June 30, 2007

Leaving Norrköping

I had some very nice comments about my paper yesterday, so I hit the 'isn't this obvious?' sweet spot I target when presenting research. Or I think I did. Thus far, the questions raised about the intercensal estimating technique I'm using are the ones I've expected, so I'm getting more comfortable with the use and less wondering when I'll be blindsided by things I haven't thought about. (Example: To avoid migration issues, I only use people who have been born in the country, with a few exceptions. What I don't and can't avoid is the assumption that mortality is unrelated to educational attainment, something that's fine for many parts of the world unless you're talking about countries with very high HIV positive rates.)

My train back to Copenhagen leaves in about an hour, and I'll either be digesting the conference or napping. (Some of you may be able to do both, but not me.) And trying to read a book I've assigned for one of my fall classes. Or maybe student work that's on one of my small electronic devices. I'm still not done with jet lag, and I get another dose heading back to the states.

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Posted in Research at 6:27 AM (Permalink) |

June 28, 2007

In Norrköping

I'm in the city's Scandic Hotel, a few blocks from the train station. I'll explain a lot more when I get home, but I need to get off the hotel lounge computer so others can use it, so all I'll say is, Wow. I go away for a few days, and the comments are flying fast!.

Learning lots. Walking a lot. Taking lots of pictures. Had a wonderful and long detour because of flooding in mid-east Sweden yesterday that I'm probably the only person to appreciate in any way (got a bus tour through rural countryside that others probably pay lots for, just because rail lines were flooded).

Oh, and the hotel is playing Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth back to back to back on one of the movie stations (without guests having to pay). You think the Swedes are trying to send a message to overseas tourists? Nah...

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Posted in Research at 3:58 PM (Permalink) |

June 25, 2007

Hiram Hover's gone

Hiram Hover's pseudonymous blog is now gone, not only on hiatus but now unavailable from the domain and only available in snippets from archive.org. D***.

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Posted in History at 6:34 PM (Permalink) |

"Bong Hits 4 Jesus" and student rights off-campus

Andy Carvin correctly points out the complexities in the Morse v. Frederick opinions, released today in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case. The five-judge majority opinion ruled that student behavior occuring during an off-campus event was nonetheless subject to student-conduct rules if it was school-sanctioned, during school hours, and supervised by teachers and staff. The majority opinion also ruled that a school has a right to control behavior that it deems antithetical to legitimate, official messages in the school curriculum (in this case, anti-drug education).

But the wealth of opinions complicates the effect of this case, especially with regard to other off-campus student behavior that doesn't fit into the relatively neat during-school-hours, school-sanctioned, and school-supervised pattern in this case. Justice Breyer's partial concurrence is correct: the court could easily have ruled on the issue of partial immunity (was the school principal subject to personal liability) without addressing the other issues. Given that fact, I suspect Chief Justice Roberts overreached in trying to address the substantive issues. His reputation was as a consensus-maker, and here, he not only failed to achieve consensus but reduced the authority of the court by trying to address the merits and failing to get anything other than a splintered opinion. Carvin predicted that the serious questions about regulation of off-campus student conduct on the internet remain and will wait for another case.

Quick update: It looks like all of the major decisions released today are 5-4. The court is still divided.

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Posted in Education policy at 1:16 PM (Permalink) |

Ward Churchill and the politicization of research misconduct

The procedural conflict in l'affair Churchill is between the need for any institution to investigate serious charges of research misconduct and the need for colleges and universities to be buffered from political pressures that interfere with academic freedom. In most cases, outside political pressures raise issues that are easily dismissed (at least by serious faculty) as inappropriate reasons to discipline or fire anyone. But in the case of Churchill, the internal processes stripped away the political charges and focused on serious, substantive charges of research misconduct. That fact doesn't completely satisfy the discomfort that many on and off the Boulder campus felt about the investigation, something that the investigating committee noted in its May 2006 report:

[T]he Committee is troubled by the origins of, and skeptical concerning the motives for, the current investigation. The Committee's disquiet regarding the timing of these allegations is exacerbated by the fact that the formal complainant in the charges before us is the Interim Chancellor of the University, despite the express provision in the Laws of the Board of Regents of the University of Colorado that faculty members' "efforts should not be subjected to direct or indirect pressures or interference from within the university, and the university will resist to the utmost such pressures or interference when exerted from without." Nevertheless, serious claims of academic misconduct have been lodged and they require full investigation and responsible and fair treatment. (p. 4)

