vast majority (as either good or bad), and that's even assuming the validity of the TerraNova test results in Tennessee. Sanders acknowledges it, and it's partly an artifact of any multilevel modeling (which tends to swallow a good portion of the variance originally in the data).

The "resistance" point only makes sense if you're restricting us to the U.S., since the U.K. has been attempting multilevel modeling of longitudinal achievement much longer than anyone in the U.S. Go ask Harvey Goldstein what he'd say from the U.K. experience, or read his papers, such as Using Pupil Performance Data for Judging Schools and Teachers (PDF). Basic point: There's still little evidence that growth models are the holy grail either for school-level or teacher-level accountability. (Credit Goldstein for using "holy grail" to refer to various fantasies of growth-model advocates.)

Extra credit to anyone who knows why I used "Parthenon" in the title of an entry referring to Tennessee, apart from the obvious spoonerism.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:05 PM (Permalink) |

"And you're left like a zombie"

On advice from its counsel, the Pinellas County School Board (Florida) removed references to closing the white-black achievement gap from its strategic plan. So... if we ignore it, it'll go away?  Or at least make a lawsuit go away?

(Extra credit to anyone who recognizes the source of the lyric, without googling it. Yes, of course I'm following a theme in today's entries.)

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Posted in Education policy at 8:52 AM (Permalink) |

The "tough love" talk begins on Aspen Commission

The spin has begun, with Diane Schemo's NYT article Tougher Standards Urged for Federal Education Law, Leo Casey's pointing out that growth models can't accurately measure teacher contributions to student achievement,  Michele McLaughlin's identifying problems with the commission's way of framing teacher effectiveness, Andy Rotherham's saying it has plenty of small actionable ideas, and Kevin Carey applauding it for pushing the idea of changing the way teacher quality is defined.

Those of us peons who didn't get access to the report until yesterday's release and who have day jobs (though I started my drive down to the Sarasota-Manatee campus at 6:20 to get here in time for a search committee meeting) will have to digest it in chunks. At least my prediction of a recommendation to include growth models came true, but that wasn't much of a risk. Here are the themes I've identified in the report:

  1. Not enough: That phrase or variants of it pop up repeatedly, with the implication that while NCLB had great goals, neither all of the framework nor the implementation was great.
  2. Effective: This is the most obvious theme that is targeted within a specific area (effective teachers and principals).
  3. Knowledge and tools: I've only spotted this phrase once as a unit, but the idea is sprinkled throughout, especially with the explicit push for formative assessment.

What's missing?

  • Any way of addressing teaching to the test, test preparation, and other unintended consequences. The introduction briefly discusses concerns on p. 19 and then quickly dismisses them with a straw-man argument about rumors (on the bottom of p. 19) and displacing the responsibility away from NCLB and accountability policies in general. The failure to address these unintended consequences is a huge missed opportunity for the Aspen Commission to gain "classroom cred" on the realities of high-stakes accountability.
  • A discussion of the set-aside requirements for schools identified as "needs improvement." In at least one set of recommendation (on tutoring), the commission's recommendations would actively make the problem worse, forcing school districts to waste the funding held in the set-aside through an entire year.

I'll have plenty to say about this report as I chug through it. 

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:43 AM (Permalink) |

Science is back, and you're gonna be in trouble (Hey-la-day-la, ...)

The Kansas Board of Education has eliminated science-standard references to non-natural explanations of natural phenomena.

Whew.

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

February 13, 2007

Commission Withholds Final Report for NCLB Reauthorization - Aspen Institute

I know that's not the title of the webpage, which properly is Commission Releases Final Report...  Nonetheless, when the livecast link is dead, ... (I've left messages with two staff members and hope that they can correct the technical problem for the video archive.) 

The report is available online (though not on the Aspen Institute site).

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 11:32 AM (Permalink) |

February 12, 2007

Tomorrow's news

Looks like the Aspen Institute's NCLB commission will be presenting its recommendations tomorrow in a live webcast, though I'm not sure if the 9:30 a.m. start time is EST or MST. Update: In the comments, Aspen Institute staff note that the starting time is 9:30 a.m. Eastern time, right at the end of a class for me. Do I put on the conference at the end and invite students to watch?

What I do find interesting is the fact that the key stakeholders who will be present are the chairs and ranking members from both relevant Congressional committees.  No signs of a White House presence at the event. 

