October 31, 2007

"Man in Black" (Halloween version)

After the series of photoshopped education "costumes" on Eduwonkette, I should confess that I didn't put on any costume, or so I thought when I went into work. An undergrad work-study student showed up as a flower child, and another coworker came in orange and black. I thought for a second, looked down at my black trousers and black shirt, and said, "This is the closest I'll ever come to being Johnny Cash."

What are you dressed up as, today?

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Posted in Random comments at 12:04 PM (Permalink) |

The curse of system transitions

In several cases I'm aware of, an academic library's transition to a new website has forgotten to include a link to an acquisition-request form, or the location of the form was incredibly obscure. This is true at USF in the last transition and in a few other cases.

I'm sure that the omission/usability flub is accidental (why would a library hide its acquisition-suggestion form?), so the frequency says something important about the site redesign process and the fact that any technological transition will have problems. Every one.

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Posted in Higher education at 8:05 AM (Permalink) |

October 30, 2007

Diane Ravitch's disillusionment

From Diane Ravitch's latest entry in Bridging Differences:

Now that the president and the U.S. Department of Education have made it their business to show that federal legislation can and will raise test scores, every release of NAEP data is accompanied by a press statement from the U.S. Secretary of Education that magnifies slight gains as huge achievements. This is troublesome. It is troublesome because the federal government's role as the honest, impartial collector and distributor of information gets corrupted when it acts as a cheerleader. And it is troublesome because it is unrealistic to expect test scores to make major leaps in a few years. When they do, one should suspect chicanery of some kind.

Sharon Nichols and David Berliner make the same point about almost all high-stakes testing in Collateral Damage.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:03 PM (Permalink) |

Social annotation and the marketplace of ideas

David Rothman has a wonderful idea from the growth of social annotation tools and the development of an open e-book format:

How long until savvy writers pester publishers to let them do interactive e-books? -- where readers' comments can appear in relevant places in the texts or elsewhere in the books. Imagine the possibilities for smart nonfiction writers and those in dream-with-me genres like romance fiction.

I am experimenting this semester with using Diigo to show students in one course my annotations on Supreme Court desegregation opinions. I've been able to provide translations of legal terms (certiorari, de jure, de facto, etc.), tell students where they can skip (e.g., issues of standing, which are tangential to the topics at hand for the course), what passages to read in depth, and some questions to think about specific passages.

There is already BookGlutton's idea for Unbound Reader, based on the epub standard. For those wondering what the One Laptop Per Child initiative is for, imagine an eight-year-old reading a copy of a story and seeing and replying to the comments of other eight-year-olds around the world on the same passage. 

For those who wonder about the monetization of this -- how can anyone make money off free books? -- Rothman has an obvious answer:

A community approach is worthwhile in itself, but along the way would reduce losses to piracy. You're less likely to steal from someone whom you and your friends respect. What's more, forum participation could be among the rewards for those who paid voluntarily for books distributed under Creative Commons licenses.

I suspect that savvy musicians think of mp3-sharing in similar ways, and if we're headed back to the days when vinyl records were the a way to get musicians concert gigs, maybe free books are a way to draw people into other ways to remunerate authors. For those in genre fields (romance, science fiction and fantasy, mystery, etc.), midlist authors might find that approach enormously attractive. And those of us in academe? There are some obvious possibilities that appeal to me to provide access to reading but some possibility for revenues where appropriate, such as books that are free online but that carry a Creative Commons license requiring a "binding license" fee, so anyone can read a book but where publishers or copy shops need to pay to distribute bound copies. This idea adds to that imaginary repertoire.

As Rothman notes, this potential requires a standard for annotation to be folded into the next generation of epub standards.

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

Let's draw low-income students to college

University of Texas system chancellor Mark Yudof argues that we should give low-income families some clue about their financial aid status before their children's senior year in high school. As he explains, the details are very tough to manage, but it's a smart idea.

