July 30, 2007

George Miller press conference

I'm listening right now to California Rep. George Miller's press conference previewing his NCLB reauthorization bill. My first impression is that he's overpromising. (He's also talking too quickly, but his audience is a group of reporters, and the faster he talks, the more questions they can ask.)

Here come the questions, reported here as topics and answers.

  1. Timing on the bill in the House: Miller waffles while saying the goal for passage out of the House is still September.
  2. Who would decide what a "better test" is: Miller says he is responding to claims that state tests are of poor quality and acknowledges the need for funding for such tests. He says that the bill isprovision for K-12-university-business partnerships to create tests that assess "college-ready" or "work-ready" skills and knowledge. In other words, he didn't respond to the question, other than saying he wasn't for national standards/tests.
  3. Other measures' relationships to AYP and growth: Miller talks about a college-prep curriculum, etc.  In response to a follow-up to the waffling, Miller says schools would still have to perform well on reading and math tests, and adding other measures is "not an escape hatch."
  4. Is the bill bipartisan: Miller says yes.
  5. Performance pay and test scores: Miller says some portion "has to be tied to student achievement," and he refers to "a growth model." "We would honor... collective bargaining agreements [and would not] upset those." He says he understands the reservations given the history of merit pay as an "arbitrary system of rewarding friends." He then talks about needing to creating careers for teachers that look like other careers where teachers can be rewarded for their efforts, time, etc.
  6. Choice options: Miller says it's under discussion, not resolved, about supplemental education services and public-school choice. He acknowledges the difficult of providing choice in "jammed" districts and says the bill will reverse the order of interventions. He says he is concerned with the lack of accountability for supplemental education services.
  7. English language learners and testing: He implies that tools exist for assessing the skills of English language learners, including tests in other languages (and he notes that other countries somehow have assessment in non-English languages, because most of them don't have English as the official language). Miller mentions the "p" word (portfolios). Wow.
  8. Administration response: Miller discusses ongoing discussions with US DOE and "talks nice" about his relationship with Secretary Spellings.
  9. Spending issues: Miller says he doesn't know what additional spending is required by the bill. (WHAT???) He then talks variously about "strategic investments," the lag in spending after the first year or two of NCLB, assistance to students who move, formative testing, and then blathers a bit about the need for data systems. "There's no point in going to a growth model if you don't know where your students have been." Then he mentions supplemental appropriations for education, I think gratuitously.
  10. Portfolios? George Miller says he knows that's a minefield and will have to get back to the reporter. (Okay, it only took three questions for someone to follow up.)
  11. If additional data is not "an escape hatch" on accountability, doesn't that just add more ways for schools to fail? Miller says no... and doesn't say anything substantive. He acknowledges such as system is "not easily constructed." In response to an inaudible foll0w-up, Miller says a student would have to be close on reading or math, and the system would have to be (nonspecifically) complementary.
  12. Is bipartisanship still possible? Miller says "This bill will test that." He then waxes optimistic. Laugh line: "There are no short answers from me. I'm the Joe Biden of education."
  13. Rural districts and flexibility: Miller waffles for a few minutes.
  14. Adding assessments: Miller says that's a state decision. (I don't understand the context for this answer.) Miller then starts talking about teaching to the test (finally!). Miller acknowledges that but claims schools have been successful on the narrow measures without narrowing the test. Miller says "more time on task" in reading and math isn't all that education should be, but then repeats Riley's "learn to read, then read to learn" adage.
  15. Specialized support services for health (nurses, psychologists): No.

Later today there's supposed to be a written summary of bill provisions on Miller's website (or maybe the committee website).

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:58 AM (Permalink) |

July 28, 2007

Mundane faculty sadism

I'm going to borrow a term from pop marital therapy author David Schnarch, compare it to sibling experiences and literary analysis, and then see if the principle applies to professional relationships in higher ed. To Schnarch, couples' relationships are a pressure-cooker within which the individuals (should) develop. To Schnarch, this pressure-cooker environment is an inevitable by-product of rubbing shoulders with someone over the years.

Schnarch's perspective is neither surprising nor that new to those who grew up with siblings. Despite the common Freudian psychodynamic view of sibling relationships, my own memory of sibling issues had less to do with rivalries for love and far more a matter of simple daily friction. Knuckle-cracking and whistling get on siblings' nerves not because one siblings fears that Mother or Father lives her or him less but because, well, after about three months of hearing knuckle-cracking a dozen times a day, you go bonkers the next time you hear the same sound. (The same irritation commonly develops among college or apartment roommates, and I've never heard a Freudian theory of Roommate Rivalry.)

Schnarch's perspective is also not surprising to anyone who has read almost any analysis of character as the response to pressures.

Yet Schnarch contributes a fascinating term that I think applies to professional as well as personal relationships: ordinary (marital) sadism, or the ways in which people who rub up against each other over years learn (how) to push each other's buttons. The mundane cruelty of small digging remarks, tones of voice, and looks is an everyday feature of many siblings' lives. I disagree with Schnarch on what he calls the inevitability of such communicative sadism. Maybe that's a consequence of my irritation with monolithic psychodynamic explanations of life (as if we're all X), and maybe it's a consequence of my own experiences: My wife and I do our best to avoid pushing each other's buttons, and I'd like to think we succeed.

But the term strikes me as an effective description of one type of dysfunctional faculty behavior, the ordinary cruelties that we sometimes engage in towards colleagues, staff, and students, or that some of us engage in regularly. We all have bad days, but the ambiguous role of social networking in academe magnifies the consequences of thoughtless remarks and deeds in ways that are relatively unique. In many work environments, you can identify real *******s or *****(e)s by observing how people treat those reporting to them. At most colleges and universities, though, the power relationships are not as clear-cut, in part because of social networking and in part because of the ethic of academic freedom and free speech. I think those reasons are why I have witnessed assistant and associate professors unleashing unproductive, cutting remarks at senior administrators. Even if mundane faculty sadism is more commonly aimed at students, staff, and colleagues, sometimes the barbs head upwards.

