August 30, 2007

One of those days

The bear is currently chewing on me.

Extra credit for the correct identification of the folk reference (no, it's not dirty).

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Posted in Random comments at 9:57 PM (Permalink) |

Parsing Miller/McKeon

Kevin Carey takes the first crack at a moderately-detailed description of the Miller/McKeon discussion draft of NCLB II. From the few sections I've skimmed, I think he's done a good job at description. I agree on some things, disagree on others. The one solid thing I've seen was a definition of a reasonable cohort-plus calculation of graduation rates, though it says something about Washington that this took ... how many pages?  (I forget, and I have to do something else rather urgently tonight, so you can count the pages yourself. I think it's section 1124.)

Having read through Carey's description and quickly skimmed through the assessment/AYP language, my first thought is that this draft is essentially establishing negotiations over what level of failure is politically acceptable.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 9:26 PM (Permalink) |

August 28, 2007

Eight days to read 400+ pages

Time to call BS on George Miller and Buck McKeown: the release of an initial draft of NCLB's reauthorization was accompanied by a letter saying the public would have eight days to comment. I guess that they gave us a day beyond a week to accomodate the Labor Day holiday.

So much for wanting public input.

Update: Andy Rotherham (Eduwonk) points out that the 8-day window isn't a hardship for those inside the Beltway:

First, there has been a lot of opportunity for input so far --and interest groups working on this full time for months -- so this is not really the first cut, second a lot of the language isn't new anyway and it's 400 pages of legislative text, which is different than 400 pages of prose, and third, if people have to read a little over Labor Day that's OK, the staff working on this has worked weekends all summer, one weekend won't kill anyone,...

Okay, so those who have had advanced pre-draft drafts and are used to legislative language can skim through this to spot their favorite and hated items. But this still leaves out about 290,000,000 U.S. residents who haven't had those opportunities and don't have that background. My point stands: the 8-week window is a clear indication that this is an inside game.

(And, yes, I'll squeeze in some time to read it, but I'm not doing it on Rehoboth Beach or anywhere else that the Beltway set go for Labor Day Weekend.)

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 7:28 PM (Permalink) |

Today's priorities

On the agenda today: working on my promotion packet and on Education Policy Analysis Archives.

Parents change their minds on teaching to the test

Since 2002, the annual fall release of results from the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of public attitudes towards public education has become increasingly focused on NCLB. Today's release (hat tip) is no exception, and my guess is that most reporters will run with the results of the first section on NCLB and accountability.

My nomination for most significant result is from Table 14, asked of those who agreed in a prior question that "standardized tests encourage teachers to 'teach to the test,' that is, concentrate on teaching their students to pass the tests rather than teaching the subject." The majorities answering yes to that first question (in Table 13) haven't changed much between 2003 (when 68% of public-school parents and 64% of adults without children in school said yes, standardized testing encouraged teaching to the test) and 2007 (with 75% and 66% of each group saying testing encouraged teaching to the test).

While a clear majority has always seen testing as encouraging teaching to the test, American adults have changed their mind on whether that is good or not. In 2003, 40% of surveyed parents with children in public schools thought that teaching to the test was a good thing. This fits in well with arguments by David Labaree, Jennifer Hochschild, and Nathan Scovronick that a good part of the appeal of public schooling is to serve private purposes, giving children a leg up in a competitive environment. In that context, it makes enormous sense to value teaching to the test, since many parents understand how college admissions tests are related to access to selective institutions and scholarships. While 58% of public-school parents thought that teaching to the test was a bad idea in 2003, a sizable minority thought it was just fine.

That opinion has changed, dramatically. In the 2007 poll, only 17% of public-school parents thought that teaching to the test was a good thing. Fewer than one-half of one percent had no opinion, and 83% of public-school parents thought that teaching to the test is a bad thing. Adults who did not have children in school also have changed their minds, with 22% of those surveyed this year thinking that teaching to the test is a good thing.

This question was asked separately from the issue of narrowing the curriculum. While there may be some spillage or confusion of issues, I think the sea change is a warning to advocates of high-stakes test-only accountability: Few parents see benefits in sending their children to test-prep factories. Fix that consequence or see the political foundations of accountability crumble.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:57 AM (Permalink) |

August 27, 2007

Bloggy bon mots

First, from Kevin Carey:

[W]e've reached the point where people are actually arguing, with a straight face, that the real crisis in American education is the shameful neglect--the injustice--of how we educate smart white men.