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Posted in Education policy at 7:57 AM (Permalink) |

October 27, 2007

From confectionary to connected reasoning

Occasionally, I have students or colleagues who provide a stream of oddly (and sometimes randomly) connected chunks of material as if the stream is sufficient to carry an argument or thought. In the past I've had little trouble understanding why such streams are illogical but great trouble understanding why the author of the stream thinks it makes sense. It is not stream-of-consciousness material; the modules of the argument are stuck together with some conscious glue, from what I can tell, not just following in a sequence of associational steps.

I'm slowly coming around the conclusion that under stress, people tend to operate with the type of conjoint causal reasoning that David Hume asserted a few centuries ago: stick things together, and they must be connected. Hume's argument doesn't work with more rigorous reasoning, but it sometimes appears to hold with the panicking or too-quickly-talking person in front of me. There is nothing inherently wrong with sticking things together and seeing if a combination of ideas work: that's the art of speculation or brute-force brainstorming (a term that is not an oxymoron, though the explanation requires its own separate entry).

Perhaps we can borrow a concept from Edward Tufte's Visual Explanations, a book that has a chapter on confections, or visual representations of complex processes through multiple (and varying) uses of images. The premature expression of speculations often appears as a conceptual confection, layers material whose connections are self-evident to the author or speaker, if not to me as listener or audience member.

The sticky part is reducing the confection to a more easily consumed finished piece. In many cases, the original confection and the reduction process are fascinating, comprising a type of mental candy; my favorite blogs often serve up experimental fare that is quite tasty. As a teacher, my job includes helping students with their own confectionary reasoning, encouraging them to boil ideas down to their essences, and discouraging final papers with half-baked ideas.

But since guiding that process is part of my job, I am not sure why I have such distaste for other intellectual confections, mixes that I want to hold at bay so I don't have to smell them too closely, let alone taste them. In those cases, the raw meat and processing of ideas are closer to the production of sausage (or legislation): don't show me all the steps, just the final stuff I can choose to consume (or not). Is the distinction a matter of aesthetics, the random tastes of my intellectual palate, or is there something more substantive in the distinction between the speculations I want to examine more closely and those which I would rather just go away until they're presented on a plate?

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Posted in Random comments at 8:29 AM (Permalink) |

October 26, 2007

Horowitz at Emory

Inside Higher Ed's blurb about the heckling at David Horowitz's Emory University speech has a link to the Emory Wheel article. Thus far, that looks to be the best reporting on the event.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 6:43 AM (Permalink) |

October 25, 2007

Response to Dean Dad on the Brett Favre chemistry lecture series

Dean Dad responds to my recent post about teaching with a discussion about what to do with tenured faculty who are poor teachers and resistant to improving what they do. I think that's somewhat separate from the issue I discussed (what happens when students complain about teaching in the middle of a semester), but he raised an interesting challenge:

Rather than making this post #480 in my ongoing series on the evils of tenure, I'll ask for solutions within a tenure-based system. How would you handle the tenured professor who would rather discuss Brett Favre than his course's subject matter?

He specifically pointed to my advocacy of strong peer evaluations of teaching and asked, "What incentive would a peer have to take on somebody disagreeable?" I'll freely admit that faculty find productive confrontations a very difficult challenge. So do administrators. So do people in a variety of work situations, which is why there are shelves of various books on what to do in dysfunctional work environments and with dysfunctional colleagues (e.g., Bob Sutton's work or the Harvard Negotiations Project).

Because I blog under my name, it would be unprofessional for me to describe any specific situation at USF where faculty have taken on peers, but I know of a few locally and elsewhere. Admittedly, these are at either liberal-arts or research institutions where peer reviews are fairly important to promotion and merit pay (and unlike Dean Dad's institution, my university has had merit pay in the majority of years I've been here--far too little money has been available for productive negotiations over what should be across-the-board, merit, compression/inversion compensation, or adminsitrative discretion, but we do have merit money regularly in at least token amounts).