In some ways, some might claim that such mundane faculty sadism is the inevitable byproduct of healthy debate, and to some extent I agree. Prickliness is no excuse for ignoring academic freedom. In addition, ethical administrators will do their best to address legitimate complaints separate from the rhetorical cruelties. Yet mundane faculty sadism can erode the environment in which academic freedom should flourish, by ruining class experiences for students when prevalent in a course, by destroying the morale of the staff who perform daily miracles for faculty, or by making peers reluctant to engage in healthy debate in fear of the verbal barb, rolling eyes, and passive-aggressive colleagues. When multiple factions of a department or college feel free to engage in such sadism, you get undeclared war.

The solution to mundane faculty sadism is not the vague "collegiality" criterion some institutions have tried as a filter for *******s or *****(e)s at tenure time. Such efforts strike me as passive-aggressive responses to the problem of mundane faculty sadism: "We'll ignore your daily cruelties for 5-6 years and then fire you." Those cruelties require a faster response from colleagues. Ultimately, faculty need to develop skills at confronting peers in a respectful but firm manner. I will gladly admit that I don't have the skills I would like to have. And I don't think many of my colleagues have them, either.

I didn't learn those skills in graduate school (along with a whole host of other skills I didn't learn). Instead, I became inured to a discourse that emphasized hard-hitting comments and ignored personal relationships inside that discourse. I suspect that a part of the dynamic is the argumentative nature of academic discussions, debating and peacocking that receives more attention than the subtle guidance of others. I used to think that older faculty were more likely to engage in mundane collegial sadism, but I've seen enough counter-examples to rethink those views.

So, dear readers, do you think this concept holds any water, and do you have any suggestions for addressing it?

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Posted in Higher education at 10:48 PM (Permalink) |

Democracy, justice, and teaching

There's been a fascinating discussion developing in response to Aaron Schutz's review of Jeannie Oakes and John Rogers's Learning Power: Organizing for Education and Justice (2006). Sometimes comment threads develop in a few hours. This one is still growing after a few months.

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Posted in Education policy at 9:20 PM (Permalink) |

July 26, 2007

Stiff spats over charter schools

Reading Leo Casey's complaint about anti-union charter schools named after Cesar Chavez, including his rebuttal to Andy Rotherham's comment, and then Sara Mead's response, plus Joe Williams' dismissal of Casey's interpretation of a blurb in the Fordham Gadfly that complains about teachers unions wanting to organize charter schools, I feel as if I'm hearing one of those internecine leftist political grudges that you'd find in New York City, about which bagelry was run by Stalinists and which by Trotskyites, whose typewriter was evidence of who infiltrated what group, and whether/when Norman Thomas became Darth Vader. I know that blog entries can sometimes have inside references, but when readers get lost, someone's forgetting to add context. Several someones.

For the record, what I know is that some charter schools are named after Cesar Chavez, that many of them are not unionized and some may have anti-union practices, that Checker Finn's staff doesn't think charters are worth anything if they're unionized, and that Joe Williams writes as if teachers unions are guilty until proven innocent. So what have I learned that's exactly new?


Update: In comments, Fred Klonsky takes me to task for being obscure myself and commenting on something if I thought it wasn't of interest. I didn't say it wasn't of interest, but that no one had given enough specifics to really chew on (speaking of bagels, and the reason I was obscure to give the sense of how I felt reading the blogs; someone reading about Trotskyite vs. Stalinist bagelries might pick up a bit of satire?). I did err in saying "add context" instead of "add context or detail." Casey links to Michael Klonsky's blog (written by Fred Klonsky's brother), asserting it includes "a remarkably long list of charter schools that have assumed the name of Cesar Chavez, while denying their teachers the right to organize into an union." But said blog entry only names three charter schools named after Cesar Chavez (that's not "a remarkably long list"), and there is no specific example of an organizing effort in a charter school named after Cesar Chavez that was suppressed by management. I stand by my judgment.

Update 2: Leo Casey responds. Readers can decide independently if Casey described any specific school named after Chavez that engaged in anti-union activities or, failing that, if the specific concerns he raises are merited without such evidence.

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Posted in Education policy at 9:29 PM (Permalink) |

Loss of the Weekly World News

It's true, dear readers. The Weekly World News is ceasing publication at the end of August. (Hat tip.) There goes the end of the great litany of newspaper readership analyses (which varies by country):

  • The Washington Times is read by the people who run the country.
  • The Washington Post is read by the people who think they run the country.
  • The New York Times is read by the people who think they ought to run the country.
  • The Boston Globe is read by the people who used to run the country.
  • The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who own the country.
  • USA Today is read by the people who are told where to travel by the people who own the country.
  • The Los Angeles Times is read by the people who wouldn't mind running the country as long they didn't have to leave California.
  • The Chicago Tribune is read by the people who think Harry Carey should run the country.
  • The National Inquirer is read by the people who think Angelina Jolie should run the country.
  • The Weekly World News is read by the people who don't care who runs the country, as long as she or he meets regularly with aliens.
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Posted in Reading at 1:09 PM (Permalink) |

July 25, 2007

Ward, not redux

So Colorado's Regents have fired Ward Churchill. I've written about this at other times, but let me summarize things briefly:

  • The beginning of the investigation was political.
  • There were legitimate challenges to Churchill's research record, some identified before and some sent to Colorado after the political furor began.
  • The charges tied to Churchill's speech rights were thrown out and were not part of the formal investigation of Churchill's research.
  • Faculty who looked at Churchill's record said he had engaged in a systematic pattern of research misconduct.
  • Churchill has neither acknowledged nor expressed regret for the serious problems the faculty panels identified.
  • Faculty panels have been fragmented on the appropriate response to Churchill's research misconduct. Some recommended suspension for various periods, some recommended dismissal.

I'm not a lawyer, but given the procedural due process, I'm guessing the only leg Churchill has to stand on is the question of whether dismissal is an appropriate sanction. That is, while several faculty committees have decided that he committed research misconduct, Churchill's lawyer might argue that dismissal was disproportionate punishment and was clearly motivated by politics, even if the factual findings weren't. (Let me be clear: Churchill's lawyer is sure to argue that the findings are wrong, too, but I don't think that claim has a chance of a snowball in West Palm Beach.)

