May 30, 2007

Under scrutiny

In this morning's IHE article on Ward Churchill, we read one of the two serious arguments put forward by Churchill's defenders:

James Craven, a professor of economics at Clark College, in Washington State, said that Churchill was subjected to a level of scrutiny that few professors have ever faced or could withstand. "How many scholars could have their own work vetted as his was?" said Craven.

Without addressing motives and the horrible traffic-stop analogy that has been floating around the blogosphere in the last day or two, we can look at this as a separate issue, or rather two: as an empirical question of whether all scholars' work is as flawed as Churchill's and as a more general question of what type of scrutiny is appropriate when questions arise about any scholar's work.

First, to the empirical question: Could my work or that of most of my peers withstand the type of scrutiny that Churchill's had? I think the answer is easily. The problems that the peer reviews found at the University of Colorado were not matters of the occasional citation flub or typographical error, the missing acknowledgment of a peer or the "why don't you look at X's work?" question that is common in article manuscript reviews and in book reviews (if conjugated in the latter with the regretful past indicative instead of the suggestive imperative interrogatory). Churchill's errors were crucial to his intepretation, repeated, deliberate, and uncorrected.

Above all else, the last quality is what separates you and me and the birds from Mr. Churchill. If someone points out a mistake to me, or if I see it myself, I've tried to find some way to acknowledge and correct the error. If someone is truly after my hide, I will trust that my various attempts at errata will protect me from allegations of misdeeds if not criticism. And that's the difference between a legitimate investigation and a witch-hunt: a witch-hunt doesn't care about the evidence.

More generally, I'm not sure we can say what level of scrutiny is appropriate when conducting investigations, except to say that such an investigation is necessarily going to be broad-ranging and, er, um, usually will rely on published sources, material that we academics have written and sent out there to be read. Yes, boys and girls and grad students, the published work of academics is public. Despite some lingering doubts in the occasional subspecialty with 2-3 experts in the entire world, we generally write stuff that we want people to read, perhaps even understand. Under most circumstances, we would be highly flattered if someone read every one of our writings carefully.

The consequence of this small but important fact of academic life is that we have no complaints when our stuff is read closely. Apart from the occasional typographical error introduced by typesetting, the flaws in my writing are my fault, and I have no one to blame if someone actually reads it.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 8:07 AM (Permalink) |

May 29, 2007

Ward, redux(ionist)

University of Colorado President has drafted a letter that would recommend that the university regents fire Ward Churchill. I'll admit that the comment on IHE's story by "Frizbane Manley" is hilarious, far better than any of Churchill's writings. I hereby recommend that Manley get tenure as a IHE commentator.

Oh, wait. You probably were expecting me to comment on the situation, right? Churchill fabricated, falsified, and plagiarized. Firing him wouldn't be awful, nor would a 5-year suspension without pay or a 2-year suspension without pay combined with stripping him of tenure and returning him to assistant professor status where he'd have to earn tenure just like he did origi— Oh, wait.  Right. End that last sentence after he'd have to earn tenure.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 8:57 AM (Permalink) |

May 26, 2007

Americas secondary enrollment trace, late 20th c.

Thanks to a a great Excel chart tip, I can now provide one way of summarizing synthetic-cohort educational attainment data from the following countries using census data from the second half of the 20th century:

  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Ecuador
  • Those born in Mexico and enumerated in either Mexico or the U.S. in 1960, 1970, 1990, or 2000
  • United States
  • Venezuela

All of this is courtesy of the International Public Use Microdata Sample library, a wonderful resource available without use charge to any researcher in the world. You can download this Excel file with the relevant chart and use the scroll bar on the right to highlight the key data from any country, period, and sex combination. More in the full entry...

Very roughly, each line indicates the proportion at each age that would have completed secondary education but only secondary education (no university degree), if a hypothetical cohort went through ages 15-35 with the same educational experiences implied for the intercensal period by the census microdata at each end of the period in question.