But I'm digressing. To Dean Dad's challenge: someone has to confront the tenured professor who consistently likes to talk about secondary coverage instead of covalent bonds. That's best done when there is a consensus of both peers and chair/administrators that someone's work is consistently inappropriate. It can be from a peer who has the guts or a chair who has no choice. But both have to be speaking with some considerable backup (in documentation or collegial support, and preferably both) to get beyond the prickliness Dean Dad anticipates/has experienced. As in all such confrontations, it has to be with some sense of humanity and sympathy.

I think this is necessary regardless of whether there are any tangible reward structures tied to evaluations. Even if there are career consequences to peer evaluations, I think leaving it up to a dry sheet every year announcing evaluation ratings is a particularly dysfunctional and academic form of passive aggression (see my academic lightbulb joke from last year for a tongue-in-check example, a truth that Dean Dad recognized). For junior faculty, any exercise in annual evaluation sadism is proof that a department is not mentoring an assistant professor. (Good heavens, folks, nominate someone to talk with your colleague.) For senior faculty, it is a sign that everyone needs to start talking with another again (or for a first time).

Even in aggressive unionized environments with written policies that go far beyond AAUP minimums, after you have talked with the recalcitrant Brett Favre fan, offered support, demonstrated that the person's behavior is considered unacceptable by peers, administrators, and students, and given the tenured faculty an opportunity to change, there are steps to take that fall under the general scope of discipline: letters of counsel, formal discipline that does not affect pay, formal discipline that does affect pay, and termination. As one of my local's vice presidents, I can explain that a union has a duty of fair representation when a faculty member is disciplined for just cause, to make sure that there has been due process (and I hope Dean Dad has memorized the tests of just cause). But that is a protection of due process, not a defense of poor behavior or incompetent teaching. If a faculty member has been dealt with fairly (which includes the judgment of peers), discipline up to and including firing can be an appropriate response to stubborn incompetence.

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Posted in Higher education at 10:47 PM (Permalink) |

October 23, 2007

Poor teaching != indoctrination

The response to the AAUP's statement Freedom in the Classroom (released September 11) has been fascinating, from Peter Wood and Stephen Balch's tendentious attempt to fisk the report (thereby burying the legitimate criticisms) to Erin O'Connor's more focused criticism to Stanley Fish's column this Sunday, where he takes the statement (rightly) to task for an inane example. First, let me quote Fish's distinction between teaching with controversial subjects and indoctrination:

Any subject -- pornography, pedophilia, genocide, scatology -- can be introduced into an academic discussion so long as the perspective from which it is analyzed is academic and not political.

This is Fish's "academicizing" (see the end of an August 2006 article about Kevin Barrett), and apart from the suggestion that properly teaching a subject requires anaesthetizing the student, it is one reasonable slice at the definition of indoctrination.

The AAUP subcommittee made its largest mistake in choosing a horrible example of teaching that should be protected from political scrutiny:

Might not a teacher of nineteenth-century American literature, taking up Moby Dick, a subject having nothing to do with the presidency, ask the class to consider whether any parallel between President George W. Bush and Captain Ahab could be pursued for insight into Melville's novel?

In contrast with Fish, I think that this choice of examples should be protected from claims of indoctrination, because faculty should be allowed and even encouraged to insert passion into the classroom, even when an attempt fails. But a teacher using such an example should not be protected from claims that this is simply an awful instructional choice. One of my college teachers claimed that Dostoevsky's portraits of psychological imbalance predicted Hitler's rise and the Holocaust. I suspect that he was trying to enliven the class, not indoctrinate us (and what would he have been indoctrinating us into, the Cult of Heterodox Dostoevsky Social Criticism?). We stared at him, mouths agape, wondering what he had been smoking. Great books, mediocre class.

So, like Timothy Burke (both in talking about ACTA's "How Many Ward Churchills?" screed and in discussing teaching in general), I am more concerned with inept teaching than indoctrination, in part because I strongly suspect that most students read crass political didacticism as incompetence as well as or rather than indoctrination.