The first question is whether there is a record of sanctions in previous cases in Colorado where there has been a finding of research misconduct. Local precedents can be powerful, and that will depend on the evidentiary record. If you're gazing from the peanut gallery, you might look for findings of research misconduct reported by the Department of Health and Human Services. I've found one, about Wei Jin from Colorado State University (2007), but Jin was a doctoral student, so that case does not provide a precedent. There may be others, but I'm not sure they would be available online. (That would be part of the discovery process for a lawsuit.) If there are multiple cases where tenured faculty members found guilty of serious research misconduct have been given multi-year sanctions but not fired, Churchill's lawyer will have a field day, arguing that firing Churchill is disproportionate to the factual record within the university or the state's public institutions.

If there is no such record, Churchill's lawyer could look at the national record of cases. Where there is evidence of multiple problems, in what proportion of cases is the result termination, resignation, or a lesser sanction? And is there any way to gauge what determines the sanction from the record?

The last resort of Churchill's lawyer would be to claim that Hank Brown and the Regents had specific intent to punish Churchill disproportionately. If someone can dig up a smoking-gun statement of intent, that might be persuasive, but if the claim in court is that circumstantial evidence points to an ideological intent, you'll know that Churchill's lawyer either is incompetent or couldn't find favorable evidence in the record of research-misconduct sanctions.

Update: Read the legal filing by Churchill's lawyers. Greg Lukianoff has more on Churchill's legal prospects.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 2:17 PM (Permalink) |

July 24, 2007

There go the plans for campus security

Not much is left untouched by impending budget cuts in Florida. First to go were plans for better security on college campuses, as a South Florida Sun-Sentinel article describes. 

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Posted in Higher education at 12:07 PM (Permalink) |

Appointment snafus

The first problem with the morning, my putting one appointment down for 9 am instead of 10, is entirely my problem, but I've had to cancel a 10:30 meeting in another part of town for it. Not fatal, just mortifying.

The second problem is about an afternoon meeting and a conflict between the legitimate need for auditable trails for soft-money people, on the one hand, and the legitimate rights of a union for a particular issue. I know how it's going to be resolved (there's only one way to resolve it that I can tell), but there are going to be a few raw feelings I'll have to smooth over.

Since I have a few minutes thanks to the snafu'd meeting times this morning, I'll try to write a blog entry about ordinary collegial sadism.

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Posted in Random comments at 9:13 AM (Permalink) |

July 23, 2007

Salute to Chris Perez

A Fishy View of Education neatly skewers the flawed reasoning of Stanley Fish, for Fish believes in a very narrow view of free speech and academic freedom. Bravo.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 10:51 PM (Permalink) |

Wrong questions on Ward Churchill

Yesterday, Aaron Barlow asked the political questions about l'affaire Churchill at Free Exchange on Campus. To Barlow, the central issue is the public perception of higher education. In responding to "those on all sides who try to make Churchill and his presumed guilt or innocence an emblem for their greater argument about academia," So he cites ACTA's "How many Ward Churchills" screed and the ACLU letter released over the weekend. But Barlow then repeats the error:

If nothing else, the Churchill case points out the fact that we need to seriously consider the question of whether we academics are doing enough to police ourselves. The next time those attacking academia come up with a particular person to attack, will we be confident that our defense of that person will not open us up to further accusations of protecting the unqualified or dishonest?

Barlow is right that the symbolic politics are important in some ways. But the critical question in each individual case is academic due process, not public perception. Should we warp academic due process to match what we think should happen, or what those outside academe think should happen? I haven't seen that in the actions of faculty at Colorado, but Barlow appears more concerned with perception than due process. And that is worrisome.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 10:07 AM (Permalink) |

July 22, 2007

More on inflated Florida graduation stats

Today's article by Margaret Susca on GED withdrawals in Florida (hat tip) again raises issues about an official measure that inflates graduation stats by making schools and districts unaccountable for students who drop out and enter a GED program.

I'm back in my office this morning, continuing reading student papers. Harry Potter is downstairs in the car. Incentive, anyone?

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

July 21, 2007

Why vocabulary makes a difference

Notes on student misunderstandings of vocabulary, and how that affects performance:

  • citation vs. quotation. One is acknowledging one's sources, and the other is using exact passages and making those passages typographically distinct. Some students misunderstood my advice to cite several sources and turned in drafts where more than half of the words were quoted. I think I cleared that one up... and fortunately, one student was honest enough to explain the misunderstanding.
  • argue vs. agree. I think one paper has used argue when agree was meant in the following sentence:  I want to argue with Mr. Quieto about his point that one dropout is too many.

There is nothing for a student to be ashamed of when she or he doesn't know a word. But there are consequences for not clarifying one's understanding or for misusing words.

For the record, these are notes rather than a response to the batch of papers I'm currently reading. I've already come across a paper with a solution in our simulated case that is entirely original and delightfully so.

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Posted in Teaching at 1:54 PM (Permalink) |

Reading... but not what you think

Yes, I was at a local bookstore at midnight, getting two copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But I'm in my office this afternoon, reading student papers. I don't get the Harry Potter until I'm done.

In other news, Jeff Solochek reports correctly that I'm now the representative of the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform on the Florida DOE's advisory committee looking at the FCAT. I've worked with FCAR co-founder Gloria Pipkin before on a few matters, and I was flattered to receive her request. This is an interesting challenge for me, and Gloria and I took a few steps to make sure that the FCAR board was comfortable with my particular take on accountability.

There are a few things that Solochek didn't get correctly. I don't think of myself as an "FCAT critic" but a critic of the current uses of the FCAT. The conflation of the test with the policy is interesting...

The more serious problem is the way that the Gradebook's thumbnail of my portrait is all fuzzy. You can compare it to the image in the top left corner of this page and see what you think. But I understand the need for thumbnails, and I am here providing a slim, 100-by-100 portrait that should accommodate virtually any blog's storage limits:

Simpsonized Dorn portrait
(after Simpsonization)

Enough silliness.  Back to reading!

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:16 PM (Permalink) |

July 19, 2007

Disappointing reading

After crunching through three rounds of papers, it's time to take a break and review Edward Tufte's Beautiful Evidence (2006), the fourth in a series of coffeetable books on presenting information: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983), Envisioning Information (1990), and Visual Explanations (1997). Tufte's website is a cornucopia of fascinating discussion of graphics and shameless huckstering. As Tufte's reputation for sharp-witted analysis has grown, I wondered whether his latest book would be as effective as Envisioning Information or cement his reputation as a true info-guru, the Font of Wisdom for followers but all too clay-footed for the rest of us.