My prediction: One recommendation will be for a growth-based AYP, but that's a pretty safe prediction. See my stated concerns about growth models as a Holy Grail for accountability. I also suspect the recommendations will mention flexibility on what happens after identification of schools as needing improvement. Beyond that (especially the Title I set-aside), I have no idea.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:41 AM (Permalink) |

Speaking of college presidents...

It looks as though my alma mater, Haverford College, is about to pick its next leader.  One brother-in-law teased me years ago that "Haverford" is what comes out of a drunken Harvard student's mouth when asked where she or he attends, but there really isn't a link between the announcement from Harvard yesterday and an event this evening in suburban Philadelphia that may or may not be an announcement.

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Posted in Personal at 10:36 AM (Permalink) |

Grand coalitions in education?

Alexander Russo asserts today, If SEIU and Wal-Mart Can Do It, Education Can, Too.  The argument, in brief: If the interests of SEIU and Wal-Mart allowed both to push for decoupling employment and health care, then is there another grand coalition out there involving teachers unions and education? 

First, a bit of background: SEIU's members and prospective members need health care, and they're in occupations that are very unlikely to have it. So they have an interest in decoupling employment and health care. Wal-Mart has built its business on the lack of health care and other benefits (along with other practices), and so it has an interest in decoupling employment and health care, since if that happened, they would never have to pony up for health care.  Thus, they're both pushing for universal health coverage.

So, to the prospects in education: There already is such a grand compromise idea out there, involving charter schools and unionization, but it looks like charter-school proponents are sufficiently anti-union that they don't want it. Brief gloss: union activists suggested card-check recognition in return for larger numbers of charter schools.  Charter proponents claim that only a secret ballot can prevent intimidation of workers... by unions.  There is plenty of room for discussion, despite this apparent spurning, but only if both parties come to the table. I'm not going to describe any concrete suggestions here unless someone really wants an untrained mediator in the room, except to say that there's plenty of room between card-check recognition (and allegations of intimidation by unions) and long-delayed secret-ballot recognition elections (and allegations of intimidation by management). And there are options for what happens after recognition as well.

Time for those who claim they're not hostile to unions to come back to the table.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:27 AM (Permalink) |

February 11, 2007

Delighted at Drew's destiny

I'm one of the many people who has crossed paths with Drew Gilpin Faust over the years, and while Harvard is only one university, I'm very happy that Faust got picked as president. I never had a class with her when I was in grad school at Penn, but she was well-known for being serious and supportive, I found her the same, and there is nothing in the last 15 years to contradict the reputation she had among grad students.

She will do just fine as Harvard's president.

There is one apocryphal story I have of her role in saving House of Our Own, an independent bookstore on the 3900 block of Spruce Street in Philadelphia. For many years, it's operated out of the same brownstone building owned by Penn.  While I was a grad student (and several times since), Penn threatened to end its lease for various alleged purposes, including supposed redevelopment or repurposing of the building, though grad students generally supposed that the university thought that House of Our Own competed with the campus bookstore (which it did, or would have if the campus bookstore ever had a significant intellectual focus).

In any case, during one of those occasional crises, Faust and her husband Charles Rosenberg were offered jobs at Harvard. They either asked to talk to or were invited to talk to Penn's then-president, Sheldon Hackney (a Southern historian, like Faust). Hackney asked why they would ever consider Harvard.

"Harvard wouldn't shut down a small bookstore operating in Harvard Square!" is the comment I've heard attributed to Drew Faust. She and Rosenberg stayed at Penn a few more years, and the bookstore stayed open, though I don't know if there's a connection.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 4:43 PM (Permalink) |

February 9, 2007

And now, a defense of boutique education

At the cost of alienating my new blog-buddy Alexander Russo, who a few days ago said, "Once in a while, Sherman Dorn and I agree about something," I'm going to go in a slightly different direction from my gripe about the NCLB-and-gifted-ed argument Wednesday. Then, I argued that the defense of gifted education was an inappropriate argument against NCLB for a variety of reasons.

Today, let me address the reverse: Are complaints about NCLB good for gifted education and other specialized programs?

