March 30, 2007

Diane Ravitch: Feds should only do what it can

Diane Ravitch's Huffington Post entry last Sunday is both a solid description of what NCLB requires for accountability and a sharp criticism.  The money quote:

In the future, the federal government should do only what the federal government can competently do. Its historic role has been three-fold: one, to collect and disseminate information about the condition and progress of education in these United States; two, to write checks help schools educate specific groups of students, especially those who are poor and have disabilities; and three, to enforce civil rights laws.

The comments tend to agree with Ravitch but with more extreme rhetoric.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:55 AM (Permalink) |

March 29, 2007

Unions and masters degrees

Kevin Carey asks, Why do unions support pay steps for masters degrees? As an historian, I think the question is a bit backwards, but then I think the same of many other policy questions. After all, bureaucratically-oriented salary schedules existed long before the UFT's successful NYC strike in the 1960s and still exist in plenty of districts without union representation.

As an historian, I wonder how salary schedules developed to include steps for masters degrees; I wonder how steps for masters degrees benefited school systems as well as unions; and I wonder if those dynamics remain the same today.

Only then will I entertain the question of whether it continues to serve union interests to help maintain masters-linked increments. And I will admit I don't know enough about K-12 unionism to have a solid understanding of K-12 union positions on salary schedules. I mean, I've been initiated into the Order of the SMOF Hoodies (SMOF = secret masters of fandom, or maybe secret masters of faculty), but that doesn't give me entree into the more subtle K-12 perspectives.

But there are reasons why districts pay the increment, even in nonunion states.

Update 1: See Ed Muir's response.

Update 2: And more from Kevin Carey (before Ed's response, I assume.) Kevin asks explicitly about the teacher-education response, perhaps assuming that colleges of education are only interested in degree programs or are happy when people enroll for the next step. For the record, one of my colleagues who has taught here for more than 30 years told me years ago that part of my job in graduate classes was to turn enrollees into students. Yes, I've seen students who were in it for the degree and pay bump, but I don't know any of my colleagues at the faculty level who enjoy such interactions or look to create the "here to fill an empty seat and enrollment profile" program.

And many institutions compromise in various ways to make various programs shorter and more convenient for students, sometimes to the detriment of program quality. So maybe we shouldn't say that all masters programs are alike.

There are other possible configurations apart from masters programs.  I know the old Miami-Dade contract included temporary pay bumps for teachers who had acquired a graduate certificate (a  subdegree program) and worked in certain schools.  That section is no longer in the contract, but I don't know why.  Let's just say that colleges of education are not necessarily the "structure it only one way" organization that some may assume.

Update 3: Leo Casey responds to Kevin, who fires back. Apart from the overheated rhetoric (c'mon, guys; the testosterone bar is around the corner near the ballpark, not here in the blogosphere), both have points.  Leo notes that the study Kevin cites is from North Carolina, with a different distribution of educational credentials from other states. Maybe masters degrees have little association with student achievement in North Carolina because of things intrinsic to the state. The broader issue is that state and local policies often determine the distribution of masters degrees, the rationale, the structure, etc.

For his part, Kevin is right to question the 'professionalism' argument that Leo makes: masters degrees are good because they'll raise the status of teaching. But Kevin's argument isn't the best one, I think, but I'm biased because I've written about it before:

Professionalism, however, is not likely to be a successful gambit in schooling, for several reasons. Most importantly, professional ideology is politically unpalatable in the late twentieth century. Trying to use professionalism misunderstands the historical context for the ideology of expertise and its widespread (political) success a century ago. Professionalism in the form of high-status, science-based occupations like medicine and engineering was one response to the chaos of industrialization and changing class structure (Wiebe 1967). Its early proponents argued that the complexities of modern life required technical expertise to solve public policy and practical problems. However, professions include more than high-status jobs, with occupations as diverse as architecture and craft work like plumbing.