The committee then chose a horrible analogy, a sloppy comparison that I hope its members now regret:

The Committee has attempted to provide that investigation, keeping the background and origins of this particular dispute out of our consideration of the particular allegations. To use an analogy, a motorist who is stopped and ticketed for speeding because the police officer was offended by the contents of her bumper sticker, and who otherwise would have been sent away with a warning, is still guilty of speeding, even if the officer's motive for punishing the speeder was the offense taken to the speeder's exercise of her right to free speech. No court would consider the improper motive of the police officer to constitute a defense to speeding, however protected by legal free speech guarantees the contents of the bumper sticker might be. (p. 4, immediately following the above excerpt)

This analogy has been repeated and discussed ad nauseam, from the University of Colorado Silver and Gold to The Rhetoric Garage blog and beyond. As Eugene Volokh noted at the time, the committee had the law wrong and the situation wrong. But I'm not going to attempt to correct the metaphor, since I agree with Howard Becker that metaphors are inherently dangerous in social science writing and other nonfiction. The committee made this mistake in an effort to cleanse its own work of the polluting allegation it knew would come with publication, claims that the investigation was only proceeding because of the political pressure from the outside.

The analogy failed to convince skeptics because it couldn't, even if it had been correct in the interpretation of the law. A university research-misconduct investigation is not a court proceeding, and even the most careful, scrupulously-clean procedure is still vulnerable to political interference. That is one of Ellen Schrecker's points in No Ivory Tower: The fact that universities often paid meticulous attention to procedural niceties when investigating allegations in the McCarthy era did not absolve them from having responded to outside pressure and having dismissed faculty for political reasons. Given our history, who could expect faculty to pass over the political context of the Churchill investigation?

At virtually every step, the faculty involved in Colorado have taken pains to acknowledge that context and say they did their best to address the substantive charges fairly. After racking my brains to find some way that the University of Colorado could have addressed the substantive charges without the political shadow over an investigation, I have failed; there is no way around the political context, no way to purify the process.

Having said that, I find the investigating committee's report persuasive in its argument that Churchill engaged in a long-term, unrepetant pattern of unprofessional research misconduct. Are the delay between the political pressures and the investigation, the faculty-centered fact-finding, and the processes enough to make the recommendation for firing Churchill reasonable? Unless someone can suggest another way, my answer is yes, or at least, this is the best that can be done.

That entirely ad-hoc answer doesn't mean that I am happy with the way that politics was deeply involved with setting the investigation in motion. It does mean that the university had the obligation to respond to the substantive charges, and unless Churchill's remaining defenders can suggest an alternative procedure that would have been better (and I haven't yet seen such a suggestion), the faculty-driven fact-finding process used was reasonable.

Having made that judgment, I am well aware that there could be politically-motivated allegations of research misconduct lodged regularly against faculty. Of course that's a possibility, but a few facts should put this concern in perspective. First, external, politically-motivated allegations against faculty are rarely about research integrity. Historically, they have been about extramural statements or activities (or teaching, more recently). Second, I would guess that there are politically-motivated allegations of research misconduct every year, but I would also hazard a claim that they are generally filed by other academics. Third, some argue that universities do not pay enough serious attention to legitimate allegations of research misconduct. None of these are salutary, but the larger point is that all investigations require attention to both procedural and substantive due process and the facts of a case. There is no magic formula for guaranteeing either integrity or academic freedom.

Update: Sometimes, I should look up what I've written before. In this case, it's useful to compare my entry today with one written May 18, 2006. I was more concise last spring. But no one has answered the question I raised then, as well as today: If the University of Colorado's process here was inappropriate, what would have been better?

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Posted in Academic freedom at 12:59 PM (Permalink) |

June 23, 2007

Travel-time Saturday

Profgrrrrl is off to Thailand for a month. My son and mother are coming back from Arizona, where they spent a week on and around the Colorado River. (My mother just called me from the Houston airport on layover.) I have been grading student work today so I have a little less on my plate when heading to the Society for the History of Childhood and Youth conference next week.