Next, from Miriam Burstein (aka The Little Professor):

  • Number of leftover bite-sized chocolate cupcakes from yesterday's department picnic consumed this afternoon: 2
  • Number of calories in those cupcakes, thanks to the Laws of Academic Calories: 0
  • Number of books involving cannibalism on the honors comp syllabus: 3

Update: Third, from profgrrrrl:

I miss primal scream -- only my time to scream is no longer the end of the semester. It's the beginning. So:


My accomplishments are far less witty. In the last few days I have dropped one child off at school, finished my syllabi, oriented one online masters class, taught an in-person undergraduate class, procrastinated planning Wednesday's advanced graduate class, picked the other child up from school, come home, helped clean up after a bearded dragon, and eaten chocolate. I am sure I have done other things, and these are all important, but right now I have no capacity for the angry elegance of Carey, Burstein's eye for irony, or profgrrrrl's refreshing honesty [updated].

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Posted in Education policy at 7:47 PM (Permalink) |

August 26, 2007

Don't get mad; get historiographical

The New York Times preview of Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms has prompted a flurry of responses by people who haven't yet read the book. Hrrmrmrmrm... Obviously, it's touched a nerve among historians, perhaps moreso than the flurry responding to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. Both books are orthogonal looks at the "rise of Europe" in ways that are couched as "new explanations."

For historians who know the extensive literature on early modern Europe and industrialization, these books are provocative and somewhat discomfiting, in part because they appear at first glance to be ignoring the existing literature. I've already read  one criticism of Clark saying he was just reworking Fernand Braudel's annaliste approach. I understand this (I had similar questions when reading the NYT article), but I haven't read the book and feel it's better to hold that as a question until specialists have a chance to read the thing.

But even without reading it, I can suggest an approach that can accommodate criticism and provocation, which is to treat it as an extension of a long line of provocative arguments about the rise of Europe, from Lynn White to Jared Diamond and beyond. As an undergraduate, I had a wonderful experience taking a course in early-modern Europe, where Susan Stuard used every week to explore a different explanation for the "rise of Europe," thereby turning historiography into a puzzle. It was fabulous, and it also provided a way to think about Clark's book, regardless of the merits: "Yes, dear, you're quite clever. While I'm cooking, could you please go join that bookshelf over there? I think you'll find lots of friends with similar interests."

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Posted in History at 8:57 AM (Permalink) |

August 24, 2007

A Full Life

The details for the last 24 hours:

5:20 a.m., alarm clock
5:30 a.m., get into shower
6:00 a.m., wrangle son into car to get to bus
6:10 a.m., bus picks son up
6:11 a.m., head to early-morning cafe to work on simulated case for undergraduate class I'm not teaching (something a group of us have worked on over the past few weeks)
7:15 a.m., send draft of case to key person who then distributes to the faculty group
7:17 a.m., receive phone call from spouse. Chat for a few minutes
7:19 a.m., start work on the general-education recertification of the course mentioned above. This includes finishing the answers to various questions such as How are we to trust that you're actually going to do what you say you are? (phrased more politely and specifically) as well as creating a revised syllabus.
Intermittently read a few e-mails and decide whether they're urgent, not urgent, or distractions when my concentration wanes on the other stuff.
12:40 p.m., finish the draft of the gen-ed recertification answers and revised syllabus and distribute to colleague group e-mail
12:44 p.m., ask cafe staff for an empty coffee cup, cup lid, and cup jacket.
12:45 p.m., leave cafe, head to health-food store for lunch supples
1:00 p.m., get home and eat lunch, read paper, call tech support line for something I received in the mail yesterday.
1:20 p.m., get back on computer, make final decisions on whom to invite to the Education Policy Analysis Archives' new-scholar board and send e-mail invitations and regrets to all applicants.
2:15 p.m., start drafting e-mails to the editorial board summarizing the process and identifying the new-scholar board invitees
2:30 p.m., swear vigorously, realizing I have to stop and pick up my daughter
2:50 p.m., arrive at daughter's school, having remembered to take the back way in to avoid major traffic, park in the faculty parking lot, and get to the front door before the flood of adolescents washes over the sidewalk.
3:06 p.m., my daughter exits the school, and we head to her violin teacher's house
3:34 p.m., a kind neighbor of the teacher tells me the code to get into the subdivision's gate
3:38 p.m., realize that without a map, relying on dead reckoning and a several-months'-old memory of where the teacher lived, we're at least a few blocks beyond the teacher's street; hand cell phone to daughter to call her teacher. Daughter leaves message
3:39 p.m., realize where the teacher's street is, after all
3:41 p.m., find the house
3:45 p.m., open laptop clamshell and realize that without wifi, I can't send out an e-mail. Switch to editing syllabus of masters' level course.
4:35 p.m., leave violin teacher's house.
5:05 p.m., arrive home. Leave laptop in car trunk hoping to find a cafe after the next event. Have dinner. Bring in mail and realize that the Santa Cruz Comic News is in it.
5:25 p.m., wife and son arrives. Son writes down list of classes and teachers.
5:35 p.m., leave house for son's middle school with list in hand and laptop in trunk of car.
6:05 p.m., get to middle school, start open house rounds.
8:20 p.m., finish open house rounds. Head directly home instead of to cafe for a few reasons. Receive phone call from fellow union activist about a fairly urgent matter.
8:40 p.m., get home. Start cleaning kitchen and some other household tasks.
9:40 p.m., spouse and daughter gets home from self-defense weapons class. Debrief spouse on middle-school open house.  Talk with daughter.
11:30 p.m., handle a few other e-mails. Finally open laptop again.
11:40 p.m., reboot computer, as it's having a rough day when I didn't pay enough attention to it.
12:25 a.m., finally finish e-mail to EPAA editorial board about new-scholar-board decisions.