Tufte walks along the ground. With the exception of one serious contribution, this book is largely superfluous. Go to Envisioning Information, drain it for all it's worth, and then read up on sparklines and find tools for creating them online. But you can safely skip Tufte's latest book.

Tufte's central point in the book is that one can present quantitative information effectively, elegantly, and even beautifully while making arguments. To this task he brings a lifetime of knowledge, a catalog of famous displays of information and infamous corruption, and odd examples that show Tufte's skill in spotting and explaining technique. So you will find in the book Galileo's drawings of Jupiter and its moons, a horrifically clinical depiction of slave galleys, and an effective demonstration of Cezanne's multiple-perspective cubism, as well as Tufte's praise of a skiing manual, an 18th century dancing diagram, and a NYC police departmental poster showing how to spot hidden handguns. Tufte brings Galileo's dispersed drawings together to show the moons' path through several dozen observations, something Galileo didn't do (and Tufte implies he could have, though he admires Galileo's integration of text and image).

Given the intervals between the books' publication dates, one should neither be surprised nor too distressed that many of Tufte's ideas recur in the various books. So too do some images. Charles Joseph Minard's heart-stopping graph/map of how Napoleon's army disintegrated in the Russian campaign appears once again... in part because Minard's image deserves such study (and has been reworked by several statisticians and others). In itself, such repetition is neither surprising nor disturbing.

Nor is Tufte's true contribution in the book, a chapter introducing a type of condensed charting he calls sparklines. Tufte's idea is interesting and a legitimate contribution, even if I think it is better suited to data-rich time-series that one wants condensed for small multiples than a panacea for presenting data. Fortunately, even for us crass users of Excel, there are add-ins to create sparklines where appropriate.

Beyond the introduction of sparklines, however, the book contains nothing new for those who care about presenting information clearly. The book has some odd sequences that are distracting rather than informative and at least one ill-informed screed that consists largely of overblown rhetoric. First and briefly, the bizarre bits: In a chapter putatively about the integration of text, images, and numbers, Tufte includes an interlude discussing the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a 15th century erotic novel with woodcuts, and a 2006 prosecutorial sentencing memorandum used in the bribery case against Randy Cunningham. In the same chapter, Tufte interrupts his discussion of Galileo with a two-page spread from Matisse's Po├ęsies Antillaises. He finishes the book with unexplained color plates of his own sculptures. Beautiful? Some of these. But a reader must wonder what this is all evidence of. Certainly not information design.

The last substantive chapter is a 29-page jeremiad against powerpoint that was put better in a three-panel Dilbert cartoon August 16, 2000, where one audience member succumbs to "powerpoint poisoning" after seeing slide 397 (search for the phrase to find probably-copyright-violating images of it). Okay, so we know presentation software is often abused. But Tufte takes a ludicrous leap from the banal uses of presentation software to the claim that the overuse of PowerPoint doomed the Columbia shuttle in 2001. Tufte spends seven pages on this argument.

The central theme of all the journalists reporting on the Columbia accident investigation was that the problem was a NASA culture that put safety behind all sorts of political and bureaucratic considerations. How much did the Columbia Accident Investigation Board spend on the topic in their first report volume? The accident report included a sidebar on p. 191 of Volume I that includes Tufte's analytical text, wording similar to what eventually appeared in Beautiful Evidence. The board's conclusion in the sidebar is important enough to quote in its entirety:

At many points during its investigation, the Board was surprised to receive similar presentation slides from NASA officials in place of technical reports. The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communication at NASA.

The word illustration is important here. NASA culture killed the Columbia astronauts. The same culture had existed 15 years before, when Challenger exploded. PowerPoint had not. Why should we blame PowerPoint when its use is a symptom and not a cause?

That sin of commission is matched by a sin of omission: Tufte did not explore any redesign of visual presentation software. In his decades-long fight against chartjunk, Tufte advises redesigning the presentation of information. Lighten the lines, reduce obnoxious color contrasts, eliminate shadows and other distorting 3-D effects, keep quantities visible, etc. Those are specific steps to take. Tufte's advice on PowerPoint? Don't. That's all. Just don't. Use handouts instead (though too many handouts and the audience sleeps through a talk). Forget that you have 50-70 square feet of visual space you could use to help communicate.  Just fuhgeddaboudit.

My advice on Tufte's latest book? Fuhgeddaboudit. Go read up on sparklines and get his other books instead.

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Posted in Writing and editing at 9:51 PM (Permalink) |

July 18, 2007

The discussion glow

I left the classroom for a few minutes this evening, after telling students to arrange themselves in small groups, making sure that each group had at least one member who had read each of the two books I had assigned the class (half to Gilberto Conchas's The Color of Success and half to David Tyack's Seeking Common Ground). When I returned, I found one circle, everyone in it. I raised an eyebrow, maybe asked a question, and sat on a table behind one part of the circle, listening to the group take turns describing the two books, raising questions, comparing the perspectives of the authors, making connections to some other readings in the course, and then making connections to their own school memories, the work some of them do in schools, and the experiences others have had as parents.

I said almost nothing for half an hour, until it was time for break. I didn't need to.

It was a wonderful affirmation of the term on the last class. Thanks, guys!

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Posted in Teaching at 11:00 PM (Permalink) |

NCLB identifies wrong target for students with disabilities

Erin Dillon's short piece yesterday, Labeled: The Students Behind NCLB's 'Disabilities' Designation, is a response to criticism of NCLB as unrealistic about the achievement of students with disabilities. Dillon argues that because approximately half of students with disabilities are identified as having learning disabilities, and because of the overrepresentation of minorities in special education, the critics are wrong.  Specifically, she writes that "the majority of special education students have disabilities that do not preclude them from reaching grade-level standards."

There are several issues here:

  • Do schools use special education as an excuse not to educate students identified as having disabilities?
  • Should schools be pushed to educate students with disabilities better?
  • Can students with disabilities reach the proficiency standard identified by states?
  • Is NCLB the best current tool to prod states and schools to educate students with disabilities better?