I'm reasonably well-prepared for this conference (though I'll try to condense the results of my paper down to two sides of a single sheet of paper), and I think I'm prepared for the travel, having acquired my power converter, a set of Koss "the plug" headphones, and having figured out one of the Koss mods. I haven't taken an overnight plane flight since I was in my early 20s, and I'm hoping I get at least a little sleep, as I'll be getting into Copenhagen at 9 am local time, or Middle of the Night, Tampa time.

Is anyone else heading somewhere interesting this week?

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Posted in Research at 5:27 PM (Permalink) |

June 22, 2007

Tax cuts and adequate school funding

Florida Governor Charlie Crist has signed into law the statutory part of the proposed Florida property-tax reform and cut. The law that Crist signed is an immediate roll-back in non-school local property taxes. The next issue is a proposed constitutional amendment on the January 29 presidential primary ballot that would create a different structure for residential property taxes (essentially creating a progressive property tax) and effectively cut and limit tax rates permanently.

The statutory part of the plan does not directly affect schools, but there are plenty of related services that local governments currently provide out of the affected property taxes: police officers in school, mental health services, etc. The constitutional amendment would directly affect school funding from local property taxes, what the Florida Education Association has estimated as a $7.1 billion cut over five years. While legislative leaders have promised that the state will and has to make up any gap, many are skeptical of that promise.

Voters may not end up approving the constitutional amendment, since Florida now requires 60% approval for amendments, and the last property tax reform won with a majority under 55%. Reductions in county services between now and January may either convince voters to reject the amendment or may create a backlash that boosts the amendment (a "why was this cut the first choice you made" reaction). Or they may be irrelevant.

If the amendment passes, though, it may finally set up a viable adequate-funding lawsuit in the state. A 1998 amendment to the state constitution established education as the paramount duty of the state with a number of goals, and in its 2006 voucher decision, the state Supreme Court gave notice in dicta that the 1998 amendments raised the obligations of the state to a "maximum duty."

That amendment opened the door to an adequate-funding lawsuit, but no one has filed one... yet. If the legislature does not fill the gap created by a successful amendment in January, it will set up a lawsuit with very good chances, and it will provide a good motive for plenty of actors to file such a suit.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:18 AM (Permalink) |

June 20, 2007

Scimus quae legis, et non dicimus

There is now a t-shirt for the (thus far fictional?) Guild of Radical Militant Librarians.

Oh, I guess I'll have to translate: "We know what you read, and we're not telling."

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Posted in Academic freedom at 12:53 AM (Permalink) |

June 19, 2007

Don't Know Much about NCLB (but have opinions)

The ETS poll on attitudes towards No Child Left Behind Act is garnering quite a bit of attention, such as from Ed Week. I love pollsters' schizophrenia, simultaneously asserting that the public doesn't know much about NCLB but then talking about public opinion blithely (or is it breezily?). 

The statement designed to gauge how much knowledge affects judgment is fascinating. Here's the description of NCLB used to assess before/after evaluations:

The No Child Left Behind Act provides federal funds for school districts with poor children in order to close achievement gaps. It also requires states to set standards for education and to test students each year to determine whether the standards are being met by all students. In addition, No Child Left Behind provides funding to help teachers become highly qualified. It also provides additional funding and prescribes consequences to schools that fail to achieve academic targets set by their state.

What's missing includes several specifics that matter a great deal in the lives of students and teachers: the AYP calculations, the sequence of prescribed consequences, the definition of "highly qualified teachers," etc. And the end of the briefing powerpoint provides clear evidence that respondents had strong reactions to the different ways NCLB could be framed. Arguments that NCLB encourages teaching to the test were fairly persuasive, and the most persuasive supportive arguments were general (the identification of schools that need intervention, having curriculum standards, and the possibility of improving the law).

Once again, the American public shows itself to be torn over education reform. Any surprise in that finding?

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:31 PM (Permalink) |

June 18, 2007

The right context on merit pay?

Sam Dillon's Times story on merit pay has one inherent hypothesis, framing the growth of merit pay as the erosion of union opposition to performance pay. I suppose you could look at it that way, but I don't think that's accurate. For many years, my own faculty union (the United Faculty of Florida) was both an affiliate of the NEA (supposedly anti-merit pay according to Dillon) and also a supporter of merit pay in our own contracts. For some odd reason, we weren't thrown out of the NEA, maybe having something to do with locals' authority to negotiate contracts that are appropriate in local circumstances.