There are the usual number of quirks and quibbles—quirkles?—embodied in this chart, from some key model issues to the algorithmic details:

  • The census estimates at the base of this chart start with only those born in the country, with the exception of Mexico (explained below)
  • I assume that there is no substantial differential mortality by educational attainment for the years in question
  • I assume similarly that out-migration does not substantially affect attainment (again with the exception of Mexico)
  • I estimate the cross-sectional proportion with a credential at an exact age as the average of the proportions in surrounding single-year age intervals, smoothed in the case of the Latin American countries at many ages as three-year averages (in the age intervals). Many of the increments are again smoothed with moving three-year averages and then fixed at 0 if slightly negative.
  • The model I'm using (from Carl Schmertmann's 2002 article [$]) is an estimate of intercensal increments without weighting by person-years, unlike most intercensal estimate techniques.

Of all these issues, the migration assumptions are the ones that will raise the most eyebrows, and I hope that if you've read this far, you're wondering why I combined the U.S. and Mexico census data. The basic answer to the latter question is because I could. Both Mexico and the U.S. conducted censuses in 1960, 1970, 1990, and 2000, and I was curious if the results would be affected by including U.S. residents born in Mexico. I discovered that for some ages (older teens and those in their 20s), more than 10% of those born in Mexico were residing in the U.S. for some of the censuses. That's a fascinating statistic in itself, and the existence of the same-year censuses suggests a potential for cross-national social histories using the censuses in question. I'm still puzzling over questions of "effects," since we don't know who spent which years where from the census stats, just the end result for the population as a whole.

I used the secondary-and-only-secondary-attainment line because it shows both secondary and college attainment. The up-slope shows secondary attainment, and the downslope shows college attainment (absent some late secondary graduation).

Bon appetit!

Oh, yes: For those following these things, my son's team won their first tournament game today, 14-2 (ten-run rule after four innings). By doing so, they've saved their #2 and #3 pitchers for tomorrow's game. Then everything gets harried, regardless of the results, and all teams go through their experienced pitchers. Spahn and Sain, then pray for rain?

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Posted in Research at 4:58 PM (Permalink) |

Excel zen

I'm a fan of Edward Tufte in terms of information design, even if he did clash with Jakob Nielsen in an OK/Cancel superhero spoof of HCI gurus. Every year or so I dip into the website to see if there's more stuff I need to learn. Tufte hates PowerPoint and Excel with a passion, though many of us don't have the time to climb the learning curve of alternative programs.

But to the point: if you work with Excel, check out Juice Analytics' wonderful writings about improving charts. I don't have time to work with them at the moment (too busy with other items this week), but I will create beauty using these tools someday.

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Posted in Random comments at 7:41 AM (Permalink) |

May 25, 2007

Holding my fingers back, regretfully

I'd love to type a few hundred words on the major testing story in Florida this week, the Department of Education's acknowledgment Wednesday that they blew the scores on last year's tests. But here's why I haven't:

  • This summer I'm teaching in Sarasota Wednesday evenings, and all that afternoon and evening I was either prepping, in class, or driving between Sarasota and Tampa.
  • Yesterday was the last school day for my children, and I picked up one child at school and then had my beautiful, wonderful children with me for the rest of the day. My daughter decided that she wanted me to drive her to the afternoon martial-arts class instead of go with her mom to the evening class, and my son had baseball practice a little later. (His Little League team is in the county's championship, having won their local league.)
  • I'm on deadline with a paper for the meeting of the Society for the History of Childhood and Youth, "Comparative Educational Attainment Portraits 1940-2002." The paper has to be uploaded by a week from today.

That, plus a few other obligations, has meant that I've chosen not to engage in link sausage or discussion.  And when I discovered this morning that I had the same attainment figures for Venezuelan natives in Venezuela and Mexican natives in the U.S., that gave me some confirmation that I need to concentrate on the task at hand.  (Short explanation: I put a duplicate file of the Venezuela SAS file in the folder where I kept the other materials and mixed them up. All sorted out now.)

(For the 2.5 readers keeping track of my research, this is an extension of last year's Social Science History Association paper, where I tried out some new estimation techniques on U.S. census data. That worked quite well, so now I'm using openly-available historical international census data.)

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 9:24 AM (Permalink) |

May 22, 2007

Stop the presses: Conservative blasts merit pay!