Without addressing specifics, I'll say that there are places for specialized programs within education, included gifted education, though not necessarily with the standard rationale you'll hear. I mentioned one yesterday: addressing students who are not only bored in school but bored and likely to get into trouble through that boredom. In addition, gifted education (among other places) provides a legitimate opportunity for trying out challenging material. As long as there's an understanding that the challenging material will eventually be made available more broadly if successful and when hammered out, that "laboratory" environment raises far fewer equity concerns. And when giftedness is thought of in a dynamic way and not as a static quantity, there's less of a danger of reifying it and conflating it with social class, race, ethnicity, etc. A number of researchers in special education, including gifted education, have been working with the elitism/inequality issues for a number of years. I'm confident I'm not breaking any new ground here, and I'm sure my colleagues in my college can go much further in describing current research. The fact that much current gifted education is bounded by a variety of practices and institutional legacies does not mean that it can't be different.

There are other specialized programs that have some justification, as long as we acknowledge tensions between specialization and choice, on the one hand, and common purpose, on the other. In programs without gatekeeping, the within-school choice issue justifies considerable specialization. Yet there's a counter-argument, best explained in The Shopping Mall High School: "boutique shops" (or specialized programs) give the illusion of choice without depth and without a common mission. The real experiences of millions of adults (i.e., former students) provides natural constituencies to maintain various education boutiques in their historical forms.

Now, to an uncomfortable fact: apparently the (DOA) Bush budget proposal includes an interesting shift to fund NCLB: take funds away from federal special-education appropriations (see Public Agenda's blog).  So perhaps it looks like NCLB does threaten some specialized programs (those with high mandated costs and an historically underfunded federal commitment)... or at least the proposed budget. But what about the complaints?

First, to gifted education: The article in the New York Times (and others) gives the impression that gifted educators are whining. Whining generally is not a successful tactic, and it's only a tactic, not a strategy. Regarding the strategy implicit in the article, relying on the political power of wealthy families who are more likely to have children in gifted programs imprisons gifted education in its current structure and practices.  Again, that's not wise in the long term.

Second, to most special education and English-language learning instruction: In both cases, NCLB fails to address the dilemma of assessment (to wit, that one must insist on high standards while acknowledging that age-peer "grade-level" testing will often be insensitive to improvement). Only to complain about the assessment problem risks failing to address the underlying need for accountability. There are some complex (and often unsolved) technical problems, but the political problem is explaining the technical problems appearing as if one is excusing schools for low expectations.

Third, to career and technical education (also part of the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul maneuver of the president's proposed budget): I haven't read that much related to CTE/vocational education in the last few years, at least insofar as NCLB is concerned. So I'm not going to hazard a guess. But if the other two "shops" discussed above are any indication, standard criticism of NCLB will not necessarily help CTE.

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Posted in Education policy at 12:57 AM (Permalink) |

February 7, 2007

First page proofs of Accountability Frankenstein corrected

I misunderstood some of the directions on sending back corrections of page proofs, so finishing the first set of page proofs took a few extra hours I didn't anticipate today.  But I've sent the corrected PDFs back to the publisher, so Accountability Frankenstein is one more step to publication.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:42 PM (Permalink) |

Ugly arguments against NCLB

There are plenty of ways I can criticize NCLB and its implementation, but to whine that it drains resources for the gifted is one of the more disturbing arguments I've read (and today's story by Joseph Berger isn't the first time it's appeared in the New York Times).  Particularly wince-inducing passages...


Even critics of No Child Left Behind say there is no educational goal more important than helping the nation's poorly performing students read and calculate competently. But in a world of scarce resources, a balance has to be struck so that programs for the gifted are not frozen out. After all, many students nurtured by such programs will one day concoct the technology and dream up the ideas that will keep America competitive.

Apart from the blatant editorializing (which source said "a balance has to be struck"?), is there any evidence that adults who were in gifted programs years earlier are the primary source of tech innovation and that, to the extent that they are, it was the existence of gifted ed that's responsible?

Michael J. Petrilli, vice president for national programs at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which supports educational research, said cuts in programs for the gifted hurt "low-income children with tons of potential who may not be getting the attention they deserve."

First, the wording above suggests that Fordham is like the Spencer Foundation (which really does fund education research), but Fordham is a think tank. Second, Petrilli implies that if gifted programs weren't cut, they'd be serving millions of poor students. No, they wouldn't: gifted programs serve a very low percentage of students, and the vast majority of "low-income children with tons of potential" are outside elementary and middle-school gifted programs. The better bet for advancing these children's interests is to improve general academics, not nurture boutique programs for a few.