Dillon's answer to all of those questions is yes, and the clear implication is that the answers are linked: you think the answers to all questions are either yes or no.

I disagree with that assumption. More specifically, I'd say yes, yes, sometimes, and no. Let's at least acknowledge the fictitious nature of grade-level standard; in reality, states set arbitrary proficiency thresholds, but we can agree they divide the range of achievement into two ordinal categories. Given that fact, there is no guarantee that such thresholds are plausible for all students, regardless of the help provided. NCLB critics are correct in pointing out that 100% proficiency is an unrealistic standard in itself.

That fact does not mean that schools should be let off the hook, and NCLB's defenders are correct that having different standards for students with disabilities is dangerous. Yet you have to have different standards. And in Accountability Frankenstein, I have acknowledged the implausibility of using the response to formative assessment as a summative tool. 

A plausible way out is to allow students with disabilities to take different grade-level tests under a few conditions:

  • The student then follows the sequence of grade-level tests up each year (so that if a student is taking a 3rd-grade test in 4th grade, it's a 4th grade test the following year, etc.)
  • There are negotiated limits on the proportions of students allowed to take tests 1 or more years behind grade level
  • There is research to document what proportion of students we should expect to need behind-grade-level tests, with such research informing future limits on such exemptions.

If we are stuck with mediocre to awful annual testing, we should at least do it as sensibly as possible.

Mea culpa: I misread Ms. Dillon's name as Eric. My apologies!

Update: Dillon responds.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 2:49 PM (Permalink) |

Tufte-d morning

I was lazy this morning and exercised by jogging in place on an exercise mat, browsing/read through Edward Tufte's Beautiful Evidence. While Tufte's idea of sparklines (in chapter 2) is appealing, I am not nearly as impressed by this book as by his other volumes, espcially Visual Explanations. I am not yet sure why. Then again, I am only halfway through the book. Maybe another morning's exercise will reveal the reasons for my mild dissatisfaction.

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Posted in Reading at 7:34 AM (Permalink) |

July 17, 2007

Performance pay fairy tales

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, a governor promised to raise teacher pay, if only it would be based on performance. Let us evaluate teachers based on what they do and what their students do, he said, and the keys to the kingdom will be yours, as will the goose that lays the golden egg, the loom that makes the future, the magic lamp, and a yellow hybrid Hummer that gets more than 16 miles to the gallon. Cross our heart, stick a needle in my eye, and all that.

The teachers figured they couldn't get turnip from the legislature otherwise and said, "Sure, Governor, as long as we get a seat at the table when we make this performance-pay plan." Because the governor was a Good Man, a man who smiled, and in addition to having threads that actually had threads, also was a hoopy frood who really knew where his towel was, the People believed.

So it was said in the land of Oz, or at least a land that was only a little north of Oz, or maybe somewhat south and a lot east of Oz. And lo! the think-tanky types were happy. Happy reporters wrote happy articles. The legislature smiled. The sun shone. A rainbow came to celebrate the event.

Uh-oh.  You know what causes rainbows, don't you?

Right after the rainbow, budget cuts came.

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

July 16, 2007

NCLB reauthorization blog at Ed Week

There's a new Ed Week blog: David Hoff's NCLB: Act II, entirely about reauthorization.

In many ways, this is a wise focus for an education beat blog. Several other blogs have died out when key reporters have moved on, as they typically do after some (relatively short)period of time. Having a blog with a relatively clear criterion for the end of its life gives a reporter some knowledge of when the more intense activity of blogging as well as reporting will end...

... except that this one is about NCLB's reauthorization. Is Ed Week and Hoff betting that it'll happen this year?  If not, I'm guessing this will have a 30-month life. (And I'm not alone.)

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 7:09 PM (Permalink) |

July 14, 2007

At work on Saturday

I have a bunch of things to catch up on, mostly with EPAA and teaching, so I'm here at my office.  But don't worry: as a reward for reading my blog, you get a video!

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Posted in Podcast at 2:30 PM (Permalink) |

July 13, 2007

Volunteers for Florida Education Wars

[Corrected July 14: HT.]The application period has closed, and the following have tossed their hat into the ring for Florida's Commissioner of Ed Spot:

  • Dannett Babb
  • G Ellis Gary
  • Henry Hastings
  • Robert Jennings
  • John Jones, Jr.
  • James Kador
  • Emanuel J Klimis
  • Joseph Marinelli
  • Joseph A Molloy
  • William J Moloney
  • John O'Sullivan, Jr.
  • Simon Priest
  • Joram Rejouis 
  • Deena Stevens
  • Stephen A. Stohla
  • Cristina Trettner
  • Sandra Tuttle
  • Jim Warford
  • Thomas Watkins, Jr.
  • Linda Wilson
  • Bennie Williams
  • Bob Woody
  • Sheri Yecki

Warford is the most likely to be favored by administrators around the state. Yecki is the most controversial applicant... thus far. Then again, this is Florida.

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Posted in Education policy at 5:19 PM (Permalink) |

July 12, 2007

Read the law, Inky editorial board!

So the Philly Inquirer's editorial board thinks No Child Left Behind should include graduation rates? (HT: NEA's NCLB blog.) AYP already does:

... [AYP] includes graduation rates for public secondary school students (defined as the percentage of students who graduate from secondary school with a regular diploma in the standard number of years) ... (1111(B)(2)(c)(vi))

Wince. Wince. Wince.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 5:45 PM (Permalink) |

Objectivists objected to?

FIRE's Tara Sweeney succinctly describes the problems with Ashland University's denial of tenure to classicist John Lewis.

Ashland University was perfectly happy to take a $100K gift from the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship. When institutional leaders are willing to take the money and run, claims that special institutional missions trump lay notions of academic freedom ring hollow. (This was only one of the problems with the tenure denial.)

Lewis eventually received tenure, contingent on the perverse condition that he resign. He's at Bowling Green State University for a fellowship next year.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 1:55 PM (Permalink) |

Wasted another perfectly good hour...

Other fans of Car Talk will recognize the title phrase that Tom and Ray Magliozzi use at the end of their show, and right now the number one site on a Google search leads to another blogger's noting the dissipation of time. In my case today, I had glorious intentions to spend the whole day on journal editing tasks... until I had two long phone calls. Ai. And an emergency student request that really is an emergency. Double ai.