I'll propose two counter-hypotheses:

1. Teacher unions have fought consistently against arbitrary pay schemes. Since the modern rise of teacher unions in the 1960s, locals and state/national affiliates have consistently devoted resources to fighting the worst pay plan currently proposed. Collective bargaining and lobbying are both pragmatic activities, where you work for the best outcome available at the moment. If merit pay including principals' judgment is better that merit pay based entirely on test scores, then it's entirely sensible that a local would agree to the first to fight off the second. If this hypothesis about tactical tradeoffs is true, one reason for the relaxation in vigilance about supervisory authority is the change in principal ranks over the last 4 decades, with more women as administrators and with the stability of collective-bargaining relationships taking some of the adversarial relationships out of unionized systems. But I suspect it's at least partly a case of tactical decisionmaking about the lesser of two evils.

2. Teacher unions fight consistently to put money in the pockets of teachers. In many of the more celebrated cases of merit pay (such as Denver's ProComp), merit pay was linked to a substantial pot of money for teacher pay. In the case of Denver, the school system and the local must have made the common judgment that the only way to get political approval for substantial teacher pay hikes would be to have some form of merit pay. The union then worked on the pilot to make sure that it would be reasonable comfortable with the system before they had to commit to it with the referendum.

One last point: there is far too little research on such performance-pay plans, often cast largely as pro or con ("it works!") instead of looking at what happens when pay is based on various factors. I'll repeat this as long as necessary: when I know and cite more of the relevant I-O psychology research than those who are supposedly experts on performance pay for teachers, the expertise isn't including everything that's important. (See chapter 5 of Accountability Frankenstein for more.)

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Posted in Education policy at 10:07 AM (Permalink) |

June 17, 2007

A natural experiment with third-grade retention in Florida

Thus far, in the various news stories about the errors in Florida's 2006 third-grade reading FCAT scores, no one has thought of the obvious study that should flow from it: a comparison between students retained in 2005 based on FCAT reading scores and students who were promoted but whose corrected scores in 2006 would have retained them.

My impression is that students who would probably have been retained without the incorrect scoring will not be held back in fourth grade. We thus have a fascinating contrast: two cohorts of students with low reading scores in third grade whose retention decision was a matter of sheer accident.

Not only that, but Florida's environment is different from that of previous studies, where the comparison really was a question of retention and praying that the student did better, on the one hand, and promotion and praying that the student did better, on the other hand. For years, former Governor Jeb Bush claimed that the placement of reading coaches and massive technical assistance would make third-grade retention policies different: targeted, effective, and helpful. We can test this claim now!

The study design would be fairly obvious, I think: match third-graders in the two cohorts using the standard propensity-score method (include age!!) and then look at measures that would not be biased by the simple fact of retention. FCAT scale scores in fourth grade would be inappropriate because you're comparing promoted students to students who had one more year of exposure to the intermediate-grade curriculum. I am hesitant to suggest using the FCAT's supposedly vertical scale (called a "developmental score"), but in terms of achievement it might be best, unless one can identify individual children in a large district and assess them in the same exams a year apart. If you're a graduate student who cannot engage in data gathering over 15 months, I would choose the developmental score and choose other indicators as well.

I don't have the time to do this study, but someone should: go to it, folks!

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Posted in Education policy at 1:08 AM (Permalink) |

June 16, 2007

This blog is now a podcast

You can now subscribe to this blog as a podcast. Just click on the picture Link to Podcast (RSS feed) for Sherman Dorn or save the URL and paste in your favorite podcast aggregator (you can also click on this handy iTunes one-click link). The podcast uses text-to-speech technology, so you don't get my voice, but it has decent production values given the fact that I'll put no more effort into it. There are also no ads in the podcast. I tried both Talkr and Odiogo and chose the program that didn't pronounce sign as sig-nn. (Unfortunately, many of the Talkr feeds already available only have the teaser text translated into speech.)

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Posted in Random comments at 9:30 AM (Permalink) |

Flubbing the FCAT reality check

Only months after Governor Jeb Bush left office, the facade of accurate test scores has fallen away from Florida's high-stakes accountability system. After a drop in third-grade scores from 2006 to 2007, questions were raised about the rise in 2006 FCAT scores in third grade. With some pressure, the Florida Department of Education acknowledged in the spring that the norming for 2006 was incorrect.