Still undone:

  • Presentation for talk to grad-student workshop tomorrow on academic integrity
  • Completed syllabi for all courses
  • Find 5 more objects for the undergraduate course's first-week activity.
  • Do more work on Education Policy Analysis Archives, including both getting the next article into shape and also addressing some long-term needs.
  • Writing a piece for the union newsletter on intellectual property and online courses.
  • Lots of other things that I can't remember at the moment.

The day reboots in a little over 4-1/2 hours. Time to sleep, if you'll pardon me.

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Posted in Random comments at 12:45 AM (Permalink) |

August 23, 2007

Truth in administration

Dean Dad's response to the USNWR rankings strikes me as honest:

Ranking schemes like this invariably lead to a two-track response; I know they're flawed, but I want to do well on them, anyway.

Whew! I'm glad someone acknowledged that. Hate the flaws in the competition; need to engage in it.

(I've been tacit blogging-wise this week because classes start next week and thanks to a change in K-12 calendars in Florida, I only have one week between when my wonderful children started school and when I start teaching. There have been enough urgent matters that they encroach on my usual dither-brained time for blogging.)

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Posted in Higher education at 9:09 AM (Permalink) |

August 19, 2007

On working when sick

I'm a fairly healthy adult, on the whole, and lucky to be so. Apart from whatever genetic proclivities I inherited from my parents and the tendency to be too sedentary when work piles up, I'm not sick too often, have reasonable control over my faculties, and consider myself temporarily able-bodied, with some luck staying that way for a few more decades. So when I get the occasional cold, I consider it a temporary delay in whatever needs doing.

What I find frustrating this weekend is the drained feeling I've had a few times each day, exhaustion that has no accompanying congestion or fever. Part of the exhaustion is from headache, I know. I don't (yet) have the painful headache I had each of the prior two days, but I'm having to rest after each activity and pace myself carefully. So I shopped, and then I had to rest without having to concentrate on anything. (Sorry, my dear spouse, for not thinking coherently about the family calendar then!) I've finished one chunk of writing right now, but I need to pause before attacking the second (of three "chunks" I should finish today).

Once again, my spouse provides the right perspective: how can a union activist complain about needing down time? Got me there. So I'll sit here and rest a bit before starting the next chunk of work. You may even get another (blathering) bit of blogging.

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Posted in Random comments at 2:20 PM (Permalink) |

August 17, 2007

Research project on former methamphetamine users in college (women only)

I normally do not pass on requests for research participation, but this is a sensitive topic where participation will require more than the usual outreach, and because it addresses the conditions for former substance users in attending college, it certainly fits this blog. This announcement is for those who live in the central Florida area:

Jodi Nettleton is conducting a study on women who have, at one time, regularly used methamphetamine and who have stopped and later have attended college.  This is a study that will evaluate the reasons women start using, how they stopped, and what made them choose to attend college.

The research requires volunteers to participate in this study.  Involvement will only require a couple meetings, of about 2 hours each, to sit and talk. Interviewee names and any and all identifying characteristics will be held at the highest confidentiality, and this study is being conducted under the University of South Florida IRB protocol # 105806.  Publication of the findings will include a composite of many interviews and will not provide any names or clues which could provide participant identities.

Please contact Jodi Nettleton ( directly with any questions or interests in this study.