A profession typically involves three dimensions: a claim to specialized expertise, some informal or formal credentialing to control entry into the occupation, and autonomy on the job (Friedson 1984). Classroom teaching falls partway among all three dimensions. Classroom teaching does involve some skills that few could walk in off the street with, but the general public has far more knowledge of what happens in classrooms (and is more willing to make second judgments of teaching) than fields like surgery. Long-term teaching requires credentials, but many school systems hire uncredentialed personnel on an emergency basis. Finally, public schools operate as loosely coupled organizations (Weick 1976): Most teachers can shut their doors in the face of some supervisory directives, but material conditions (such as the textbooks available) circumscribe their autonomy on the job, and they face other demands they cannot ignore, such as the official curriculum and standardized tests. We should see the ideology of professionalism thus as attempting to emulate a relatively small slice of all occupations with professional traits rather than, as is typically assumed, making teaching a "real" profession. Teaching already is a real profession, though one with less claim to specialized expertise and less autonomy than advocates of teacher professionalism would want.

Education did professionalize at the same time as law and medicine, but administrators and not teachers were the beneficiaries.

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Posted in Education policy at 11:40 AM (Permalink) |

March 28, 2007

Charter schools and accountability

The Orlando Sentinel has been running a series of articles, Missing the Grade, on the double standard of accountability in Florida public education. Apparently, Escambia Charter School rented out its students "to cut roadside grass and weeds during class time for about 32 hours per week." 

I don't think this is what Florida Governor Charlie Crist had in mind when he willingly accepted the moniker Chain-Gang Charlie for his proposal years ago to bring back a privatized prisoner work-crew system.

Among the various crimes (including grand theft that the school pleaded no contest on): the place is still open. This is not how a charter system is supposed to function.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:03 AM (Permalink) |

March 24, 2007

Accountability Frankenstein is now printed!

Copies of Accountability Frankenstein appeared in my mailbox this afternoon.  Hurrah!  You can buy it directly from the publisher

(Yes, it's available at, but for small publishers, I understand that Amazon is much like Wal-Mart, and I want to make clear that I'm putting the link in for convenience, not because I prefer you use Amazon.  Certainly, the publisher would prefer you use his site!)

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 3:18 PM (Permalink) |

March 23, 2007

The yoke's on me

My fellow faculty union members elected me chapter president for the next year. So why do the by-laws stipulate that I take office on April Fool's Day? 

I've already received congratulations and condolences from several colleagues, and I hope my judgment over the next year justifies the selection.

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Posted in Higher education at 4:52 PM (Permalink) |

Jeb Bush denied honorary diploma

The Gainesville Sun is reporting that the University of Florida faculty senate has denied a request that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush receive an honorary degree. According to the story, several people who either nominated Bush or fear retribution are steamed. We'll see if the fears of political retribution are validated.

This also provides an interesting dilemma for new Governor Charlie Crist, who has committed himself to a much more conciliatory style than Bush had but has also said that he opposes any tuition or fee increases (including the Gators administration's request for $1000/yr extra for the state's flagship university). Does he intercede to buffer the university from political retribution, or does he look the other way and say that he didn't intercede because he was opposed to the university administration's proposal before, and he's focusing on the issues?

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Posted in Higher education at 4:49 PM (Permalink) |

March 22, 2007

State High School Exit Examination database

University of Minnesota sociologist Rob Warren has created a database listing the historical development of State High School Exit Examinations. This is the type of baseline work that makes other research possible. 

Thanks, Rob!

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Posted in Education policy at 6:31 PM (Permalink) |

March 21, 2007

If it's springtime, I must be driving

It's the first day of spring, and I drove 4 hours last night to get to Tallahassee for a press conference that's related to a paper you'll shortly see at CIVIC Concern. (It's even a short paper.) Including city driving, I'll probably have driven 20 hours by the end of the week.

But the paper was fun to write, and I look forward to meeting and appearing with a colleague in a few hours.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:51 AM (Permalink) |

March 20, 2007

Challenging the challenge index

Sara Mead has half of the right argument with Jay Mathews on his challenge index. But because she picks on King High School in Tampa (more on that in a minute), I can tell the other half of the story.