Because third-grade test scores have so many consequences, tied to student promotion, the school grades in Florida's accountability system, and judgments of Adequate Yearly Progress for NCLB purposes, the inaccuracies are not just an embarrassment.

This problem was inevitable at some point; test scoring errors are a periodic news item in the U.S., if not in every state every year. But because we have chosen to base so many consequences on single tests, the consequences of the errors are magnified.

Scoring errors do not have the same type of consequence where the issue is a graduation exam. I am skeptical of graduation exit exam policies, but because states allow students to retake graduation exams multiple times, an error that places one test score too low requires a student to take the retest. The existence of graduation exam retesting takes some of the sting out of the inevitable errors in testing procedures. No such buffer is there for promotion policies that rely on a single test or on statistical school accountability policies.

The expansion of discussion from the technical review to the broader uses of the test is not surprising this year (would have been last year) and quite welcome.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:45 AM (Permalink) |

June 15, 2007

Teacher attrition

This week's article by Bess Keller on teacher attrition statistics raises some interesting questions about the various estimates of teacher attrition, including the oft-cited "50% in 5 years" rule of thumb (sometimes attributed to Richard Ingersoll). Keller's argument is that the 50% figure is an exaggeration and that other professions have attrition patterns similar to teachers. Paul Gasparra has some interesting observations based on that, in terms of paying more attention to socialization than retention.

I have a few different points about the attrition data:

  • I'm not sure the similarity of attrition rates for different professions makes the situation in teaching any better. We should be worried with high attrition rates in nursing and teaching, because lives and futures are in the balance. I'm not so sure that other professions (such as accounting) have quite the same consequences of higher turnover.
  • We need better data on the patterns of attrition. I think we can get that data, but that's a research project I'm currently helping on, so I may be biased. It's very difficult to gather localized data on years since entry into the profession, but there are other ways to slice the issue, especially at the district and school level.

More generally, there are three larger goals we should focus on: making sure that there are enough teachers, making sure that teachers are good, and reducing the dramatic in the quality of teachers that children have. The claims about national attrition focus on the first two, but this is only one part of the picture.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:39 PM (Permalink) |

Off to Arizona

My son is going with his grandmother for an Elderhostel trip along the Colorado River next week, so I'm chaperoning him to Phoenix today, spending the weekend with family, and then flying back. I have an article to finish preparing, some other stuff, and who knows what else. I'm exhausted from trying to combine a week of union conferences and my other obligations, so I may sleep on the plane.

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Posted in Random comments at 6:48 AM (Permalink) |

June 13, 2007

Margaret Spellings Walks into a Bar

Okay, Alexander Russo: I'll bite on Susan Ohanian's request for a punch line.

Margaret Spellings walked into a bar.

Barkeep sighed with relief. "At least she's not going to give another speech about 'razing the bar.'"

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 4:07 PM (Permalink) |


Practical question to my 2.71828183... readers: has anyone used YackPack for classwork? I'm realizing that for the first time in 5 years, I'll be teaching a course distance-learning without live chats, or at least without having to wrench each week upside down for students or me in doing so. Our LMS (Blackboard) doesn't even have icons/avatars in the discussion boards to duplicate even a faux kind of social presence. Assuming no student has a hearing impairment (at which point I switch everything around), YackPack could be a way to make social connections in a course with plenty of hot topics and disagreements in a class.

But I'd love to know if anyone's experimented with it.

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Posted in Teaching at 3:52 PM (Permalink) |

June 12, 2007

New Swanson CPI numbers: still flawed

The new Ed Week graduation numbers are out, based on 2003 and 2004 Common Core of Data figures. Among the 50 largest district, the lowest Swanson CPI (cohort progression index) in the nation is still Detroit with 24.9%. And the CPI is still flawed, partly because it relies on the unaudited Common Core of Data figures. As I said almost a year ago, Detroit's figures make no sense (and please accept my apologies for the long scroll you'll have to make below to get to the table):

Detroit CPI calculations, 2000-2004
Measure 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
9th grade enrollment 13,723 14,494 20,025 17,837 16,832
10th grade enrollment 8,860 9,291 11,275 9,899 9,326
11th grade enrollment 6,355 6,382 7,795 7,421 6,581
12th grade enrollment 5,329 4,618 6,020 5,244 5,604
Prior year grads 6,068 5,540 5,975 4,975
CPI 40.4% 73.9% 21.7% 24.9%

Source: Common Core of Data.