The practical question is what no one (including the AAUP) has addressed. Suppose that a student complains about the Ahab/Bush comparison. What do we do? I agree with Stanley Fish that the comparison is not professional. Does that mean we toss the professor out on his or her ear? The AAUP statement refers vaguely to academic due process:

When that [allegation of improper conduct] happens, sound professional standards of proper classroom conduct should be enforced in ways that are compatible with academic due process. Over the last century the profession has developed an understanding of the nature of these standards. It has also developed methods for enforcing these standards that allow for students to file complaints and that afford accused faculty members the right fully to be heard by a body of their peers.

That's all fine and pretty but while the statement seems to imply that universities have developed ways of addressing improper instruction, such a conclusion is simply unwarranted. We know how to handle allegations of research misconduct (or at least we think we do until politicians get involved), there are reasonable guidelines from the AAUP on extramural utterances and behavior, and I suspect most universities have formal academic grievance procedures (where a student can appeal an academic decision), but we professors don't have a clue how to handle allegations of teaching misconduct except where there are bright-line standards such as showing up to class and not hitting (on) students.

I don't mean that faculty always stand idly by when they observe or discover a peer's teaching behavior that they find troubling in a variety of ways. But in terms of formal investigations -- what warrants special attention apart from annual reviews and how to gather and evaluate evidence -- I suspect most institutions have absolutely no procedural guidelines. And therein lies the problem: without procedures set down somewhere, administrators under pressure will resort to ad-hoc decisions and processes, which will inevitably violate academic freedom and erode institutional integrity.

The first line of defense against ad-hoc-ism is some proactive evaluation of teaching, the type of thoughtful peer observation and probing that Timothy Burke advocates. Yes, that requires some time and resources. Many good things do, and in many places (such as my institution right now, under enormous budget pressures), that ideal is unlikely to evolve quickly. Most institutions have some annual evaluation, which has an indirect evaluation of teaching through student surveys and materials submitted by the faculty member. This is better than nothing from a variety of perspectives and much worse than the ideal.

The second line of defense is a procedure for screening and evaluating allegations of serious teaching misconduct and incompetence. Here is where most institutions are susceptible to pressures. While most institutions have established procedures when students gripe about a grade, no one has thought through all the other grievances and griping. Even the vaunted-by-ACTA University of Missouri-Columbia Ombudsman program has "Under Development" as the entire content for the Grievance Procedures of Academic Units page. The world will have to see if and how such procedures develop or if they remain largely ad-hoc.

The third line of defense is a system to coach students on reasonable assertiveness, how to raise issues in a course that expand discussion and educational opportunity. This coaching is necessary both for the shy and the brash student. I try to give students opportunities every semester to give me early feedback on a course in an anonymous way, and while I provide that structure and generally try not to bite students' heads off, some students will not tell me their concerns until long after they become worried about an issue (whether it is instruction or assignments or grades or something else). Other students are simply brusque, either with me or other students, and while (I hope) I'm fairly easygoing about criticism, some faculty are thin-skinned or may misinterpret student expressions of concern. There are right and wrong ways to point out that a class omitted an important perspective, and we do students a disservice in assuming that they come to college knowing the right way to criticize class.

This need for education starts with the usual front-line "ears" in a university: chairs and the secretarial staff of university presidents. My chairs have always tried to redirect the student back to me and also let me know when a student raised a concern with them. Presidents' secretaries don't often have the professional experience to tell students to go back to the professor, and when the presidential staff sends a "here's a heads-up" message down the line through a provost, dean, and chair back to the faculty member, sometimes carelessness with the wording and inevitable gaps in communication turn an intended "here's a heads-up" message into an assumption that the message is really "you better deal with this or else."