Fordham Foundation guy-at-the-podcast Liam Julian criticizes merit pay in a Tallahassee Democrat op-ed. Oh, wait: he's criticizing payments to students based on test scores, not teachers.

Julian argues that the distinction between the two is in the difference between the roles: "Teachers are doing a job and students are receiving a service." Two points here: First, both teachers and students are working, or so I'd like to see. My parents forbade me and my siblings from working during the school year, and they told us, "School is your job." If anything, the argument that students should only have long-term rewards for test scores implies that somehow teachers have shorter memories than students. Second, I'm not sure it's easy to stuff that commodification/reward genie back in the bottle, after Pizza Hut awards for reading, breakfasts and luncheons for honor-roll members, National Merit Scholarships based on test scores, etc.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:24 PM (Permalink) |

Topsy-turvy education news

I don't know whether to cry or laugh at the news this morning: parents have to go to the Supreme Court to represent their children with disabilites and Secretary Spellings heads to the satirical Daily Show to deflect criticism stemming from the continuing scandals over Reading First and college student loan kickbacks.

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Posted in Education policy at 12:16 PM (Permalink) |

More on Haleh Esfandiari

The Iranian government's actions are getting far uglier in the case of Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian-American scholar who was detained after visiting her elderly mother. See more by Manan Ahmed and Engage, as well as the Free Haleh site (sponsored by the American Islamic Congress).

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:15 AM (Permalink) |

May 21, 2007

Indulging in number-crunching on teacher flows

A friend and I have been batting some research on teacher demographics back and forth over a few years, and it's my turn this month to do some number-crunching involving the Current Population Survey (CPS) and simulations of what would happen to those entering and leaving teaching assuming a stationery population (as if the numbers of a population and all the age-specific rates remained constant). This is a way to check Richard Ingersoll's claims about early attrition against some national data (putting School and Staffing Survey and CPS together).

To put it briefly, what we're going to come up with is going to be a very different look at the flow into and out of teaching, based on age rather than time in the profession. There are some very good reasons to use this approach rather than what one might assume is the "natural" way of asking what happens after one enters teaching. Both are perfectly fine if you have the data for it. We have the data to look at age, and the results are going to surprise a bunch of people (but probably not you, dear reader). No, no numbers to put up here, since I need to finish the work and get, uh, my co-author's feedback/vetting/check. Oh, yeah, and we're hoping to publish this in a journal. 

I did the last bit of data downloading this evening to finish up the analysis with one of the four panels of data we're working on. It's simple in concept but very detail-oriented in practice and required a few hours of uninterrupted time... at one of my regular near-home "offices" (i.e., a coffee shop). Since the last week has been incredibly fragmented, I'm treating this as indulgence.  Yes, research is indulgence. And a blast.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:21 PM (Permalink) |

May 19, 2007

I hate discomfort's side effects

Mild venting here: I have some moderate lower-back pain today. Yes, I've done the back exercises you're supposed to do (do not lie down with ordinary muscle-related back pain if you can avoid it), and I'm sure it will go away in a day.

But one consequence is that I have just a touch less energy and a lot less capacity to concentrate... just in time for my son's sleepover birthday party tonight. So if you read some blog entries and wonder why I'm blogging instead of completing other work tasks... well, some things take more concentration than others. The discomfort's mild in terms of pain. The mental costs are much greater.

Incidents such as this always makes me appreciate every pain-free day I ever have (which fortunately is most of them, at this point in my life).

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Posted in Random comments at 4:29 PM (Permalink) |

Middle schools and getting students to be organized and do the work

As anyone who has taught or been a parent to someone in the middle grades knows, the most common apparent reason for student failure in grades 6-8 is not completing or turning in the work.  (We're not talking Aristotelian causes yet...) Joanne Jacobs links to a chain of opposing views on giving students incompletes: Laura/Huerter0, who describes a conversation at her school (whose value was primarily getting the staff to talk about the problem), and The Science Goddess, who thinks that forcing students to respond to incomplete work by, er, doing it will short-circuit the habit of many students to do the minimum work necessary... or often below the minimum, given standard adolescent miscalculations.