So I'll have a decaf tall double ai with cream and two blues.

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Posted in Random comments at 1:13 PM (Permalink) |

How to reduce remediation costs

An article in Inside Higher Ed this morning on the Education Commission of the States meeting in Philadelphia focuses on two topics. One is unit records, of which I've written before, and there is no real surprise, which is that state leaders feel that they have their own unit records databases (which they do, for public institutions), though they have fewer concerns about the now-dead proposal for federal database than many others.

The second topic is remedial education, which has a long history, back to the 17th-century years of Harvard College when it was discovered that the boys/men who were enrolled weren't up to snuff. (For the life of me, this morning I can't remember and couldn't find the name of the book/report a few years ago providing a fairly salutary perspective on the realities of remedial education.) In the IHE article, Tennessee Associate Vice Chancellor Houston D. Davis talked about reducing the costs of remedial education by "modularizing" remedial courses to focus on specific deficits.

Okay,Folks in Charge of Remediation: If you're going to compartmentalize tiny bits of remedial education and probably put things online in depersonalized bits, you're going to ignore everything Mike Rose has written about inducting adults into an intellectual culture. But I suppose you have a right to do the best with the resources you have.

But in turn, I have the right to strip the veneer from what is essentially a defensive move ("if we can't provide term-long personal instruction, we'll chop remediation into bits and retain a budget"). That's so ... parochial. If we're going to have some part of remediation done online, let's do it properly: produced by a substantial grant, and free to all participants. Let the federal government fund a group of fabulous teachers and programmers to create online modules for learning arithmetic, algebra, and maybe a few parts of writing. Anyone in the world could go online to take advantage of it, as long as they agree to participate in an ongoing evaluation. Fund continuing development work at a slightly lower level. Then, anyone identified as needing additional skills in college or anyone wanting to brush up on skills can go online and get the best automatic, auto-didactic, self-driven, unsupervised, unguided learning available.

Then they'll still need to find a teacher.

The truth is that someone who is truly self-driven can find a lot of material online in various subjects, and college counselors can probably find some fabulous free online modules on subjects that are typically the focus of remedial courses. And they can point students to those resources. My guess is that some even do, but that's probably not in the routine of most.

How much remediation is a matter of addressing skills of individual students and how much is remediation a part of institutional routines that serve other purposes and needs? I'm not up on the sociological literature focusing on community colleges, but I suspect addressing skills is only a fraction of the role that remedial courses serve. (To the sociologists reading this: is cooling-out still a current term in the community-college literature?)

While probably well-intentioned, the proposal to "modularize" courses says a great deal about the structure of Tennessee's system. A student diverted into the modules will rightly see the difference between the fragmented structure of the modules and "real" college courses.  Modularization removes remedial programs even further from the regular program.

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Posted in Higher education at 10:08 AM (Permalink) |

Writing or faux writing?

Recent events have brought home the fact that the Florida Department of Education expanded the performance writing exam for students in 4th, 8th, and 10th grades so that they have to answer compartmentalized grammar questions that I thought were obsolete: identify the correctly-puncuated sentence, fill in the blank with the right word, etc. As my wife points out, it's not enough that students show they can write an essay. They have to show that they can do bellwork, too.

It's clearly a double standard. Florida students have to complete sentences, while Scooter Libby doesn't.

(Inspired by an item by Conan O'Brien earlier this week: blame him.)

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:02 AM (Permalink) |

July 10, 2007

Academic joke

In lieu of content today, a joke:

A political science professor, a mass comm professor, and a math professor were watching the news together. "To know the president and just get off like that, scot-free?" asked the political scientist. "I want to be Scooter Libby."

"You got it wrong, Jane," said the mass comm professor. "To get out of jail, be an idiot on television the same day, and get paid a million dollars? I want to be Paris Hilton."

"You both got it wrong," said the mathemetician....

The punchline is left as an exercise for the reader.

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Posted in Random comments at 6:41 AM (Permalink) |

July 8, 2007

When have you had online "aha" moments reacting to others?

For the first time in five years, my distance-learning course is asynchronous, without a live chat, and this poses an interesting challenge.

Oh, heck, let me be honest: at some level I'm terrified at the prospect of an asynchronous-only class, because my teaching style relies heavily on the timed revelation of material and ideas, commonly in one of the following ways:

  • Getting students to commit themselves to some perspective or a factual or policy position and then reveal information designed to shift their perspective radically; or
  • Intervening in a discussion to push students to rethink their ideas.

When I'm lucky, setting up a discussion allows peers to educate each other (why students who are over 25 are invaluable in my undergraduate classes!). But that still requires interaction in a live context. While students do tell me that my reading assignments often get them to think differently, the live interaction is still crucial to some of the ways I teach.

I won't have that in the fall, and I'm trying to think about the student "aha" experience and asynchronous interaction. So I'm asking my online readers for some personal story: can you remember a specific time when you were reacting to someone else or someone else was reacting to you online, not live, and your perspective on something shifted?  If so, please tell me what it was (hey, you can even link to it!) and what made that aha moment possible?

For those who comment, thank you!!!

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

The penultimate-policy fallacy (the reverse of "fighting the last war")

Florida's universities are facing an interesting mix of budget pressures in the short term, with some possibility for substantial improvement in about 2-3 years but also a serious Sword of Damocles in a property-tax referendum in January and short-term misery if a state-level budget-reduction exercise is handled poorly (or illegally: by law, higher ed shouldn't bear a disproportionate burden of any budget reductions after the governor signs the state appropriations bill). That's on top of the legislature and governor each taking whacks at state university funding this year. Locally, a command by the governor to engage in a budget-reduction exercise and parallel requests by the state chancellor for each university has caused some panic. The faculty union at USF tried to address that panic in a resolution and e-mail on Friday, but in the past week I have several times heard the following phrases (or variants of it):

  • At my last job, ...
  • The last time this happened, ...