Survival of gifted programs is not just a matter of money; they have long been a target of complaints that they are elitist, and violate the bedrock egalitarianism that created public schools in the first place.

Yes, Joseph Berger is right on the general criticism, but the history is off. I'm not Paul Violas, but to claim that schools were founded entirely on an egalitarian ethic ignores much of the historical research on the topic over the past 40 years.

Lost in the debate, champions of the gifted say, is that exceptional intellects need hand-holding as much as those below average, that they get restless or disheartened working with material they long ago conquered. Jane Clarenbach, public education director of the National Association for Gifted Children, said research shows that 20 percent of the nation's three million gifted students will drop out before graduating from high school.

There is a grain of truth here hidden by dunes of slipshod reasoning. The grain of truth is that there are plenty of children in school who are bored because they face no challenge at the moment, and some proportion of them get into trouble as a result. My spouse calls this group "Devil's workshop children," and we've known a few. An absolutely legitimate purpose of any gifted education program is to identify those children and make sure they don't have idle hands. (For those who know special education, this redefinition would be the gifted version of response to intervention eligibility criteria.)

But that's just a grain of truth. One fundamental problem with this "gifted kids will drop out if we don't give them extra services" argument is that when resources are devoted solely to students labeled gifted through so-called IQ and other testing programs, such programs commonly concentrate on elementary and middle-school years, long before anyone drops out of school.

Then there's the argument I made earlier: the better route to serving these students (and all others) is by improving the general education curriculum so that no one is bored or alienated.

Nancy Eastlake, coordinator for West Hartford's gifted programs, points out that so-called pullout programs are often criticized "as fluffy activities." Yet, she argued that "when you have children research a topic of great personal interest, that's solid, good learning."

Yes... and students outside the gifted programs don't want to learn about a "topic of great personal interest"?

I understand the parents' dilemma when gifted-education programs exist: do you hold your individual child's interests hostage to the larger principles? In general, the answer is going to be no. I know enough relatives who have been in gifted programs or have placed their children in gifted programs to understand the reasoning.

But many of the opportunities that draw parents into such programs should be available more broadly. One of my daughter's best friends is in all advanced coursework this year, but she was not in a gifted program. Another friend from elementary school (also not in its gifted program) shifted to advanced math in middle school. ("About time!" was my thought at the time.)

Irony: This story appeared one day after the release of the latest statistical report on the nation's largest challenging general-curriculum program, Advanced Placement testing. While I do not think AP programs are the be-all and end-all of academic challenges, their recent history demonstrates that a school can open up challenging opportunities by having counselors broaden rather than narrow the funnel in their gatekeeping role.

In summary, critics of NCLB need the "NCLB hurts gifted ed" argument like we need Charles Murray's "help." And now, if you'll excuse me, I'll return to correcting the first page proofs of Accountability Frankenstein.

Update: See my defense of boutique education, including gifted education, written a few days after this entry. Can't say I'm not finessing things...

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:43 AM (Permalink) |

Indiana State provost holds institutional reputation hostage

That's the only explanation I can see for C. Jack Maynard's proposal to eliminate physics and philosophy majors for undergraduates. Maynard's own research specialty is in higher ed, and according to the Educational Leadership, Administration, and Foundations web page, one of his interests is accreditation. Is this move the foundation for his next article, "How to Lose Accreditation and Influence People?"

(Other majors slated for elimination include art history and environmental life sciences. There are also associates' and graduate programs slated for elimination, and far more slated for consolidation. But what is a state university doing giving out terminal associates' degrees anyway?)

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

February 5, 2007

New ed-beat blog

The St. Petersburg Times is joining other newspapers is having an education blog. The title of theirs? The Gradebook.

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Posted in Education policy at 5:25 PM (Permalink) |

February 4, 2007

Cheating/test-prep in Dayton, Ohio, school

It happens every so often: we hear about administrators or teachers who copy items from secure tests and then teach students using those items. (See several item comparisons.) In this case, the alleged miscreant was an administrator of a charter school who passed the items on to a consultant who did the teaching and later fired an underling who identified the problem. This behavior isn't isolated to charter schools, and as Sharon Nichols and David Berliner note in Collateral Damage (to be released in March), there is a range of "cheating" responses to high-stakes pressures. Some of the cheating is clearly self-serving (as in the case in Dayton, if the evidence bears out the allegations).