I'll offer two perspectives here, a personal one and a professional one. I find myself sympathetic to the younger adolescent student on this point, in part because I'm horribly disorganized myself. Whatever skills I have in forming big-picture judgments, making short-term efforts on projects, and being persistent over the long term cover up for a chaotic mind and a habitual lack of organization in any physical space I manage. I see children who stuff papers into a backpack without filing them neatly and see myself. I have sympathy for students who cannot get their lockers to open in less than 2 minutes, so don't go to lockers between classes. I pity the 70-pound student whose middle-grade teachers insist on their carrying every single paper from every class put neatly in binders that then almost outweigh the student when all stuffed into a backpack (not even counting texts). The problem with the One True Way to introduce students to an organized student life in sixth or seventh grade is that there is no One True Student, and some part of the bristling is the students' recognition of the gap between the teacher's convenience and what works for a student.

As a parent, I've done the First 30 Days' routine with two sixth graders: Every day, you sit down, go over everything, and make sure the work is done. Praise until the adolescent's eyes start to roll. Then hope that the first round is an inoculation with no booster needed. (Eduwonk and Michele from NCLBlog, your times are coming on this, I assure you.) But if my life now is a fragmented kaleidescope of work, chauffeuring, and making whatever personal connections are possible in the time remaining, how can I not be sympathetic to the adolescents who have less than a third of my life experience, especially when they are in less control of their time than I am?

At the same time, I've also been on the other end, as a teacher of students who are in college for the first semester or returning after a long gap. There is only so much I can bend for the students, and while I try to compensate with scaffolding (such as the week's checklist I posted on my class's Blackboard site Thursday), the uniform scaffolding only goes so far when there are individual problems: some students haven't gotten their IDs yet, so they can't access the Blackboard site.  And don't talk to me about incomplete semester grades, when I know some proportion of students will just not finish the work or turn it in at an incredibly inconvenient time for me to respond to it. (Fortunately, most such students acknowledge that if they were late with the work, they can't complain when I can't get around to it quickly.)

Professional perspective: Assigning either zeroes or incompletes for undone work is a coping mechanism, part of the routines of a teacher's life. No routine is guaranteed to motivate students, and to some extent one shouldn't expect coping mechanisms to solve others' problems. That doesn't mean that schools can't do a better job of the routines: forcing students to carry around pounds and pounds of paper in the name of organization is ... uh ... largely counterproductive. Many elementary teachers use folders with pockets for student work, and I suspect that would work fairly well in middle school (with more folders, of course), as long as there is a rotating schedule of when classes shift material from folders to binders. Yes, I think the poor planner (which is usually ignored by October and generally disintegrates around March) could be replaced with a folder. But that's my particular coping-mechanism idea. Tips and tricks are important, but they don't address larger problems in schooling.

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Posted in Education policy at 4:24 PM (Permalink) |

NASBE may have evolution opponent as leader

The National Association of State Boards of Education's upcoming election turns out to have one candidate now for president-elect: Kenneth R. Willard, who is part of the anti-evolution faction on the Kansas Board of Education. He'd take office in a few years, but I can't imagine that this will do NASBE any good in terms of its reputation.

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Posted in Education policy at 9:31 AM (Permalink) |

May 17, 2007

Florida NRT scores

Today, the Florida Department of Education released the scores from this spring's norm-referenced testing in reading and math. The basic story: nothing clear. Some scores went up slightly in terms of percentile rank, some went down, and a number stayed about the same. The spin from the department is that the state's percentile rank is higher than the norming population. That's probably true of all states using the SAT-10: the Lake Wobegone Effect, to use Cannell's term.

Obvious caveat: I've never seen any educational purpose to norm-referenced testing. The only purpose of norm-referenced testing that I've heard argued forcefully and well is the cynical one, to market your district or state as "above-average."  