I understand this attempt to leverage thumbnail-history wisdom. Carl Becker certainly would, and there is nothing wrong and much right with bringing one's personal perspective to an issue. But when you're talking about the effective redistribution of millions of dollars, personal recollection is neither a well-documented history nor a broad perspective. Unfortunately, in institutional circumstances people often bring to the table only the last experience they had, asserting its appropriateness. I call this the penultimate-policy fallacy, the false belief that whatever happened last is the best choice. Sometimes it's institutional leaders who apply identical solutions in different circumstances; sometimes it's mid-level administrators or individual faculty who have penultimate-policy myopia.

This fallacy is the reverse of wanting to fight the last war, but it's rooted in the same poor habit of thought: assuming an exact parallel in the last vaguely-similar event and wishing away the importance of context. This is dangerous whether you're talking about Florida's university finances... or a war in the Mideast.

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Posted in Education policy at 9:28 AM (Permalink) |

July 7, 2007

Appearing in Chicago on education policy...

On August 3 and 4, I'm talking in the Hyatt McCormick Place Convention Center at YearlyKos, the convention sprout of partisan DailyKos, on the panels Education Uprising: Education for Democracy (Friday afternoon, 1-2:15) and Rethinking Educational Accountability (Saturday morning, 10:30-11:30). Both are substantially the logistical work of teacherken, a fellow Haverford College graduate, an active blogger at DailyKos, and a teacher in Virginia. He has wrangled the opportunity and has been herding a bunch of cats for the last seven months.

The first panel comes from an ambigious set of DKos diarists who set about to ... rethink education. I promised to (and did, with some effort) complete some initial diaries on the history of education as an initial perspective. Following entries are partially divergent in approaches to education reform, but they are sufficiently interesting and... humanistic ... to justify the panel. (See reference to teacherken's herding cats above.)

The second panel includes teacherken, me, and Doug Christensen, Nebraska's Commissioner of Education. Christensen battled with the U.S. Department of Education to allow Nebraska to use a set of locally-developed tests for NCLB purposes. It should be a very interesting conversation.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 6:20 PM (Permalink) |

July 5, 2007

Wild young Danes

The last night of my trip to the Society for the History of Childhood and Youth conference, I walked through the center of Copenhagen and kept coming across young Danes in white hats, riding in decorated trucks, climbing the fountains of one of the central squares, and whooping it up (see the pictures below the cut).

When I asked some of them, they explained that they had just graduated from secondary school (high school), and this was the way they celebrated. With bullhorns, they were raucous, and they waved and shouted out to passersby on the street.

So high school graduation rituals exist in other countries, if different from ours. I think this is better than high school prom drunks, but maybe they get drunk later. In any case, the growth of these rituals shows how graduation has become a standard expectation for European teens. I don't know how this evolved, but to an historian of dropping out, it's fascinating. Institutional life often becomes attached to rites of passage, and graduation rituals are part of that.

Danish graduates climbing statuary in King's New Square, Copenhagen
Danish graduates climbing statuary in King's New Square, Copenhagen, June 30, 2007

Trucks in which Danish secondary graduates rode, Copenhagen, June
Trucks in which Danish secondary graduates rode, Copenhagen, June 30, 2007

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Posted in Research at 7:48 PM (Permalink) |

Free trade doesn't cover this one

The general principle with travel is to leave footprints and take pictures (and memories), so I didn't return with much physical stuff, other than two Anders F. Rönnblom albums, two postcards, one book on international historical perspectives on child labor, and a copy of the Daily Mail to show my children what tabloid papers are really about.

What I regret not discovering until the last morning, and what no free-trade policies will cover, is that there is a flavor of sugarless gum that exists only in Europe: salty licorice. It's wonderful. It also doesn't exist in the U.S. (though some may remember Black Jack quite-sugary licorice gum). Here is the polite and useless e-mail I received back from a Wrigley's representative:

Unfortunately, Extra Salty Licorice is not available in the U.S. Frequently we tailor specific products to local consumer demands and desires and therefore not all of our brands are available globally.

Currently, we do not sell any international brands directly to our U.S. consumers. The only suggestion we can offer is that perhaps you can make arrangements with your friends abroad to send you a box or two of Extra Gum.


I know: I haven't blogged in substance about the Supreme Court decisions last week. I'm still catching up on work...

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Posted in Random comments at 11:15 AM (Permalink) |

July 4, 2007

Norrköping trip photos, set 2

More photos from the Norrköping trip, just from the last evening in Copenhagen. I was exhausted by the end, but you should be able to identify the photographs related to my research. (I'll highlight it in another entry in a few days.)

Panoramic photograph of Kongens Nyrtorv (or King's New) Square at sunset after the jump...

Copenhagen Kongens Nyrtorv square panorama
(Full image available on clicking.)

This panorama includes four constituent photographs. Can anyone spot the obvious stitching error?

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Posted in Random comments at 1:02 AM (Permalink) |

July 2, 2007

Norrköping trip photos, set 1

You can now see photos of the trip to and the environment of the conference. I'm doing my best to stay up a few hours longer so I can get the pain of jet lag out of the way by tomorrow morning. So while I have loads to catch up on, a little travelogue:

June 26: Tampa-Atlanta-Copenhagen flights. Overnight flights to Europe are not designed to be fun. I anticipated getting little sleep, so at least I wasn't disappointed by the occasional and incomplete napping. Zonked in Copenhagen, shocked to discover something in the airport that's in the photo album linked above, frustrated that there was no Swedish train-line agent there to see if my ticket for the 12:44 train could be changed to the 10:44 train that I might have been able to make, disoriented when my train was canceled but I had to luck into finding out the way we're supposed to handle it (hop a commuter train unpaid to Malmo and get the ticket reservation changed there, in Sweden), and relieved to get the train reservation changed in Malmo, where I found a quaint and very pleasant coffeehouse.

But my adventure wasn't over: heavy rains had warped or otherwise damaged tracks over a small stretch, so everyone had to get off the train and onto buses. I was probably the only passenger happy with the detour: As Bengt Sandin confirmed, tourists often pay high prices for precisely the rural-Sweden bus tour I got without any extra charge. I had a dermatologist sitting next to me, and we talked about how our 15-year-olds are environmentally conscious. This was either foreshadowing for something the hotel did (show Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth over and over again on one of the movie channels) or just a common concern. In any case, I finally arrived at the hotel late at night, a little before sunset. I met some colleagues on the deserted main street at 10 pm (2200) and discovered the dearth of nightlife. Ah, well.