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Posted in Higher education at 8:34 PM (Permalink) |

August 16, 2007

The Library of Congress has webcast notices by feed

The Library of Congress webcasts looks like an amazing collection of lectures available through RealPlayer, and the announcements on the relevant pages are now fed through rss. I wish that LOC had automated the system so that they would be podcasted, but I suppose you can't have everything.

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Posted in Random comments at 6:52 AM (Permalink) |

Multiple issues in multiple measures

In his July 30 statement at the National Press Club, House Education and Labor Committee Chair George Miller said that his plans for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act included the addition of multiple measures, an incantation that has provoked more Sturmunddrang in national education politics than if Rep. Miller had stood at the podium and revealed he was a Visitor from space. While Congress is in recess this month, the politics of reauthorization continue. I'll parse the debate over multiple measures or multiple sources of evidence, and then I'll foolishly predict NCLB politics over the next month or so.

The different issues

Calculating AYP

At one level, the discussion appears entirely to focus on the determination of adequate yearly progress. Add measures and you "let schools off the hook," according to Education Trust (with similar noises from the Chamber of Commerce's Arthur Rothkopf [RealAudio file-hat tip]. No escape hatch, promised Miller when asked. Maybe if you add measures, there are more ways to fail AYP, as one reporter noted at the press conference; not so, said Miller, for we'll figure out some way so that the extra measures only get you over the hump if you're almost there. Since AYP is the largest chunk of NCLB politics, all of the talking points are familiar. In the end, this piece of the debate will get bundled into the most likely package that includes growth measures.

Teaching to the test

As the Forum on Educational Accountability has argued, as well as last week's letter by civil rights groups, narrow measures of learning tend to distort how schools behave in several ways, from narrowing the taught curriculum to teaching test-taking skills and engaging in various forms of triage. One argument in favor of multiple sources of evidence is Lauren Resnick's old one, that a better test is likely to encourage better behavior by schools, both in terms of better assessments and school indicators that penalize schools for triage. To the extent that more input dilutes the incentive for systems to attend to single indicators, that may be true. On the other hand, multiple sources of evidence by themselves will not eliminate the corrupting effect of brain-dead accountability formulas, and to some extent the resolution of the debate over AYP can blunt the effect of multiple sources of evidence. On the third hand, I suspect most of those who support multiple sources of evidence are adults and prefer some improvement over none. Including multiple sources of evidence will not eliminate the deleterious side-effects of high-stakes testing, but they should ameliorate them.

Improving the quality of exams and their cost

Connecticut's NCLB lawsuit is based on the claim that the federal government has not provided enough support for the state to develop its performance-heavy exam for all the required grades. The feds allegedly told Connecticut that it doesn't need to use the performance-heavy exams, claiming that an off-the-shelf commercial test system would work just fine. After investing state money and political capital in the performance exams, Connecticut officials were rather peeved. The Title I Monitor nailed this issue in May, noting that the argument over multiple measures is in part a matter of the quality of assessments and cost. The Monitor also noted a level of denial in the US Department of Education that should be familiar to Bush-watchers:

[A] senior ED staffer acknowledged the benefits of states using varying assessment formats compared to a single test, but challenged the idea that costs and timelines are a barrier to states developing tests with multiple formats.

And the escalation in Iraq is currently providing an environment conducive to the reconciliation of factions. Right. Officials from a variety of states and a number of players in Washington agree that NCLB has essentially stressed if not broken the testing industry's credibility and infrastructure, and the inclusion of multiple measures is part of the negotiations over how much Washington will pay for better assessments.

Reframing accountability

One doesn't have to agree with George Lakoff's version of framing to recognize that the politics of accountability are driven by assumptions about the need for centralization and authoritarian/bureaucratic discipline. These themes are obvious in the dominant inside-the-Beltway narrative about NCLB: We can't trust the states. The best argument for this position is Jennifer Hochschild's thesis in The New American Dilemma (1984), a claim that sometimes we need a non-pluralistic tool to advance democratic aims, a contradiction she saw in desegregation. But we don't have an open debate about this dilemma. We didn't have it about desegregation, and we certainly don't have it about accountability.

Instead of reflecting some honesty about policy dilemmas, the arguments defending No Child Left Behind today are generally at the soundbite level. A common metaphor used by many supporters of NCLB relies on time, such as the Education Trust's organizing an administrators' letter several years ago warning against a thinly veiled attempt to turn back the clockA step forward is another phrase that the same letter uses to describe NCLB, and Education Trust's response to the Forum on Educational Accountability proposals describes them as a giant step backward. This is an ad hominem metaphor: It says, "Our opponents are Luddites. They are not to be trusted to defend anything except their own narrow and short-sighted interests."