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:13 PM (Permalink) |

May 15, 2007

Graduation news

Several items of note related to high school graduation:

  1. Yesterday, the Texas House of Representatives initially approved the elimination of the 22-year-old requirement that high school graduates pass a state exam. The state senate's proposal would replace the generic achievement tests with end-of-course exams. The House proposal faces another vote today. (My personal prediction: whether the House approves it, the complete elimination of the requirement is unlikely. The Senate's proposal will probably win the day.)
  2. Florida's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability has issued a report on what happened to graduation in Florida since the shift in the state's graduation exam from an older exam to the FCATs. The basic story: there isn't clear evidence that the shift in exams led to decreased graduation, since the cohort analysis suggests a moderate rise of graduation over the boundary years (before and after the switch). This is not a surprise to me, since the research literature is mixed, and one wouldn't expect clear evidence from a single state or the relatively crude measures available in Florida. Subtler and more interesting information about passing rates at different grades (i.e., the original test-taking vs. retakes) is buried in Tables B-2 and B-3, on p. 10. Note: the retakes are different tests in effect because they don't contain the performance items that are in the 10th grade FCAT, and there are the usual caveats on the cohort analysis given Florida's W26 problem.
  3. Secretary Spellings and Senator Kennedy co-wrote (or had co-ghostwritten?) an op-ed on the "high school dropout crisis." Flashback to my book on the subject (check available libraries): Yes, dropping out is a problem, but not necessarily for the human-capital reasons Spellings and Kennedy use. Dropping out became a headline issue in the 1960s as graduation trends were rising, because it marked when graduation became the norm for teenagers. While there are human-capital effects of education, there is no clear threshold when failing to graduate from high school has a different individual or social effect. We should be worried about the differential graduation rates for civil-rights reasons more than human-capital reasons. On that front, it's clear that the differences in graduation reflect and are part of broader inequalities in educational outcomes.

And for those who don't want to buy my 11-year-old book, there's also my article, High-Stakes Testing and the History of Graduation (2003). (Incidentally, someone on Fordham's The Gadfly staff misread the article when it came out 4 years ago, claiming that I tried to use 20th Century history to predict the effects of high-stakes tests that must be passed to earn high-school diplomas. You may not be surprised to learn that the author thinks they will cause graduation rates to decline, dropouts to rise, and confusion to persist over the "social meaning of diplomas." No, folks: That's not what I said. B- on comprehension. Aaargh, indeed.)

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Posted in Education policy at 8:22 AM (Permalink) |

Iran arrests Haleh Esfandiari

Human Rights Watch is reporting the detention of the head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars's Middle East program. She went to Iran to visit her mother and had her passports robbed shortly before she was to return, subjected to questioning when she asked for replacement travel documents, and then arrested a week ago.

As Jeff Weintraub notes, Esfandiari's arrest fits into a larger pattern of Iran's arresting intellectuals with dual citizenship in the West.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 5:23 AM (Permalink) |

May 14, 2007

Mis-Remembering Title IX

The debate over the 2005 reinterpretation of college athletic applications of Title IX tends to avoid acknowledging the truth: the higher-ed athletic application of Title IX is only one part of what Title IX's prohibition on gender discrimination touched, and it's probably the least important large chunk of Title IX's effects. In the decade before Title IX's passage as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, ...

  • Schools could slot students into program by sex and could make programs differentially available by sex (classically, home economics for girls and shop for boys, or higher math and science just for boys)
  • High schools expelled pregnant students and students who had given birth (I know: it still happens today, but it's clearly illegal)
  • Administrators were not held responsible for looking the other way when teachers discriminated based on sex
  • A small fraction of administrators were female
  • Many K-12 schools had no athletic programs for girls

Unless I explain these facts to students, many assume that Title IX only affects athletics and the debate over single-sex education. But in the broad sweep, Title IX has been remarkably successful in the core areas of academics and providing professional opportunities. So I'm torn over the current debate. Yes, athletic opportunities matter, but not as much as academic opportunities.

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Posted in Education policy at 9:19 AM (Permalink) |

May 12, 2007

Dorn silent on EPE grad rate database

No, I'm not, really, or it's just a long caesura that I'm taking before looking closely at EPE's Swanson-rate database, though the Washington Post has clearly gone ahead without me (which they'd do anyway, deadline-obeying group of journalists that they are).Yes, I'll look at their figures on Detroit, to see if EPE has corrected last year's obvious errors.