The fourth line of defense is a bright-line standard for when administrators should even be thinking about intervening in the middle of a term, in contrast to gathering evidence about an allegation at the end of a term. Starting an investigation in the middle of a class is a serious step that can interfere with the learning environment as much as many of the practices that students might complain about; think about what would happen if the Proper Instruction Police interview students in a class regularly, asking what they thought of the politics of the instructor and the assignment du jour. I don't think any administrator would ever imagine that could happen, but starting an investigation about classes in the middle of a class always carries the risk of educational iatrogenesis. Here are my suggested standards:

  • Investigate when the allegation is of behavior that is dangerous to students.
  • Investigate when a prudent and yet reasonably thick-skinned person would agree that a student's right to education is jeopardized by the alleged behavior (e.g., screaming at students, racial discrimination, etc.), if allegations come from several sources that are credible. Thus, if the majority of a class complains that the instructor is swearing a blue streak and failing to teach physiology when the course is a required part of the nursing sequence, someone needs to look into those allegations, but one student's complaint should not trigger a full-blown set of interviews with all students in a course.
  • Gather evidence passively during a term if the allegations are serious but the claims come from isolated sources. By passive data collection, I mean planning how to gather evidence at the end of the semester and waiting to see if there are other complaints from other credible sources.
  • Refuse to use evidence that is gathered illegally or without provenance. For example, Florida law prohibits audio recordings of people who have a reasonable expectation of privacy without the permission of recorded students--thus, I have been told that surreptitious video on Youtube of Florida classrooms would almost always be illegal unless the faculty member agreed to such guerrilla recording and the student used a shotgun microphone so no fellow student's voice was picked up.
  • In all cases, the faculty member must be told promptly of student concerns and, where the administrator has decided no immediate intervention is required, that should be specified (i.e., in the vast majority of cases).

Comments are most welcome on this sketch.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 11:58 PM (Permalink) |

Sloppy reporting on college tuition

Michael Kirst's blog is fairly typical in misreporting tuition trends:

The College Board just reported that the average price for a college education once again rose faster than the inflation rate this year, particularly at public four-year institutions

The cost of attending college is rising, as is student debt, but there are two ways in which Kirst's description is inaccurate. First, the College Board report is about the average published tuition. Millions of college students pay less than the published tuition because of financial aid of various sorts. A second report documents that student aid is rising more slowly than published tuition, but this casual sloppiness is something I would not have expected from Kirst.

The second way in which Kirst's description is inaccurate is the conflation of student costs with institutional costs. Outside for-profit institutions, students generally do not pay the full cost of their own education; both public funding and donations play a role in paying for the costs of college. To describe rising tuition as "the price of college" obscures the way that state legislatures have shifted costs from taxpayers to students and their families.

The costs that families pay for college is a serious problem, and this picture includes more than tuition. But we need to look at the picture systematically rather than in the fractured way that happens when we focus just on tuition.

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Posted in Higher education at 2:04 PM (Permalink) |

October 19, 2007

On metaphors and people

A few days ago I commented on an Eduwonk entry about Michelle Rhee's wanting more convenient dismissal options for non-unionized central-office staff... and teachers, in part to give some positive reinforcement for the decision to allow comments and in part because there are some interesting ideas in the entry that I wanted to follow up on. (You'll have to go there to see the comments.)

But I looked back at the entry last night, and upon rereading, the last paragraph stuck in my craw:

In the case of D.C., this debate is actually larger than whether Michelle Rhee will be able to fire some people from the central office and some low-performing teachers. It's a proxy for how hard she (and Mayor Fenty) will push on the schools. If they lose this one it's an enormous setback and the wait them out game will start in earnest. If they win, they might not have to fire so many people anyway because it will be a clear signal that business as usual is over. For Rhee, a lot riding on this. Insert your own metaphor here.

While we may think partly in metaphors, I'd prefer to think of debates over the terms and conditions of work in something other than a metaphorical sense. Maybe this is because I like the second formulation of Kant's categorical imperative (the one about not treating people as ends), and if so, I'm a softie for unreadable German philosophers. But I don't think either children or adults are metaphorical vehicles. They're people, and we should talk about them as such.

Beyond that, I think Andy Rotherham is mistaken here about the use of power. I've known plenty of people in academe and the K-12 world who have paid far too much attention to symbols of power, from the all-too-important brush-off in person to stressing the importance of a particular goal for ends far beyond what it can possibly mean in reality. Power is also more subtle than the imposition of one's will through forceful means. The principal who inspires and convinces a school's teachers to work their tails off is more powerful than any petty tyrant who might occupy the same office. The true setback in DC would be if Rhee focuses more on acquiring power than in using it wisely.