The other language commonly used by NCLB supporters is a simple assertion that they own accountability. Anyone who disagrees with them is against accountability. Together, these bits of accountability language imply that there is one true accountability and that NCLB skeptics like me are apostates or blasphemers. Pardon me, but I don't believe in an accountability millennium. 

To shift the debate away from accountability millennialism, critics of NCLB have to provide a counter-narrative. Both the August 7 civil rights-group letter and the August 13 researchers' letter (or the letter signed by mostly researchers) describe the current NCLB implementation with words such as discourage, narrowed, and fail. In its August 2 recommendations for reauthorization, the Forum on Educational Accountability uses the words build, support, and strengthen. The Forum and August 7 letter also use a single word to describe the best use of assessment: tool. In their recommendations, the Forum and its allies use an architectural metaphor: we need to strengthen the system while keeping it mostly intact. The criticisms directed against multiple-choice statistics aren't part of that story, though I suppose a purist would insist on that, some how described as undermining foundations, eroding under the foundation, blowing out a window, or somesuch.

I don't know to what extent the debate over multiple measures will shift debate, but it is potentially the most far-reaching of the consequences of the letter.

Where we're headed in the short term

My guess is that Miller's September draft will bless consortia of states that develop assessments with more performance, authorize funding for more (but not all) of that test development if small states work in consortia, and promise to pay for almost all of the infrastructure needed to track student data.

We will also see the true character of high-stakes advocates in Education Trust and the Chamber of Commerce. The Education Trust is now under the greatest pressure of its existence over both growth measures and the issue of multiple measures. In Washington, almost no one gets their way all the time. How people negotiate and handle compromise reveals their true character.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 1:12 AM (Permalink) |

August 14, 2007

Graduation measure workshop for AERA?

Earlier in the summer, I toyed with the idea of putting together one of the pre-AERA intensive workshops on measuring graduation. I didn't have time at the end of July to finish it, but AERA's program chairs have kept the proposal window up through early September.

Practical question: would anyone be interested in such a workshop, focusing on measures of graduation and some practical tips for research projects?

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Posted in Research at 6:36 PM (Permalink) |

ACTA'n up

It took four days for ACTA's blog to respond to the Center for Responsive Politics' report on political giving within higher education. And, true to form, the entry attempted to link contributions to classrooms:

Intellectual diversity is not, of course, reducible to party affiliation, and the professoriate's campaign contributions do not themselves tell us what happens inside college classrooms. Still, the numbers are suggestive, and they do indicate cause for concern.

I'm glad there was at least some caveat about the implications, but my prediction that someone would overgeneralize came true: there was no acknowledgment that the data is unrepresentative of faculty as a whole. When you do that, it's simply cherry-picking data to suit your preconceptions.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 4:32 PM (Permalink) |

August 13, 2007

Organizing charter-school teachers, Chicago style

According to a CATALYST article from April (belated hat tip), the Chicago Teachers Union is organizing teachers in charter schools. I wish I had known of it in the spring, to give a shout out to the national AFT organizer on the ground, Rob Callahan. Good luck, Rob!

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Posted in Education policy at 5:29 PM (Permalink) |

August 12, 2007

One manuscript submission, four hours

I have just changed the projected submission turnaround time for EPAA to reflect my reality, and here's a reason for that reality: I just spent four hours crafting a response to a manuscript submission.

In this particular case, I think the manuscript is publishable with work, but it does need work, and I needed to reread the reviewers' comments a few times, reread the manuscript one more time, revise my notes on the manuscript, and write the letter. I think the resulting letter gives specific recommendations to the authors that should allow them to revise successfully (and make reader reception much better), but it's a time-intensive process.

Incidentally, I enjoy this part of editing a great deal, especially if an author replies with a much stronger paper. Maybe that's an incentive to spend a lot of time crafting revise-and-resubmit directions, but I think it's wise for the journal.

Textbook prices

University of Texas-Austin accounting Professor Michael Granof has a fascinating proposal for textbook licensing arrangements that is a sensible response to some of the nuttier proposals to address the real textbook-price problem.We had an impractical suggestion come out of the legislature in Florida this spring, but it fortunately died at the end of the session.