But all of the non-curriculum responses undermine the trustworthiness of test scores as indicators.

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

February 2, 2007

In B'ham, 2

Here is why you present material at a conference: I write a book and at the end of the process, there are inevitably some loose ends.  I go to a conference, present the material with some of the loose ends and say, "Hey, here's a loose end.  Anyone have an idea of how to tie it up?"

And this morning two people did.

I also found a way to end my talk with the words, "football will save American education." But I'm in Alabama, and I realized it was a challenge to see if I could do that ethically, truthfully, and artistically. Gauging by the reaction, I think I succeeded. But it was the feedback that was more valuable.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 5:48 PM (Permalink) |

Interview with a blogger

Very recently I had the chance to interview profgrrrrl when we discovered we'd be in the same town for different purposes.  Watch the video!

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Posted in Podcast at 5:35 PM (Permalink) |

Texas Governor to Faculty at UT-Pan American: You Suck

Well, that's probably not the explicit intention of Governor Rick Perry when he released his plan to link multiple-choice exams to higher-ed funding increases, but I think the analysis described in the article is dead on:

Other critics said that the system was set up in a way that would reward places like the University of Texas at Austin - where graduates are likely to perform well on standardized tests. As a result, these critics fear, money will flow to the wealthiest universities and not to the institutions in south Texas that serve Latino students who are less likely to have attended competitive high schools.

On the good side, the governor proposed plenty of moolah. On the bad side, it's tied to a perverse system of incentives (multiple-choice exams in history?  sheesh). On the good side, the Texas legislature has already started its session, and sometimes mid-session proposals in state legislatures die simply from lack of time. On the bad side, we're talking about the Texas legislature, which is now without the sharp oversight of Molly Ivins.

On the good side, I'm talking about our society's trust in testing this morning, and I can now start with Texas and end with football.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:53 AM (Permalink) |

February 1, 2007

In B'ham

Back from dinner with a bunch of folks at the conference (which starts in earnest tomorrow). Met someone I'd corresponded with for some months. Will blog more about that shortly. Need to see if I can get one bit of short writing thought out tonight before bed, make sure I know what I'm talking about tomorrow morning (or, more importantly, what I'm not talking about), figure out how to work football into the end of my talk (really!), and then do 100 crunches and go to bed.

Yeah. 100 crunches. Not that it improves my stomach profile!

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Posted in Random comments at 10:16 PM (Permalink) |

Much Ado about the AFT

So I'm not the first off the mark in responding to the Ed Week story,  AFT No Longer a Major Player in Reform Arena. See the blogging responses by AFT policy staffers, Alexander Russo, and Andy Rotherham, and I'm sure there are others. I'm at the Tampa airport, waiting for my flight to Birmingham and much true Southern goodness (i.e., philosophy of ed), and I had to read the article (finally!) and laugh. Disclosure: I'm a faculty union member in Florida and as such am a member of the AFT (and NEA).

First, the weaknesses journalistically: Too many anonymous sources described as "observers." The first quoted source was Cindy Chance, in the 18th graf, and she was talking about unions in general, not the AFT specifically. Where was the editor on this story, allowing the use of shadow sources?

Then there's the timing issue: the use of an internal-voices memo with data from several years ago doesn't necessarily indicate where the AFT is now, given the leadership transitions inside the organization and the change on Capitol Hill.  To quote the complaint that the AFT didn't get inauguration tickets in early 2007 is, well, just plain silly.  I'm going to bet that the AFT leadership has plenty of symbolic as well as real ties to the Democratic leadership.

On the whole, the story smells strongly as if the reporter had an axe to grind, regardless of the facts.

And I have to get on the plane: I'll write from Alabama, I promise!

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Posted in Education policy at 1:51 PM (Permalink) |

Off to Birmingham!

I'm off to Birmingham today for the Southeast Philosophy of Education Society meeting, where I'm talking about expertise and testing. This is a more laid-back academic meeting, and it's a trip where I get to meet one person corresponded with for a while but have never seen face-to-face. Should be interesting, and I'll report on the results!

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:13 AM (Permalink) |