Update: Ah, shoot: the EPE website isn't a new report but a GIS engine for displaying maps with last year's data.  I'll wait until their new round of numbers comes out next month before I can comment.

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Posted in Education policy at 11:05 PM (Permalink) |

Locke and Loaded

The latest episode in the complex relationships among local school districts, charter-school organizers, and teachers unions is the petition of teachers and parents at Los Angeles's Locke High School to have the school converted to charter status under Green Dot. Eduwonk Andy Rotherham picks the United Teachers of Los Angeles quote from down in the article to suggest that union leaders are knee-jerk anti-charter. Dr. Homeslice has a more nuanced reaction: it's the start of a war over the hearts and minds of teachers.  Oops, well, that's not very nuanced, but the substantive stuff buried in the entry is more sophisticated:

The fact that UTLA was unable [to] create alternatives for the teachers of Locke High School to believe in does not bode well for the future of their organization, nor does the fact that they did not have a finger on the pulse of the building to be aware of what was happening.

There are two things going on here: one is the sheer dissatisfaction with the district and union, and the second is charter schools as the outlet for that dissatisfaction. Both will vary over the landscape, and it's important to keep in mind that the Locke petition involves multiple actors and multiple issues. But we can get down to the the issue that Rotherham and Dr. Homeslice are focusing on: Teachers union locals and their affiliates do not have uniform views on charter schools, though none sees them as a panacea. UTLA is not New York's United Federation of Teachers (which runs a charter school), nor is UFT the same as NYSUT (New York's state affiliate), whose leaders again overlap with but are not at all identical with its national affiliate, the AFT.

Yes, there are union leaders who are dead set against charter schools, but there are others who are not. My instinct as an historian is to look for where those differences arise and look to the local context to explain the differences. Any intrepid grad students who want to take that on has a fascinating dissertation topic.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:53 PM (Permalink) |

May 8, 2007

Who steals the joy from reading?

My favorite lines from Timothy Burke's latest blog are at the end:

You can't get back to loving reading by cheerless attacks on whatever academic fashion annoys you. Love and pleasure require generosity. No miser will ever know them as they can be known.

On the other hand, while I suspect that's a sidelong swipe at a recent ACTA report, and even though that report deserves such swipes, I think Burke is subtly wrong. Yes, we sometimes fetishize exegesis and various forms of textual criticism. But I'm not sure that's a matter of what we teach (ACTA's focus) so much as how we teach.

There's also a difference between the environment in which Burke teaches (Swarthmore, one of the premier liberal-arts colleges) and where most faculty teach. When I took a sociology of education course from David Karens at Bryn Mawr (I was a student at Haverford), he assigned us six books plus a handful of articles for an undergraduate course. There, a full load was four courses. Where I teach, at a regional state university campus, the "full load" is five courses, and many students work far longer hours than my classmates 20+ years ago. If I tried to assign about six books' worth of material to undergraduates... well, let's just say I assign approximately three books' worth of reading material.

Ah, but Burke points out that it's quality that counts, not quantity? I suspect there's a minimum critical mass for the material to stick and start growing in interaction with student minds (quick quiz: who knows where the term apperceptive mass started from?).

No, I don't have solutions, just concerns and unresolved tensions.  Life between terms, I suppose.

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Posted in Higher education at 9:45 PM (Permalink) |

May 7, 2007

The (Vain) Education Reformer's Commandments

The first version...

I am the LORD Publicity, who brought thee out of the land of Peoria, out of the house where you are not a household name and are never quoted by Education Week. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

Thou shalt not make unto thee a refereed article, even any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth, that smacks of something that cannot be summarized in a one-page press release.

Thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the LORD Publicity am a jealous God, visiting the anonymity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that eschew Me for anything they consider substantive research,

and showering recognition and quotability unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD Publicity in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that doesn't hire a good publicist to write press releases and advisories and do follow-ups with.

Observe the well-timed Media Advisory day, to keep it Spun, as the LORD Publicity commanded thee.