Summary thus far: For a number of years, Jay Mathews (and Newsweek) has published a list of high schools with a high ratio of AP tests taken to graduates. Mathews sees that as a reasonable approximation of the challenge that schools offer students. Previously, he has acknowledged that AP exams are only one type of challenge that schools can offer and that "tests taken" is an imperfect measure of AP participation, let alone success. Today, he argues that Mead (and Andy Rotherham, aka Eduwonk) are falsely impugning the legitimate work done in these schools, even if other measures suggest serious problems:

But in the real world that means C. Leon King High School in Tampa does not belong on the best schools list because of its high dropout rate and low average test scores, even though Newsweek ranked it 73rd in the country in AP and IB test participation last year.

Mathews points out that despite its being a magnet school, the AP and IB tests are not overwhelmingly in the magnet program at King. And one can make an argument that having a magnet (or other specialty) program raises the general capacity of King to offer AP courses and other challenging opportunities. So far, so interesting. Mead responds with a "well, let's look at the other data" argument.

I'm not sure anyone has pointed out the perverse incentive in treating schools like King as a single entity: for every kid in the non-magnet side who drops out, the school looks a little better. Horrific dropout rates can only boost your challenge index so far if the school is a comprehensive high school. On the other hand, a selective-enrollment magnet program has a critical mass of students guaranteed to take plenty of AP classes, and then you have the resources to offer AP classes outside the magnet program as well. So a school that's split into a magnet program and a regular program with lots of poor children who drop out? That should be the gold mine for the challenge index, at least hypothetically.

Anyone want to test my hypothesis?

Note: I don't know what the graduation measures would look like at King if there were decent ones. (I'm skeptical of Florida's official measure.) I know a few teachers at the school and have visited, but I have little global information other than to know from my students that it essentially is two schools on a single campus (the magnet program and the rest of the school).

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Posted in Education policy at 9:57 PM (Permalink) |

More on higher-ed student databases

John Lombardi follows Cliff Adelman to the discussion of unit records and such. At the moment, my ideas on anonymous diploma registration are being left in the dust or on the shelf by the bigwigs. (That's how things go...)

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Posted in Higher education at 7:02 AM (Permalink) |

March 19, 2007

Indoctrinate U - No screenings

So I went to the Indoctrinate U website on screening locations and dates this morning and ... there's nothing there yet.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:46 AM (Permalink) |

News item: Oregon Department of Education falls off continental shelf

According to a quick Google News search, no paper outside Oregon has picked up the story about the testing disaster in the state. Not Ed Week, nor any of the metro dailies.  Wow.

For the reporters who read this blog (all 1.5 of you), um, er, ... isn't the contracting controversy and the massive disruption enough to sell the story to your editor?

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 7:38 AM (Permalink) |

Emory talk April 4 on accountability and expertise

I'll be in Atlanta in a few weeks to talk about School Accountability and the Problem of Professional Expertise. The specifics:

11:30am -1:00 pm
Room 206, Tarbutton Hall
Emory University (map)

Sociology, History, and Educational Studies are sponsoring my visit, and I'm delighted to have the chance to talk about my work.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 7:32 AM (Permalink) |

Reporters do hard work: School consolidation isn't the golden goose

Kudos to Scott Elliott and William Hershey for doing their homework for yesterday's article on school Consolidation: Savings may be fleeting in the Dayton Daily News. The article was about budgets, but there is also some nice research on The Influence of Scale on School Performance by Bob Bickel and Craig Howley from 1998 in Education Policy Analysis Archives.

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Posted in Education policy at 6:47 AM (Permalink) |

March 18, 2007

Quantum scheduling

If last week was the interrupted-work week, the next few weeks is the quantum-scheduling period of the semester. I still have a jury summons for April, a matter that is always uncertain until the facts are observed (i.e., whether I'm on a jury, or if I ask for a postponement, whether I receive one). And right now, I may or may not be in Tallahassee Wednesday, the same day that a candidate with great credentials is coming to campus for a search I've participated in. (Never mind that any candidate coming to campus for a search I'm participating in will have great credentials. Got that, right?)

Apart from my guilt over not knowing if I'll be able to meet the candidate for various events (including seeing the research presentation), I want to meet candidates.  If the search process works well, it's a great opportunity to meet scholars from other parts of the country or world.