On the whole, the conference was quite good, in part because organizers had arranged for an online upload, so we could read a bunch of papers before the conference. There were several I discovered I hadn't but wanted to download after the conference. The repository is a nice feature that many conferences are now using. I heard 2 of the three plenary sessions, and they were linked thematically, though without any conspiracy. Kriste Lindenmeyer argued that Americans haven't shown the capacity to understand and cope with dependency as a concept, and Linda Gordon argued that the innocent child rhetoric has been damaging to children's interests when applied to public policy. Both are firmly rooted in historiography in the U.S., but Gordon's message is the one that I suspect is hardest to swallow, in part because of the deep roots of "child saving" and other patronizing reform movements.

One of the very nicest experiences was a conversation I had with one of the other presenters after his session and a Major Scholar whom I knew strongly disagreed with the presenter's perspective. The Major Scholar didn't try to browbeat but just asked factual "how did this happen?" and "what happened to this?" questions, listening intently, finally asking a few questions designed to prod the author to rethinking a basic perspective. I don't know if the author picked up on the clues, but it was one of the gentlest acts of intellectual criticism by a peer I've seen in years. For those who encounter intellectual sadists, there are better ways and better colleagues.

The return trip by train was much smoother, and I had enough time to visit the center of Copenhagen, having dinner and then walking briskly as far as I could in the 3 hours before sunset. Those photos aren't up yet, and I'll have a bit more to say, because a few are directly connected to one of my areas of research. All I will say is that I saw plenty of cows, white hats, and European architecture, and I ate well. It was good.

When I returned to the hotel, I heard about the Glasgow car bombing attempt. I also saw the short clip of new British PM Gordon Brown talking to camera from a hallway in 10 Downing Street. Definitely not the glitz of Tony Blair, but I suspect the British public will welcome Brown not as the dour Scot but as the sensible Scottish PM. It doesn't hurt the impression I received of him that he has a history Ph.D.

The plane flight back yesterday: Copenhagen-Paris (Charles de Gaulle)-Atlanta-Tampa. Charles de Gaulle is a horribly confusing airport, and I'm one who takes O'Hare, Atlanta, and Dallas-Ft. Worth in stride. I made the plane without fuss, but I saw the panic in other passenger's eyes. Air France is definitely a different airline. Delta flight attendants on the way over announced that passengers over 21 could have one complementary (alcoholic) beverage with dinner.  Air France was willing to give you a glass of wine whenever. (I had two glasses of red wine in the 9 hour flight.  Gasp. Horrors!)

I returned with photos, one scholarly book, two Swedish folk-rock albums, two postcards, and two newspapers (an edition each of the International Herald-Tribune and the Daily Mail). I have a few dozen e-mails and a bunch of tasks to organize, and it's back into the fray.

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Posted in Random comments at 8:58 PM (Permalink) |

"Roosevelt Amino Acids a2 + b2 i-before-e Hyperbole High School"

Danny Roosevelt has the concise and witty response to the latest silly study co-authored by Jay Greene, purportedly about how Florida schools are named horribly, after things such as "Lake Magdalene" and "Orange Grove" instead of famous people such as Thomas Jefferson or even local heroes such as Richard Pride (who fought for civil Rights in Tampa). Oh, wait: schools in the Tampa area use all of those names. My children have gone to Lake Magdalene (neighborhood name) Elementary School and Orange Grove (what Florida is famous for, in part) Middle School, and there is both a Richard Pride Elementary School and a Thomas Jefferson High School.

The money (or silly) quote is as follows:

To some extent, the change in school names is a reflection of broader cultural changes, including increased skepticism of inherited wisdom, revisionist history, and increased interest in the environment. But attributing the change to culture is an insufficient explanation. Culture partially shapes the decisions of political leaders, but culture can also be a product of the decisions of political leaders. The question is, why are the political leaders who are in control of school names--school board members--increasingly reluctant to fight for names that honor individual people?

There is no evidence anywhere in the report about the motives of school board members, just speculation. The vast majority of any drop in naming schools after people in Florida is a drop in naming new schools after presidents. There's been a slight increase in the last 2 decades in naming schools after other people, probably disproportionately weighted in favor of civil-rights figures (either nationally or locally). And I wonder about the ability to categorize a name as either nature or place. Someone who didn't live in Tampa might think that Lake Magdalene Elementary School was named after a body of water, but only indirectly; it is named after the neighborhood commonly called Lake Magdalene (that after the lake). So, too, if schools are commonly named after subdivisions, and developers use real or fictive "nature"-sounding names, then school names will follow, not because school boards have some environmentalist bent but because developers are marketing their neighborhoods and school boards are paying attention to local geography.

Will Rick Hess ridicule this Greene et al. "study" in his next review of educational research?  Hmmn...

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Posted in Education policy at 8:04 PM (Permalink) |

Photos coming

Unlike profgrrrrl, I don't yet have photos of my trip to the Society for the History of Childhood and Youth meeting online. My bags didn't make the transfer in Atlanta, and my digital camera (and its memory card) were in one of them. And I'm a touch jet-lagged after a 23-hour day, though going west is much easier than going east. (And after talking to some Australian colleagues, I will never complain about that again. I'll just be disoriented, quietly, without a word of complaint. This isn't a complaint, just a touch of loopiness and exhaustion.) But there will be photos.

My last evening was in Copenhagen, and while there I saw hordes of young men and women literally whooping it up in the streets, yelling at passers-by from what looked like produce trucks, and climbing statuary in a public square. This public celebration is intimately connected to one of my research areas, and anyone who grew up in Europe will know instantly what I'm talking about, but I have to get my photos online before I can blog about it in detail.

Loads of things to catch up on at home (teaching, some writing that's overdue, union stuff, etc.), and I'll start that today in bits and pieces. I'm glad I took the college iPod and the portable iPod mic with me, so I could say a few things when class-related subjects came up from the trip: the tacit knowledge I lacked when one of my trains was canceled, my embarrassment in Europe at being essentially monolingual, the youth celebrations mentioned above, and a few other matters.

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Posted in Random comments at 9:03 AM (Permalink) |