Granof proposed that colleges license the content of textbooks from publishers, and students could then have their choice of electronic versions or hard-copy prices that would be much lower. Granof's proposal is a mirror of the software world, where everyone recognizes that the stuff (the program) is more important than the CD it came on.

The beauty of Granof's proposal is that it would address the problem of the most expensive course readings (textbooks), provide a market incentive for publishers to focus on the quality of texts and not the new-edition nonsense that has been their primary response to the used-text market, still allow the flowering of public-domain and open-source electronic texts, and avoid interfering with instructional decisions.


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Posted in Higher education at 9:53 AM (Permalink) |

August 10, 2007

Political involvement, proxies of

new report on political giving by higher-education employees is sure to provoke more fallacious arguments about politics and academe. Some things to keep in mind:

  • The report includes data on all higher-ed employees, and is about all giving. Without more information (which the Center on Responsive Politics wouldn't have), we don't know how much of the giving was by faculty, how much by administrators who used to be faculty, and how much by adminsitrators who never were faculty. My guess (but it could easily be wrong) is that a slight majority of the giving was by current faculty but that administrators were more likely to give larger amounts.
  • Employees in the top 10 giving institutions account for about 20% of all giving. That's 10 out of hundreds... or 19, if you include the fact that the U.C. system has 10 campuses. Wow. The disproportionate giving suggests that at most colleges and institutions, a much lower proportion of employees contribute to political campaigns at all. (I.e., this data is not representative of most faculty across the country.) If you just count Harvard, U. of California, William and Mary, and Columbia, that's 11% of the total giving. More than 10% of all political contributions this cycle are coming from just 13 institutions. It's still an amazing statistic, and it's even more amazing that the other three individual places outdo the U.C. system.
  • The top 10 giving institutions are also disproportionately favoring Democrats, 87%-13%. The rest is closer to 73%-27%, which still favors Democrats, but there's a clear difference in patterns.
  • What political contributions say about teaching and research is ... very little. But watch for the giant gaps in reasoning that make such assumptions.

Update: And the first fallacy award goes to ... David French. As John Wilson notes, the key question on the size of contributions by industry is the contribution per employee.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 12:55 PM (Permalink) |

August 7, 2007

A conversation with Doug Christensen

The audio (mp3) of a discussion last Saturday among Nebraska Education Commissioner Doug Christensen, Maryland teacher Ken Bernstein, and me is now available online. The discussion was recorded at a session of YearlyKos in Chicago.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 7:07 AM (Permalink) |

Florida no longer has the silliest school calendar

As the Dayton Daily News observes,  Believe it or not, school's back in... in Ohio. Thanks to a state law, Florida public schools cannot open earlier than two weeks before Labor Day, a move to forestall the nutty shoving of the school calendar further back into the Sweaty Season to eke out a few more weeks before Testing Season. There are some problems with this limit, but it's preferable to starting August 3 or 4.

Dayton schools are starting in the middle of a heat wave. At least in Florida one could say that it doesn't make a practical difference whether the two extra weeks of school are in early June or early August, because the schools will still have to pay for air conditioning. But in Ohio???

Update: I have to remember not to blog at 1:30 in the morning any more... had to fix two typos in the heading.

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Posted in Education policy at 1:26 AM (Permalink) |

August 6, 2007

Raul Hilberg, 81

Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg died over the weekend. I never met him, but he deeply affected my understanding of history and human cruelty. As a child raised in a American Jewish household in the 1960s and 1970s, I was exposed to the first generation of Holocaust education. (I didn't know until a few years ago that American Jews took a few decades after WW2 to start that project seriously, and the NY Times article linked above notes that Hilberg's advisor tried to discourage him from the subject as unvalued in history.) That first wave of Holocaust education hadn't yet absorbed Hilberg's ideas, and so the dominant arguments were that Hitler was evil and that we must never forget. Fortunately, I also met several survivors, including Mel Mermelstein, people whose specificity was a useful antidote to the oversimplification of early Holocaust education. (I met Mermelstein before his legal battles with the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review.) For my bar mitzvah, I looked closely at the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

When I was in college, I took several classes from Jane Caplan, including a German history course. I don't remember whether I found the Hilberg volumes in my history intro class or in one of Caplan's classes; I suspect the latter. I read large chunks of his opus, though I'll readily admit I skimmed significant portions. (Someone who claims to have read every word of all three volumes as a sideline to undergraduate course requirements with a full liberal-arts college load... well, I'd be skeptical.)