So, apart from my frustrations with the quantum scheduling bit, I hate missing the chance to meet people.  Ah, well. This month is definitely the time to reread a bit of Chuang Tze to laugh at the vagaries of life. (Incidentally, is that spelling still the accepted version of his name these days?)

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Posted in Random comments at 8:45 PM (Permalink) |

Oregon, paper-and-pencil testing, and legal action

The Oregon Department of Education March 14 statement makes clear that the rumors of the disruption of online testing as a negotiating tactic by Vantage Learning have some solidity. As Deputy Superintendent Ed Dennis testified on Thursday, after months of conflict over contractual issues, the technical problems mysteriously appeared right after the state department of education essentially said, "No. Finito.  We have another vendor we have a contract with.  That's it." So the department faced a choice of not having testing (losing millions of dollars of federal funding) or scrambling to conduct paper-and-pencil testing. Or caving into the company's ... well, it's not blackmail or greenmail.  Maybe blue-screen-mail?

Oh, yes, and there's now a lawsuit that the state has filed against Vantage.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 6:32 PM (Permalink) |

March 17, 2007

Complementary schismogenesis

I don't know about anything else I accomplished during spring break, but I learned a new term, complementary schismogenesis, that has its roots in a 1935 article by Gregory Bateson about cultural contact but is probably less used today by anthropologists than communications folks such as linguist and pop-communications writer Deborah Tannen. (See a June 2006 entry in Omniglot for a decent explanation from a communications perspective.)

The devolution of the term from a macro-societal context (what happens when two cultures interact) to microdynamics (what happens when two people interact) is a fascinating evolution in the social sciences. In both cases, the term refers to a dynamic that reinforces asymmetrical (and often dysfunctional) relationships. In the anthropology of education, John Ogbu's work comes closest to the term, arguing that involuntary minority cultures have responded to long histories of oppression by crafting an oppositional identity and punishing members of the culture who pick up even functional attributes of the dominant culture. Tannen's example of men who like to play Devil's Advocate pushing women to withdraw from active participation, a behavior which in turn reinforces the conversational argumentation of men, is a stereotypical example on the micro level.

On one level, the borrowing of concepts from another discipline is evidence of interdisciplinary creativity. On another level, I wonder if we do ourselves a disfavor by attempting to use society-scale concepts to explain individual or small-group behavior. At some point, scale does matter, and usually the borrowing/translation is one way, from the social down to the individual level.  The borrowing is sufficiently asymmetrical that there's an old joke Doug Fuchs told me about a troubled man who leaves a psychologist's office without talking to the therapist:  "I'm sorry, but you can't help me. My problems are so big, I need a sociologist."

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Posted in Reading at 4:54 PM (Permalink) |

Oregon moves back to paper-and-pencil tests

After the disaster with Venture Systems' online testing system, the Oregon Department of Education has decided to return to paper-and-pencil testing for the rest of the year. This change is going to be disruptive; how much or the effects on accountability measures, I don't know.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 7:53 AM (Permalink) |

Utah's attempt to limit gay-straight clubs in school may backfire

The NY Times article on the Utah law adding lots of red tape to all student groups (i.e., a law hoping to eliminate gay-straight alliances in Utah's high schools) may backfire, because it requires that all clubs be treated equally in placement on bulletin boards, and because the teens currently in clubs became politically active (and probably the next generation of activists in the state once they graduate).

As the article notes, the federal Equal Access Act, which protects such clubs, was originally sponsored by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch to protect the activities of after-school Bible reading groups.

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Posted in Education policy at 7:50 AM (Permalink) |

Suspended for praying or for blocking traffic?

The story of the 12 Heritage High School students' suspensions after they prayed in the school's corridors is probably going to become an urban legend.  

According to the story in the Columbian, the students prayed in the class's corridors, and administrators asked them to move to a room so they wouldn't block traffic. Administrators claim that because the students refused a legitimate request made out of concern for safety, it was the insubordination that was the cause of the suspension. Students claim that the administrators' real reason was because other students complained about the praying, not the traffic-blocking.

According to the 1995 Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in the Public Schools, groups with different views on church-state relations agree on students' right to pray: "In informal settings, such as the cafeteria or in the halls, students may pray either audibly or silently, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other speech in these locations."