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work, including last-minute complete rewrites of all press kits;

but the seventh day is a Media Advisory day unto the LORD Publicity, in it thou shalt not do any manner of thinking, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy publicist, nor thy press representative, nor thine think tank, nor thine state representative, nor any of thy like-minded reformers, nor thy potential converted apathist; that thy publicist and thy press representative may rest their brains as well as thou.

And thou shalt remember that thou was an ignored citizen in Peoria, and the LORD Publicist brought thee out thence by a mighty soundbite and by an outstretched consultant; therefore the LORD Publicist commanded thee to keep the Media Advisory day.

Honour thy mentors, as the LORD Publicist commanded thee; that thy ideas may be quoted, and that it may go well with thee, upon the column inches which the LORD Publicist giveth thee.

Thou shalt not start with cavaets. Neither shalt thou speak more than 30 seconds at a time. Neither shalt thou use words of more than three syllables. Neither shalt thou start nasty rumors against thy fellow education reformer even if they want something completely different from you.

Neither shalt thou covet thy fellow reformer's SUV; neither shalt thou desire thy fellow reformer's word-processor, his K Street address, or his publicist, or his press representative, his think tank, or his legislators, or any thing that is thy fellow reformer's.

Yes, I know publicists, and some very good ones, but this was... um ... too easy. Others may follow.

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

From the jury room

Your Verdict is nothing, you play upon the Court; I say you shall go together, and bring in another Verdict, or you shall starve; and I will have you carted about the City, as in Edward the third's time.

The new state courthouse in downtown Tampa has a much better jury waiting room than the old courthouse with an old creaky-seat auditorium. In the new courthouse, we have comfortable seating in a large room, pleasant lighting, water and comestibles around the corner, and wifi. So while I wait to see if I'm in a jury pool for a trial, I can do a little bit of work, online even.

Thus far, we've only had two pools pulled. The first was for 22 people, and the bailiff asked for volunteers who might be able to come back every day for two weeks. (I couldn't do it because my summer term starts next week.) When he got his last volunteer, everyone applauded. The next pool had 36. It's now almost noon, and I suspect this is just a slow day for jury trials, or maybe on Monday the majority of pools don't get pulled until the afternoon.

I don't anticipate either an unpleasant time or being starved or imprisoned for anything I may do as a juror. All I give is my time. And for that, thank you, Edward Bushel. (The quotation above is from the trial of William Penn in 1870.)

Update 1: Some possible unpleasantness in the afternoon avoided: some wanted the television on, others (including me) didn't. Fortunately, the room clerk figured out how to put the sound on very quietly at one end, close to the TV that was on.  Peace lasted for a few minutes. Then, suddenly, one my fellow maybe-jurors-in-waiting started semi-tunelessly singing "76 Trombones" from The Music Man, oblivious that we could hear him. Those of us around him just smiled at each other. We think he's allowed. 2:45 p.m. and I'm still not on a jury pool.  Looking good for a clear week...

Update 2: 4:21 pm, and I suspect that the clerks running the room are waiting for a single judge to decide whether to call for one more pool today or wait until tomorrow. As with attorneys and the parties, we all wait upon the judge. Update to the update: waiting on three judges, according to a clerk.

Update 3: We were finally released at 6:04. Whew!

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Posted in Random comments at 11:50 AM (Permalink) |

May 6, 2007

Pithy wisdom will wait

Last night as I was driving around on a few errands, I listened to part of This American Life's 10 Commandments episode. This morning, a clever idea from that popped into my head, but I'm afraid I've been spending time on journal editing tasks--reading reviewer reports and sending out some disposition letters, starting with the easy ones (easy decisions in either direction or revise-and-resubmits where the reviewer remarks converge and where I remember the manuscript clearly enough to write them without a painstaking rereading). No, I'm not afraid at all: It's necessary and pleasant.

So I have other things to do today, both professional and personal, and clever lists will have to wait.

May 5, 2007

Grades and puns

As I left the house this afternoon for Chain Cafe, I told my dear spouse, "I'm leaving for a few hours, hopefully to finish my grading." I swear that the pun was unintentional (and she didn't catch it until I groaned).