Hilberg's account was meticulous, detailed, horrific, and mesmerizing. His description of the bureaucracy of genocide answered questions that had lain unformed in my mind for years. I had little understanding of historiographical dynamics, but I knew this was important. I cannot imagine that anyone who has read Hilberg could simplify the Holocaust or other genocides with any shred of historical conscience.

(p. 73/104; see prior entry for context)

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Posted in History at 11:34 PM (Permalink) |

School uniforms and state interest

A renewed debate over constitutional rights and school uniforms should be the basis for a discussion of the obligations of school districts to avoid fads. In general, federal courts have ruled that school districts are immune from first-amendment arguments because they have articulated plausible arguments for restricting student dress. As long as lawyers for the parents continue that argument, I suspect that districts will continue to win.

There are two levers with which to pry the policies loose. One would be an argument that school uniform policies are not narrowly tailored to meet the legitimate interests of the schools: concerns about gangs can be met by more specific dress codes, and concerns about social-class differences can be met by voluntary uniforms, contractual arrangements with clothing manufacturers to provide low-cost clothing, and parent education. This line of reasoning would hinge on the specifics and school-board rebuttals about the feasibility of these... and because plenty of schools have voluntary uniform policies, I suspect a school-board argument would be weaker in a "not narrowly tailored" fight.

In addition to arguing that mandatory uniform policies are not narrowly-tailored to serve the interests of schools, lawyers for parents could swing for the legal fences, arguing that where constitutional rights are affected, school systems are obliged to track existing research on proposed policies and follow the presumptive guidance of research. In this case, the existing research is fairly clear: uniforms do squat apart from symbolism. This argument is different from a simple challenge of a substantive state-interest argument (which I'd also recommend) but instead focuses on the decision-making process involved in policies.

This argument would be a radical change in the obligations of state actors vis-a-vis intermediate scrutiny: It would require some evidence to support the assertions that specific policies are likely to satisfy state interests. The argument would go something like the following for changing what intermediate (or strict) scrutiny requries of state agencies:

  • In the past, the courts have defined intermediate and strict scrutiny based on the value inherent in the state interest (either compelling or substantial) and the narrowness of the intervention required to satisfy that interest. These are both a priori judgments that are unrelated to the effectiveness of policies or the prospective evidence for a policy's theory of action.
  • In many areas of state action, including education, there is a growing value placed on evidence-based decision-making. The federal government is statutorily required to gather scientific data and make many environmental decisions based on the scientific evidence that exists at the time. The federal government requires states to support some instructional practices based on research evidence. States and local governments rely heavily on data collection and analysis for a broad range of regulatory purposes. In short, over the past half-century the professional standards for policy formation and implementation have risen from seat-of-the-pants judgments to informed deliberation.
  • Today, in many areas of state action, research exists to inform policy judgments. Where such research exists, it is now feasible to incorporate a research standard into the intermediate and strict scrutiny standards for First Amendment speech restrictions and Fourteenth Amendment equal-protection claims.
  • The proposed obligation would not be an onerous burden on state agencies. As described above, most have personnel or units with an existing obligation to track relevant research and conduct it, and such processes would only be triggered when the agency's general counsel indicates that a proposed policy interacts with constitutional rights in a way that requires paying attention to research.
  • The proposed obligation would also not subject agencies to spurious challenges based on ambiguous research findings. Where there is no preponderance of research on a topic, a court could presume the plausible legitimacy of a policy's theory of action, contingent on the agency's following up implementation with a rigorous and public evaluation in situ. Challenges on these grounds would exist only when a state agency conducts no review of research, ignores a clear consensus, or demonstrates clear disregard of the need for evaluation of policies that affect constitutional rights.

I have no clue whether this argument would be viable in a court (I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice), but I'd be very curious to know what you (readers) think of this proposed standard.

(For those following my slow trek through close-editing, I'm on p. 60 of 104.)

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Posted in Education policy at 8:40 PM (Permalink) |

A double-dare for Eminem and 50 Cent

From Confessions of a Community College Dean:

Word you never hear in rap: azalea.

For extra credit: put orange at the end of a rhymed line without using door hinge.

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Posted in Random comments at 2:19 PM (Permalink) |

Framing NCLB debates

Matthew Yglesias has a point about the the details of NEA's No Contractor Left Behind flyer passed out liberally at YearlyKos this weekend. Yglesias notes that the message of the flyer relies on sloppy reasoning and is more sensationalist than sensible.

I'm worried by something else about the flyer: it's irrelevant to NCLB policy debates. As I've argued before, you can agree with the conflict-of-interest argument 100% and decide that the appropriate response is to build in more procedural safeguards against such dealings, not change the structure of NCLB. Fundamentally, it's a waste of NEA's resources to push this, and as a member, I'm ashamed at the poor decision-making.