I know nothing about the layout of Heritage High School, but I suspect a good deal of this depends on whether there is any broad open space such as a courtyard instead of confined hallways. If there is, administrators should have suggested moving the prayer group there instead of a classroom. If there isn't, then it looks like there would be no feasible non-classroom public space for praying on school grounds without disrupting traffic.

But this is already being blown out of proportion. The linked article quotes Liberty Counsel president Anita Staver as saying, "It is absolutely outrageous that the school allowed one Satanist student to exercise a heckler's veto over the other students' speech." Way to go on civility, Anita.

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Posted in Education policy at 7:42 AM (Permalink) |

March 15, 2007

Republicans are revolting

Please don't make the obvious joke: Mel Brooks had the best shot at it many years ago. But the Washington Post story on Peter Hoekstra's NCLB-emasculation bill is a telling indicator of the president's declining moral and political authority within his own party. In 2000, he convinced voters he was a "compassionate conservative," and his (deserved or undeserved) claim to being an education reformer was a critical part of that image.

At this point, he has convinced voters and members of his own party that he lacked the other, crucial C: competence. Within the party, that's a matter of political competence. For GOP members of Congress, the fallout is that they are paying far more attention to their constituents than they are to the White House.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:09 AM (Permalink) |

March 14, 2007

NCLB "just like a communist country"?

In today's Washington Post story on NCLB and the 100% proficiency goal, Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) is quoted with the inevitable comparison to outlandish claims from the Soviet era:

"It's just like a communist country saying that they used to have 100 percent participation in elections," Hoekstra said. "You knew it wasn't true, but a bureaucrat could come up with that answer. And that's what will happen here."

I thought Hoekstra would say something about Five-Year Plans, the Great Leap Forward, and so forth, but instead it's about electoral participation.  Sheesh, guy: If you're going to try the rhetorical roundhouse punch, do it with gusto.  This wimpiness is obviously why Republicans lost Congress in November.  (No, it's not, but I refuse to let this good line go unused.)

My concern with the debate as portrayed in the Post story is that it's all black-and-white rhetoric: Either our opponents are unreasonable or lowering expectations. It's easy to say that we want students to have a "world class education" (whatever that is) or to be "proficient" (whatever that means), and it's tempting to say that instead we should be rewarding "growth" (whatever we decide that might be).  Nowhere is the hard work of deciding what we should expect from students.

Here's an exercise for the reader: take the best work of students from a sample of graduating students in the nearest high school. Get 15 members of the community (some educators, some politically involved, some small business owners, others), and have them look at the work and then answer the following questions:

  • Is the school expecting the right things from students?
  • Are students meeting those expectations?
  • If the answer to either of the first two questions is no, what should happen next?

I expect that the discussion will be long and interesting, but not easy.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:37 AM (Permalink) |

March 13, 2007

One of those days when the walrus stomps on your toe while reading sonnets...

In several ways, the day has been quite good, from discovering that the way a friend and I had thought of poking around the back of Richard Ingersoll's work is quite interesting in the results to completing several critical errands.

Then there are the other things, from driving 50 miles in city traffic starting at noon to not getting ahold of the person from whom I ordered my son's oboe reeds about 2 weeks ago (and they're still not here) to not finishing another task I had intended to or getting a step along the way of a weeklong task to ... well... let's put it this way:

I just got a jury summons for the day I had planned to be in Chicago for the annual meeting of AERA.

I could ask my department to declare me essential to get me out of jury duty, but I'm not teaching that day, and AERA rejected the session proposal I had submitted last summer. I don't want to waste my "get out of jury duty" karma on this. And I wouldn't find out whether I was excused until too late to change plans. So sheesh. I knew I had a travel curse this semester (having to give up two potential leisure trips already and another quasi-business trip rescheduled), but this is getting ridiculous.

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Posted in Random comments at 11:20 PM (Permalink) |

March 12, 2007

Cliff Adelman suggests college graduation measure adjustment

The author of The Toolbox Revisited  has chimed in with his suggested solution to the awful IPEDS graduation-rate and the unit records database proposal. Cliff Adelman's idea of expanding the base of students included in the graduation rate, reporting separately by entering mode, and trying to connect transfers across institutions via non-federal sources is a reasonable substitute for my idea of anonymous diploma registration. I'm not sure which is more feasible or better from a technical perspective.