I only had to wait half an hour before getting my pun-ishment: the rejection of a article manuscript ... on migration and graduation. The reason was a lack of fit for the journal scope, which was almost half-expected: I had chosen the journal for the audience and not because it was the best fit. So it's time to hunt for another outlet or five.

(Incidentally, while the permalink for this entry is 900, I only have 848 entries.  No, I don't understand the math, either.)

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Posted in Research at 7:23 PM (Permalink) |

May 2, 2007

Robert M. Franklin at Morehouse

Robert M. Franklin is the new president for Morehouse College, something that is of more importance to people than one might think for the presidency of a private liberal-arts college.  Morehouse is an all-male college that is one of the elite historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Franklin's view of the presidency as a moral leader is a provocative argument, less for its substance (his idea of holding monthly chapel discussions fits with his theology background) than for the time management involved. Most private-college presidents spend the bulk of their time fundraising, especially so with HBCUs.

Complicating the picture is the fact that two of the nation's HBCUs (Dillard University and Florida A&M) are facing severe funding problems, Dillard because of Katrina and Florida A&M because of a problem with internal fiscal controls that appears to keep rolling along. Dillard needs the federal government to step in and fill the gap, especially with repairing student dormitories. I hope Florida A&M's fortunes will turn around with the coming of its new president, who had to deal with fiscal problems at North Carolina Central University. But apart from existing funding networks with loyalties to specific institutions, any leader of the other HBCUs (Morehouse, Spelman, Fisk, Bethune-Cookman, etc.) will be competing with the obvious issues at Dillard and Florida A&M.

So here is my best wishes to Franklin and Morehouse: may there be enough time for those monthly discussions! s

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Posted in Higher education at 7:22 AM (Permalink) |

May 1, 2007

On Marilee Jones, resume-padding, and credentialism

Kevin Carey, meet Margaret Soltan. I'll buy the coffees if you'll have an entertaining discussion, okay?

(I should've included the following in the entry originally...)

Carey and Soltan have very different, very interesting slices on the Marilee Jones firing (for her lying about her education to get the MIT Admissions Dean's job many years ago). Carey sees it as evidence of the problems with credentialism. Soltan see such an excuse (though she was criticizing Barbara Ehrenreich's essay, not Carey) as muddy thinking about the purpose of higher education.

To me, the issue in the firing of Jones is fundamentally about trustworthiness. If someone lies to get a job, regardless of past performance, how can one put critical tasks in her or his hand in the future? Kevin Carey would like to believe that Jones's performance wipes out that error. I suspect Carey would not go to a "doctor" who was recently exposed as a fraud, though thousands of patients were happy with her or him. (This type of case occasionally appears.) 

Update: In a new twist, the Boston Globe revealed that Marilee Jones did have a degree, just not from any of the places she mentioned to MIT: an undergraduate degree from the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York.

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Posted in Education policy at 7:20 PM (Permalink) |

My unfavored things

Why do students sometimes have no clue about how word processors work? Why do they not ... oh, well, let's break into the End of Term Professor Musical Style (which Miriam Burstein aka The Little Professor does much better than I).

Papers which use hard returns but not page breaks,
Students who don't even spellcheck as brain-fake,
A cover page loaded with pictoral bling--
These are a few of my unfavored things.

A list of one's sources without textual reference,
A nod to all authors with uniform deference,
Abusing long words in attempts to add zing--
These are a few of my unfavored things.

When the term ends,
and the day bends,
and there's work galore,
I'm thinking of all of my unfavored things,
and I want to rush out the door.

Starting a paper with Merriam-Webster,
Saying reformers wanted "to better,"
An A's justly earned by my parents' k-ching!--
These are a few of my unfavored things.

Homonyms used in a fifth-grader's fashion,
Fallacies covered with purple-prose passion,
A phrase that has surely a plagiarized ring--
These are a few of my unfavored things.

When the term ends,
and the day bends,
and there's work galore,
I'm thinking of all of my unfavored things,
and I want to rush out the door.

For the record, I have yet to see cover-page bling this semester, I'm reading some very nice papers, and I haven't yet seen plagiarism. But sometimes the best way to exorcise demons is in song...

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Posted in Teaching at 2:13 PM (Permalink) |