Addendum: I realized a fast read of this entry may lead readers to erroneously conclude I think Andy Rotherham is into power games. That's not my argument or assumption at all; I suspect that in his own work environment, Andy pays attention to the interpersonal touch and not to imposition of his will on the people who report to him. Maybe the same should be true in school systems...

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:39 AM (Permalink) |


The first entry for this blog is dated March 24, 2001, with 2400 days between that entry and this one. (For those who check permalinks, there are two reasons why this entry is number 1053 instead of 1000: some entries get uploaded twice by mistake, so one copy must be deleted, and there is another, rather quiescent blog using the software and database, and those entries are part of the count.) When I started blogging, I was a tenure-track assistant professor and one of a handful of historians or education folks writing in this new online journal form. It started on Livejournal and then moved here a few years later, when I decided an eponymous domain was useful. Now, everyone and her brother has a blog, and I am but one voice of hundreds of thousands, and that trend is just fine. On average, I have written something every few days on topics ranging from my classes and research to education policy, academic freedom, and various bits of my academic life, and while I am not Samuel Pepys, some of you would surely disagree.

Ivan Tribbles of the world aside, blogging fulfills the commandment of Russell Jacoby, Go thou into the world and speak, lest thy thoughts waste in the vault of academe. He didn't quite say that, but he did call for academics to spend more time as public intellectuals, and I cannot think of a more public and accessible forum than a blog.

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Posted in Random comments at 8:18 AM (Permalink) |

October 18, 2007

The day I've been waiting for

Exercise. Catching up with my online class's discussion board and adding the starter for a new thread. Reading and accepting three revised manuscripts for Education Policy Analysis Archives. Writing two (and with this, three) short blog entries. More small tasks to come.

In other words, today has been a perfectly mundane day. I needed it.

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Posted in Random comments at 3:10 PM (Permalink) |

I agree with Checker Finn on something

Congratulations are owed the Fordham Foundation for putting together a group of young adults to place in various DC institutions connected to education and convincing them to blog. The Fordham Fellows blog is quickly turning into one of the livelier education blogs around. For example, from Cait Farrell's entry today:

My favorite part of the CBAE [Community Based Abstinence Education] requirements: D. Teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity. So we can have a federal standard for human sexual activity but not for math or science?

(Farrell's larger discussion is based on the controversy over the Portland (Maine) district's decision to provide contraceptive access to middle-school students. It's a sad world when access to contraceptives for 12-year-olds is a prudent move--a small but definite proportion of middle-school students are sexually active--but I'd rather public policy deal with realities rather than fantasy worlds.)

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Posted in Education policy at 2:43 PM (Permalink) |

John Kingdon rides again

Ed Muir writes,

Just like mayoral and state takeover, [breaking up the L.A. Unified School District] is a solution that gets talked about in large part because people worried about L.A. schools need solutions to talk about.

In other words, people use the ideas that are "floating out there" in the social ether. I've written about John Kingdon as a theorist before, but one of the pieces he uses is certainly true here (people work the ideas in their heads and in the environment), and Kingdon's book is a wonderful manual for policy tacticians, if not for policy-oriented historians. Michelle Fine has also made this point, if in a different sense (that people can only work with the ideas that are in their heads). Neither is entirely correct: people can invent new ideas and ways of working, but having available ideas makes them more likely to be seen as solutions to existing problems (whether or not the solutions solve the problems).

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Posted in Education policy at 2:34 PM (Permalink) |

October 15, 2007

President Bush guarantees irrelevance on NCLB

President Bush has promised a veto of any NCLB reauthorization with significant changes he would interpret as weakening the bill's accountability provisions. The policy influence of this White House continues to recede.

And along with the veto threat, the president decided to misinterpret the concerns many have with teaching to the test:

People say, well, they're just teaching to test. Uh-uh. We're teaching a child to read so they can pass a reading test.