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Posted in Education policy at 7:44 AM (Permalink) |

March 10, 2007

Electronic Oregon testing system "crashes and burns"

In Oregon, the online system of testing students broke down this week. The Associated Press's Aaron Clark reports that the problems may be part of hardball negotiating tactics of Vantage Learning while it tries to wrest what it can from the state on the contract that's ending this year. One Oregon teacher described the situation as "crashing and burning all over the state."

If there is documentation that the problems are deliberate decisions of Vantage Learning, I suspect you'll see the company have a very hard time getting contracts. In fact, even if they aren't, the company's in serious trouble in terms of documenting capacity.

This story underlines the reality of testing for the last 40 years or more: State departments of education don't create tests.  They manage contracts with outside companies.

Update: The Oregon Department of Education has set a deadline of March 13 for making a decision about how to proceed.

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

Accountability Frankenstein: the podcast

The Accountability Frankenstein podcast is now online with its first episode (a reading of the book preface, with the permission of the publisher). Successive podcasts will be released approximately twice a month for the next half-year or so (possibly longer).

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:50 AM (Permalink) |

March 9, 2007

Caution: Life changes ahead

This weekend is the beginning of my spring break, and a colleague and I were joking about how we're so well-socialized that we think of break as an opportunity to clear some of the work backlog. Yes, I'll also relax.

I can't quite announce something officially yet (no, it's not a job switch, exactly), but there was something decided today that will be changing some aspects of my life in the next year (and possibly beyond).  I'll write about it when it's official.

One of our zebra finches died overnight from an intestinal blockage. Carl was a young bird who was cheerful and adventurous. We're going to miss him.  We have two others, and they've spent the day ripping up newspaper to stuff in a food dish.  Silly things.

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Posted in Random comments at 4:39 PM (Permalink) |

March 7, 2007

Dear stranger grad student

Yes, dear grad student at another institution, I have received your e-mails imploring me to participate in your online survey of faculty's interest in splotnik and splotnik needs, but I don't wish to participate. I'm offended that you've spammed me for research purposes, and I hope your advisor is asking how you are selecting targets, since response rates and response characteristics affect the trustworthiness of data.

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Posted in Random comments at 8:28 AM (Permalink) |

March 6, 2007

Enron and the social meaning of cheating

Kevin Carey's entry today at The Quick and the Ed references a comment I made yesterday to Enron and Worldcom, in a discussion about test preparation. I'm not sure if he realized he was taking my reference out of context, but he makes an important argument, even if it's only half of the picture.

  • Taking my comment out of context: This is a relatively minor point: I was arguing that not all judgments are amenable to representative data collection or require such data before being concerned about something (in this, test prep; in 2001, corporate fraud). Carey took my mention of Enron and Worldcom and went off in a different direction...
  • An important argument that Carey makes is that the popular demand after the corporate accounting scandals a half decade ago was to insist on more accountability. That's true. However,...
  • It's only half of the picture: The "corporate accountability" rhetoric since 2001 has not been about making corporations more in tune with short-term investor demands but address the gaming-the-system issue. Sarbanes-Oxley does not change the requirement that corporations have to report revenues and other financial information truthfully and transparently, but it adds additional teeth.  Sarbanes-Oxley also does not intensify any of the investor-corporation dynamics that Enron and Worldcom were responding to. So while the rhetoric was more accountability, it didn't change the larger picture and wasn't the same type as what we think of in education. (For the record, I'm all in favor of accuracy and transparency in whatever data is made available publicly.)

As far as I'm aware, apart from the different argument I made, the only reference to Enron and Worldcom fitting Carey's description is in Collateral Damage, and it's in a passage where Nichols and Berliner are discussing the difference between acknowledging a social phenomenon and excusing it. A Google search on several terms brings up exactly two pages, though maybe different keyword configurations might bring up others. 

And without the detritus of the trope, the question remains: apart from investigating specific incidents, what is the social meaning of cheating and gaming the system?