Is there any chance that Detroit's numbers can fluctuate so wildly? Garbage in, garbage out. 

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Posted in Research at 12:06 PM (Permalink) |

June 11, 2007

Listen to chatting on the Gadfly podcast, but skip the singing

With a batch of driving stints this week to Florida Education Association meetings 30 minutes from home, I've caught up on the Education Gadfly podcast (feed). They have a new opening song (a rap), which I can definitely confirm was not performed by Mike Petrilli or Rick Hess, after hearing both of them attempt to croon on one of the podcasts. They may outdo me on Influence by 40, but I can carry a tune.

For those interested in these matters, I am a participant in the Organizational Change track this week. Yeah: that nasty Florida teachers union has interest in change.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:28 PM (Permalink) |

National Standards as Policy Machismo

Alexander Russo and I agree on National (Yawn) Standards (Again) (his title), regarding last week's CEP report on state proficiency percentage trends and the NCES comparison of state proficiency cut-scores and NAEP cut-scores and also the double-report week's politics. In a different way, I also agree with U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in her dissing of national standards. Same (in a yet third way) with the Education Sector's Danny Rosenthal. And I disagree with all of them.

Russo is right on the politics of national standards: dead for now. He's at his best in pegging the accountability politics, and since that's his focus in the last few weeks, I'll give him a pass for now on where I disagree with him. Spellings is right that the federal government does a better job of collecting data than telling the states what to do. She's wrong that the federal government does a better job of telling the states what to do when it's labeled NCLB. Rosenthal is correct that there is a difference between setting curriculum standards and setting cut scores. He's wrong in asserting that the cut scores are what is important.

The cut-score debate would be a silly one except for the stakes involved in states and the way that cut scores frame the education policy debate inside the Washington, D.C., beltway. As anyone who has taken elementary statistics should know, the division of an interval scale into several tiers creates an ordinal scale. Whether one labels the tiers Expert, Proficient, Basic, and Below Basic; Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, and Blue; or Venti, Grande, and Tall, tying values to ordinal tiers doesn't tell us anything about the tiers themselves other than that someone wanted to label them.

Confusing cut scores with rigor is an act of policy machismo, not common sense. "Yo Mama's so wimpy, she's satisfied with Mississippi's cut scores."

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:20 PM (Permalink) |

June 5, 2007

K-12 teachers of history need close-reading skills

Over the weekend, the American Historical Association Council Endorsed the National Council for History Education's Statement on Teacher Qualifications. Among the better parts of the statement is developing historical "habits of mind," including an understanding of how to read and utilize primary sources. That phrase came from the K-5 teacher guidelines. (The 6-12 guidelines insert in depth before understanding.)

Maybe my high school history teacher and undergraduate alma mater socialized me early in the importance of respecting primary sources. As a college teacher, I've found that my students tend toward eisegesis as a substitute for exegesis. (2 points for anyone who knows the difference.) Not everyone succumbs to the siren song of sloppy reading, but sometimes I find myself engaging in a pedagogical Turn Back, O Man to pull students back to the text. (No, not literally: I'll sing the Erie Canal song in class, but not Stephen Schwartz. I'm referring more to a performative environment as a way to engage student interest in a text.)

The temptations vary by age, I think: those 20-25 are tempted to interpret readings through an "it fits with my preconceptions or doesn't" filter, while older students are more tempted to conflate their preexisting notions and something they read in class. When I read, I tend to imagine a dialog with the text. I still don't know how to make sure students have a similar orientation.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:59 AM (Permalink) |

No one knows NCLB's effects

In its new report, Answering the Question That Matters Most: Has Student Achievement Increased Since No Child Left Behind?, the Center on Education Policy provides the obvious answer: No one knows. There is some evidence of increasing achievement on some [later: many state test] measures, but attributing that to NCLB is foolhardy.