That is the type of petulant rhetoric that ignores a broad current of dissatisfaction with instruction that is largely unproductive by any stretch of the imagination. But his rhetoric is perfectly consistent with the president's general belief that reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Source: President Bush Discusses The Budget

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:35 PM (Permalink) |

Three shots at graduation rates

Below are three different takes on graduation rates and the Miller-McKeon discussion draft (which includes an elaborate definition of graduation rates and a 2.5% improvement target folded into AYP). This is partly a short description of my reaction to that piece of the discussion draft and partly an experiment in using different multimedia (including Youtube mashups).

Youtube video (straight)

Video with internal object tagging

Video with rebuttal

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:56 AM (Permalink) |

I am not Spock Sherm

Twice in the last day, people who know me a little but are not particularly close have called me "Sherm." This occasionally happens both face-to-face and on e-mail, but I'm wondering if others take slight name mangling as a subtle signal about interlocutors. (Others misspell my last name, especially customer-service folks who find it hard to distinguish Dorn from Dorm on the phone, but Sherman is easy to spell.) I'll answer to the name, certainly, but I'm curious how it is that people don't listen when I introduce myself and don't ask whether abbreviations are preferred.

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Posted in Random comments at 9:46 AM (Permalink) |

October 13, 2007

Roy Rosenzweig

T. Mills Kelly has the best remembrance of Roy Rosenzweig today. Rosenzweig was a pioneer in digital history who began the Center for History and New Media (see the original page). (Hat tip.)

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Posted in History at 11:38 PM (Permalink) |

October 12, 2007

Just plain offal

University Diarist was on the nose: SIU President Poshard's plagiarism been excused, according to a cover-up panel:

These instances resulted in "inadvertent plagiarism." ... [After Poshard corrects his dissertation,] the committee recommends that no further action, such as a formal hearing, be taken.

So now "everyone else was doing it" and "I didn't mean to" are excuses for academic misconduct in dissertations?

To be clear for any wit who wishes to misconstrue this entry's title, the offal is Poshard's plagiarism and SIU's whitewashing.

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Posted in Higher education at 9:36 AM (Permalink) |

October 11, 2007

I (heart) The Little Professor

Why I love Miriam Burstein's The Little Professor blog

If you sow dragon's teeth in order to reap soldiers, what do you reap after sowing apostrophes? Editors, maybe?

I needed that, on a day of traveling.

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Posted in Teaching at 12:21 PM (Permalink) |

So, um, ... how about writing about MY book?

Kevin Carey wrote yesterday:

At any given moment, there's a limited amount of room in the general consciousness for books about education, and over the past few months a lot of that space has been occupied by Linda Perlstein's new book, Tested. Which, as I explain in my review in this month's Washington Monthly, is too bad.

Fair enough in terms of wishing for different apportionment of air time. Perlstein has the advantage of a mainstream (i.e., large corporate) publisher and publicist. So, Kevin (and anyone else who wishes public attention paid to other materials), why not review some recent books on accountability that are more substantive and analytical?

<whistles and walks away to work on journal editing>

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:09 PM (Permalink) |

October 10, 2007

Caribbean Frost

In the honors class I'm teaching, I'm trying some without-a-net activities each week to connect technology with social and cultural history. One recent week, I asked students to describe the aesthetics of everyday objects. In a plurality of cases, students discussed the commercial choices involved in consumer-product design--i.e., that the aesthetics are shaped as part of product marketing. (Anyone who has seen Monty Python's Michaelangelo sketch can wonder if perhaps that dynamic holds true in the creation of highbrow culture as well, if in a personal relationship with patrons.)

One of my students chose to examine as one of her two objects a bottle of blue-green nail polish and discovered that its official name is Caribbean Frost (and you can see the colors at Wet n Wild's website, if you wish to confirm this oxymoron). I live in Tampa, north of the Caribbean. It's mid-October, and the high today will be around 90 F. Who do they think they're kidding?

These weekly adventures are worth a small portion of the semester grade, but I hope they're engaging for students, and in some cases students have made some interesting connections. None yet, though, between nail polish and Leonardo da Vinci (where we started the course).