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

March 5, 2007

Some typical responses to concerns about test-prep

Both Eduwonk and This Week in Education are minimizing the concerns over test-prep that are illustrated by the Washington Post "bubble kids" story over the weekend. Eduwonk (aka Andy Rotherham) calls it "hand-wringing and whining," and and TWiE (aka Alexander Russo) says it's essentially revisiting the issue "whose scope and depth and negative impact remain not entirely clear or documented in this story."

For several reasons, I'm reading those as honest responses rather than spin. I don't understand the minimization, but I think they come by it honestly. On the other hand, there are several political reasons to pay attention to the issue. First, the "this is not a problem" stance wears thing pretty quickly when the reality of parents' and kids' lives look different. Reformers stop looking like reformers when they stop trying to capture problems and own the solutions to them. As far as I'm aware, no strong NCLB advocate has attempted to suggest solutions to the proliferation of test-prep. The only one I know who has acknowledged the problem is Diane Ravitch, to her credit.

The second political reason to pay attention to the issue is the forthcoming arrival of an important book on the topic. No, I'm not talking about Accountability Frankenstein (though I'd love to be proven wrong about that) but Collateral Damage, by Sharon Nichols and David Berliner. Apart from the various surveys of teachers cited in the book, it includes voluminous documentation of anecdotes.  The plural of anecdotes is not representative data, but there are enough concerns over the past 5 years that we can say those who ignore test preparation and other side-effects of high-stakes testing are ignoring reality

... unless any of those happened to say that the fraud at WorldCom and Enron wasn't a reason to be concerned about corporate misdeeds. Then at least they can say they were consistent.

Update: Eduwonk updates his entry to write "it's an issue but my point is that it's not inherent in the policy."

I agree with him that it's possible to have a school in a high-stakes system that doesn't have weeks of test-prep, and at some level it's an administrative decision to respond to pressure in that way. On the other hand, the combination has led to widespread dysfunctional behavior, and I'm not sure it's fruitful asking whether it's high-stakes accountability or the underlying system behavior that's "responsible" for test-prep. That's sort of like asking whether it's the ammonia or the bleach that's the cause of the fumes.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 5:36 PM (Permalink) |

March 4, 2007

Sweden ho! (in June)

In late June, I'm headed outside North America for the first time since 1973. It's for the 2007 meeting of the Society for the History of Children and Youth, and appropriately enough I committed myself to looking at educational attainment internationally.

Even though I'm late with the registration, it's a virtual steal, only 1000 kronors, and I can get a hotel room for 540 kronors/night (apart from VAT, of course). Cool! So I have my plane reservations, registration, hotel accommodations in Linkoping, and I think I have everything I need (visas apparently don't need to be acquired before travel), with two exceptions...

I can't make train reservations to get between Copenhagen airport and Linkoping University yet, and I need to find a hotel in Copenhagen the last night before I fly back. I just need to wait a few weeks for the train reservations, but if someone has suggestions for a hotel that's a little different from the Danish version of corporate hotels (e.g., Scandic Sydhavnen), please let me know!

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Posted in History at 11:32 PM (Permalink) |

Freakonomics author fails history of econ 101

Steven D. Levitt gets an "F" for understanding the history of his own discipline in his blog entry Let's just get rid of tenure (including mine).  He writes,

The idea that tenure protects scholars who are doing politically unpopular work strikes me as ludicrous. While I can imagine a situation where this issue might rarely arise, I am hard pressed to think of actual cases where it has been relevant.

Apparently Levitt never heard of the 1940s pressure of dairy interests to force the withdrawal of Iowa State College's pamphlet on the economic benefits of margarine in a wartime economy, Ted Schultz's defense of the pamphlet, and Schultz's leaving Iowa State in disgust afterwards. I had assumed that was common lore among economists, given Schultz's status in the field, but maybe I'm wrong.