But I think I understand why NEA staff have still diverted it: it holds a certain appeal for those of us angry with the Bush shenanigans. Mike Klonsky's entry on the matter demonstrates the appeal that the flyer holds for some.

(Incidentally, for those who know of Yglesias's relationship with Sara Mead, this isn't a devious insider plan to discredit the NEA. If I were really devious and wanted NCLB to be reauthorized intact, I'd encourage the NEA to waste even more resources on this nonsense. There are real conflicts of interest, but that's not a wise political focus if you want to change policy structures.)

And now, back to editing a 104-page manuscript for EPAA. It's a good one, but as I've discovered the efficiency of giving suggestions on accepting a manuscript, it's labor-intensive. I need to take breaks from the close reading/editing, and the blog will get the benefit of that.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:24 AM (Permalink) |

Steve Spurrier's tantrum

University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier wants the University of South Carolina to lower its admissions standards for football players to whatever the minimum is for NCAA athletes. Steve, we might be more sympathetic to this ploy if South Carolina's freshman graduation rate for African-American football players entering in 1999-2000 were higher than 38% (compared with 58% for all African-American students at South Carolina entering in 1999-2000). Do you really want to bring students into USC to be educated or to be fodder for your glory?

(Margaret Soltan has more.)

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Posted in Higher education at 6:58 AM (Permalink) |

August 4, 2007


I'm @ the Midway airport, waiting to board. Good trip, combining friends, touristing, politics, union stuff, academics, and even a bunch of cool new t-shirts. Packed 50 hrs!

I'll blog more extensively when I get home and take care of some other tasks, but I had a good time. The session with Nebraska's commissioner of ed was the most consistently substantive, and an unexpected surprise was listening to a conversation between him and George Lakoff. More later!

P.S. No education question in the first part of the pres. candidates' forum, before I had to leave for the airport.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 5:37 PM (Permalink) |

August 1, 2007

The celebrity-faculty fallacy

As noted in The Gradebook, Stanley Fish has now waded into ($) the Florida higher-ed funding battle.  Like many of our fellow Florida faculty, Fish says we can't simultaneously have great, universal, and really cheap higher education. Yet Kevin Carey has a point: Fish's proposed solution is a search for celebrity faculty:

Five straight years of steadily increased funding, tuition raises and high-profile faculty hires would send a message that something really serious is happening. Ten more years of the same, and it might actually happen.

Fish followed the same formula when Arts and Sciences Dean at UIC. A large part of his modus operandi was symbolic and cultural, but a substantial chunk was trying to snag Big Fish. Fish's fishing spent resources that could have been used to hire and reward wonderful and less-famous faculty.

Florida has tried the Famous Faculty Fishing expedition before, among other things with FSU hiring Nobel Prize winner John Robert Schrieffer, who later killed people while driving. His shenanigans are proof that neither universities nor famous faculty are idiot-proof. There is a point in recruiting famous people, so long as the resources devoted to such efforts do not drain the ability of an institution to reward and retain the vast majority of faculty who neither win Nobel prizes nor write best-sellers.

Florida loses 15% of its faculty every year, essentially serving as a farm league for other regions. Hiring a few famous faculty will not stop that attrition, and if it absorbs too much of the university system's resources, such a concentration of resources will prevent us from holding onto the hundreds of darned good faculty we already have.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 5:49 PM (Permalink) |

Sara Mead: We gotta walk the walk

Last night, former Education Sector staff member Sara Mead wrote an important blog entry as a guest for Eduwonk. She pointed out that teachers unions are not the opponents to a number of reforms supported by Andy Rotherham (Eduwonk), Joe Williams (Democrats for Education Reform), and others such as charter-schools and performance pay.

Liberal education reformers need to win hearts and minds by engaging with reform-wary lefties and taking their concerns seriously--not just calling them union hacks or accusing them of not caring about kids. We need to engage in honest self-reflection and be willing to make changes in response to valid critiques from the left. We need to avoid allying with "friends" who undermine our credibility as proponents of social justice. We need to make common cause with other progressive advocates for kids--those working on health care, childcare, and juvenile justice, for instance--rather than undermining them.

We'll see whether others share Mead's perspective; I hope so, but I am especially skeptical that Williams will change his standard rhetorical approach.  Whether that cripples the organization he directs is an open question.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 9:42 AM (Permalink) |