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Posted in Random comments at 12:07 PM (Permalink) |

October 9, 2007

Please tell me it's August or November

What is possibly worse than being sick in a temperate-climate February is being sick in early October when the temperatures are in the upper 80s outside and when you know part of the reason why you're not well yet is because you drove to another city 2 hours away three times in the last two weeks. D***it, I'm already behind on too many things. I don't have time to be sick.

My body begs to disagree, and my body has won the debate, at least for the last few days. Consequence: I haven't had the catchup to catch up. By Monday morning, I barely finished the prep-work for two of my courses, stuff I normally would have handled in about half the time. Regional campus visit today? Cancelled, so I can rest and get some work done at home.

I need to turn the clock back to August so I can get some work done or turn it forward to late November so I can look forward to the end of the semester. Right now, I don't particularly care which.

Update (10:40 pm): I think I'm fine as long as I'm drinking tea. I downed an entire pot of TAZO minty something in an hour while waiting for my daughter's orchestra rehearsal to end. I can plug away at things as long as I don't need a great attention span and can collapse a few times a day. Tomorrow is my long teaching day, until 8 pm.

A bit of reflection on this: I think I'm reasonably organized now, and my professional life is still tripped up by outside events such as a state budget crisis or a minor cold. I am not the professoriate, but my strong suspicion is that the days of being an absent-minded and successful professor are just about over. No matter what institution you're working for, no matter how out-of-touch one may be, you either have to work very hard or be very organized or (more likely) both to succeed in academe.

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Posted in Random comments at 11:56 AM (Permalink) |

October 5, 2007

Backlash against formative assessment

As reported in the Orlando Sentinel education blog, some educators are worried about the time occupied by tests given throughout the year, tests that school districts hope will track predicted scores on the spring tests in Florida (FCAT):

In plain language there are 8 full student days wasted on these tests. By the time FCAT comes around the students are burned out and I have a strong feeling that they will not be giving 100% on the FCAT. (a correspondent with the reporters)

It's hard to know how to evaluate that claim without knowing more specifics, but there's a fine line between not assessing students enough and wasting time. If you give students a five-minute math quiz every Friday for tracking purposes (apart from any unit tests), that's maybe 10 minutes for test administration a week (at least for students; this doesn't count grading). I think that's reasonable. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to see such quizzes last for 40 minutes every week unless they're very good tests. But then again, in my high school U.S. history class, we wrote an essay a week arguing about the interpretation of the topic of the week. Multiply 45 minutes times the 30-33 weeks that the full curriculum was in force (apart from short weeks and the very start and end of the school year), and that's well over 20 hours of testing in a year on that subject alone. But those were very good tests, as activities in and of themselves.

The danger of very long tests in multiple-choice formats is that they aren't very good, and the school district employee quoted above may well be right: the sheer volume of such testing can alienate students very quickly. (If you disagree, try filling out your income taxes every month as a formative exercise.) And then the longer-term danger is that such effects can undermine the use of formative assessment even when it does have a light footprint in the classroom.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:11 AM (Permalink) |

October 2, 2007

The adults v. children meme of facile ed policy talk, part 375

Ruben Navarette (hat tip) captures a thumbnail historical myth embodied in the "adults vs. children" theme in accountability talk:

Public schools have, for generations, crafted an environment that caters to the needs and wants of the adults who work in the schools rather than those of the children who attend them.

As Seymour Sarason has observed, children-first rhetoric such as Navarette voices is actively hostile to reform because it fails to acknowledge some truths about schools as organizations. (Sarason contrasts K-12 schools with higher education, where I work.) Elementary and secondary schools are environments that are about the least adult-friendly you can imagine, outside sweatshops. Where else can adults be vulnerable to being hit by children, be told when they can go to the bathroom, and be told that their own intellectual development does not serve the organization's interests?

Of course schools serve multiple purposes and interests, and yes, one needs to work with that dynamic. But you don't work with the dynamic by setting off one group entirely against another, and that is what Navarette implies: It's a grudge match, teachers vs. students.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 10:03 AM (Permalink) |