Update: Kevin Carey disputes the significance of my remarks. I will acknowledge that in the rush of yesterday evening I went for the credibility issue that struck me, suggesting that Levitt was shooting from the hip rather than thinking about his own discipline. (There are still vested interests in economics.) I'll stick with that judgment and let others go for the main issue of whether academic freedom requires tenure. ... for now. It's the week before spring break, and too many things to do to give a full response.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 6:51 PM (Permalink) |

The bubble kids

Daniel de Vise's story in the Washington Post today is an illustration of high-stakes testing triage, describing what happened in January in Wood Middle School in Rockville, Maryland:

Principal Renee Foose told teachers to cross off the names of students who had virtually no chance of passing and those certain to pass. Those who remained, children on the cusp between success and failure, would receive 45 minutes of intensive test preparation four days a week, until further notice.

Jennifer Booher-Jennings has documented the same behavior in a school in Texas, along with language I thought was only my invention ("bubble" referring to "teams on the bubble" for the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection process), and these are only the best-documented cases of what happens across the country.

Note what did not happen: kids' being targeted for instruction based on need. Instead, only those "on the bubble" received extra attention, and it is very clear that in this school, triage was for test-preparation purposes.

Making sure that the testing environment is distraction-free?  Sure. Making sure that kids are familiar with the test format? Absolutely. Spending 3 hours a week on test preparation unconnected with the curriculum?  Nuts.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 7:47 AM (Permalink) |

March 3, 2007

Why I am a history-education half-breed

The last of my Michael-Katz-student bloggish discussions, on my being a history-education half-breed and other matters of scholarly parochialism, is over at Education Policy Blog.

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Posted in History at 7:51 AM (Permalink) |

March 2, 2007

50 and counting

It's been a longish week. Starting Sunday, I've worked 50 hours, not including union-related time (and given that there was a campus crisis, that absorbed a few hours, too). At least 12 hours of that has been catchup on the backroom operations of Education Policy Analysis Archives (and I'm still not caught up, by any means).

Note to anyone who think I'm asking for pity or plaudits: Except for the campus crisis that I'm not counting here, most of this has been enjoyable. And by no means am I the hardest-working member of my department, let alone my college or university. I just occasionally log hours in a week to see if my sense of time is consistent with reality. And my sense of this week is that it's been a long week, if not the week when I've spent the most time working.

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Posted in Random comments at 2:05 PM (Permalink) |

"That's so gay" lawsuit

An AP story on a California lawsuit centers on a school's warning a student for saying, "That's so gay" after being insulted for being Mormon (the insult aimed at her was "Do you have 10 moms?"). This is a case of 2 insults don't make a right, but there's a question of whether quasi-disciplinary treatment is the best way to get at (target of choice)-baiting. The story doesn't indicate what happened to the student other than a warning of some kind and a note in the student's record (though whether it was in the student's permanent file isn't stated, and for a variety of reasons I suspect that wouldn't be the case). Nor is there any record in the article of whether the administrators went after the students who were insulting her.

In this case, though not for longer-term patterns or a continuation of a dangerous conflict at a school, I think an approach that starts with notice and counsel for casual insults is better than some not-quite-discipline version of discipline, which sounds like unofficially official double-secret probation. A lot of this depends on context, at least legally and to many perspectives.  An isolated "that's so gay" when there is no record of ongoing violence or harassment in a particular school or from the individual is different from the same comment or worse in the locker room of a school that has had five recent fights related to alleged sexual orientation and harassment.

I know teenagers who have dealt with both casual insults and clear harassment, and the responses were different but still seemed appropriate in each case.  In one case, I was told that a bus-stop conversation went something like the following:

Student 1: That's so gay.

Student 2: What's wrong with being gay?

Student 1: Nothing.  I was just saying.

Student 2: Don't worry.  I don't want to go out with you.

Student 1:  I don't want to go out with you, either!

In the other case (harassment), I was told that one of the targets asked the teacher in one class to stand with her as she confronted the harasser, repeated back to him what he had said and done, told him it was unacceptable harassment and that she expected him to stop. The other target, who was a 9th grader, refused to confront the harasser, so it was shrewd to ask the teacher to be a witness. And the teacher relayed the information to one of the school's intervention staff, who followed up with the harasser (who I hope changes his behavior in the long term; at least it worked in the short term).

Other blog comments at Gay South Florida and OFF/beat.

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Posted in Education policy at 11:48 AM (Permalink) |