With such ambiguous conclusions, this report will probably be spun harder than an Elvis single. The White House will somehow claim that it completely vindicates the No Child approach, some opponents of NCLB will claim that 5 years after passage, the lack of solid evidence in its favor should tip Congress towards repeal of the more forceful accountability provisions, and the rest of us will wonder why there's a press conference on a non-finding.

(Hat tip: Ron Matus.)

Update: David Hoff's Ed Week article and Eduwonk have different emphases from mine--I guess I'm jaded by reports such as this. Hoff's article does a very decent job of describing the different reactions, but I disagree with the instant-pundit perception that this will shape the NCLB reauthorization debate significantly. I think that's said the same day that every new report is issued, and if all of the pundits were right, we'd have dozens of incredibly influential reports.  But they can't all be influential individually. CEP has more than the usual gravitas, but we'll just have to see...

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:37 AM (Permalink) |

June 4, 2007


Just got done with hours of close editing of an article manuscript that I am accepting. I have discovered that giving editorial advice to authors of accepted manuscripts with the acceptance saves considerable time on the other end, since the final manuscripts that come in are usually coming in with fewer problems. (There are still the issues of formatting tables appropriately, but I'll slowly craft better advice.)

In this particular case, the manuscript required extensive editing, literally hundreds of recommended changes from the nature of the article. Yes, I'm confident I made the right choice, but I think I'm going to head to the library to reward myself before heading back to journal editing work.

Kindergarten ages

Quick response to the New York Times piece on when children start kindergarten:  There's a big difference between the policy issues here and the family decisions involved, and as in many cases, they don't always have that much to do with research on learning.

Policy decisions for states: if you try to push the deadline back to increase the minimum age for kindergarten by a few months, you have a significant one-time savings. But as California's experience in trying to do that showed, you also anger parents who will be upset by changes in their expectations on when their children will start kindergarten.  And as states begin to operate a sizable pre-K program, the calculation of financial effects will change as it's a matter of tradeoffs between pre-K programs and kindergarten. Note that this discussion doesn't (necessarily) revolve around learning.

Family decisions often revolve around myths about maturity or assumptions about what the "right" age for various activities is. The Times article is certainly not new: The age for entering kindergarten crept up in the last generation by a few months, probably because of the red-shirting phenomenon, though I don't know if anyone has looked at it that closely. For any parents wondering about personal decisions: someone in a class is going to be the oldest and someone is going to be the youngest, and at some point your child is going to be one of those someones. You figure out how to avoid that reality, and I'd like you to get me 2-3 more hours in a day, okay?

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Posted in Education policy at 8:20 AM (Permalink) |

June 2, 2007

Bankrupt my pants and tags, NCLB news, and old-fashioned American ambivalence

One of my English friends created a not-quite-acronym in spring 2006 that adequately describes the phenomenon of having been too busy to read one's blog roll, a translation from

been away, not catching up on the flist [friends' list, one's blogroll on Livejournal], point me at it if there's anything you need me to see



which he noted reads disturbingly like 'bankrupt my pants.' So in answer to Mike Antonucci's question of where has all the blogging gone, our collective pants are officially bankrupt. I still need to write about the 2006 scoring errors in the FCAT, a story that continues to unfold, but I have a number of other priorities. Or I've Been Away, Not Catching Up on the News Blogging until My Important Tasks Are Gone, Sorry. The acronym of that is BANCUNBUMITAGS, which I am reading loosely as bankrupt my tags.

I'm currently in ChainCafe, trying to finish a conference paper due Monday, after Tropical Storm Barry swept through Tampa. I also have journal editing to do, teaching stuff, union stuff, not to mention trying to spend time with my family. My tags are clearly bankrupt. I hope yours still have some credit.

In the meantime, here is a quick analysis of the story bandied about regarding one story that the majority of Americans would like changes to or the repeal of No Child Left Behind. Eduwonk correctly points out that "change" is fairly nonspecific. As I've pointed out before, polling over the past few years consistently shows deep ambivalence about who is responsible for addressing educational inequality and achievement. Depending on the wording of the question, you can conclude that the public thinks families are far more responsible for failures of achievement than schools, or the other way around. I'll admit that my reading is idiosyncratic: another explanation is that Americans are fairly clear on what they think and the wording is the issue. I think that puts a little more weight on question wording than is warranted, but your mileage may differ.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 4:17 PM (Permalink) |