June 29, 2008

Day off

After the fourth all-day Saturday class in June (i.e., yesterday), when I wasn't feeling well, I collapsed at home and decided I'd take today off. And I have. I'll need to gear up tomorrow morning for a day of catch-up, but there are only a few things to fix on tomorrow's EPAA article, and without the pressure of organizing a class for this Saturday, I can get back to a bunch of things that have been on the back burner. Or, at least, one thing at a time.

I've been wondering what to do on Friday, since I don't engage in paid work on holidays. It's the 4th, so I'm inclined to do something as a citizen-historian and finish my review of the draft social-studies standards for the state. We have sparklers, and if it's not pouring (which it often does in Florida on the 4th), we'll be able to use them.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in The academic life at 9:22 PM (Permalink) |

June 25, 2008

Immature Parents Department

... and sometimes I'm right. I think my early skepticism about the Gloucester, Massachusetts, story of a pregnancy pact among teenage girls is being borne out. So, in celebration, somewhat, from xkcd (license), the following:


Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 6:17 AM (Permalink) |

A big, hairy erratum

There are a few disadvantages of writing a blog. People who wonder why I haven't gotten around to their work discover what I've been doing instead at certain moments (though I've never had a student who has decided that she or he really wants me grading their paper at 6:09 am). Without someone else to edit my work, I constantly risk grammatical embarrassments. And I risk falling on my face in factual errors.

But as my wonderful children would point out, I am practiced at being wrong. Or, as I prefer to put it, if I'm wrong, then I can go to bed happy that day, knowing I've learned something.

If you haven't guessed, I've discovered I am embarrassingly wrong about something I've posted in the last month. Gloriously and publicly in error. And as a victim reader of this blog, if you are not already aware of the error, you will discover it in the next week, or maybe two. The problem with an error of this magnitude is not the fact of the error; I can admit that and move forward. The problem with an error of this magnitude is that I need to figure out exactly how that changes what I thought I knew. (I've explained before how my interpretation of a primary source changed, and this is a much bigger example of that need.)

So I will leave you all in suspense as to precisely where I've made the error and how I'll have to rethink what I've thought, except perhaps with the satisfaction of knowing that I'm as much in the dark on the second issue.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in The academic life at 6:07 AM (Permalink) |

June 24, 2008

Department of Unfathomable Nostalgia

From the young (or at least ahistorically minded) Fordham Foundation staffer Liam Julian comes this too-credulous reporting:

[A] Douglass High School alumnus called in [to a radio show] to say that when he was enrolled, in the early 1970s, bad behavior and teen pregnancy were actively stigmatized.

Hmmn... maybe this alumnus was thinking just of Baltimore's Frederick Douglass High School, but weren't the early 1970s a time when everyone was complaining about the misbehavior and immorality of youth? This was in the middle of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, at the peak of clamor about school disruptions let alone the 1960s counterculture (which lasted a few years into the 1970s), and the time when George Carlin was getting in trouble for speaking seven words.

Update (6/25): Julian responds: the caller in question referred only to Douglass High School, and his claim that Douglass was a far better school in the early 70s than it is today seems to be corroborated by the HBO documentary. I'll accept that at face value in the "almost anything was better than what happened in this recent year, in this school" sense. (Since I don't have a television, I can't see documentaries when they air.) I'll stay skeptical about memory and nostalgia for the early 1970s; for more on nostalgia and oral history, see my colleague Barbara Shircliffe's "We Got the Best of That World": A Case for the Study of Nostalgia in the Oral History of School Segregation, Oral History Review 28 (2001) ($JSTOR).

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 7:22 PM (Permalink) |

I don't need this excitement, honestly

2:37 Apparently, a man with a rifle was spotted near a USF Tampa campus building several hundred yards from here. We were warned to stay away from that building, and while there's been no all-clear sign, someone in our building with a line of sight to that space says that the law-enforcement cordons and personnel are gone.

2:42 It turned out to be a false alarm. Here is the text of what is currently on the university's website:

June 24, 2008

Attention Tampa Campus: Just after 2:00p.m., it was reported to University Police that a man was seen carrying what looked like a rifle, walking outside the area on the east side of Cooper Hall.

University Police and AlliedBarton security are checking the outside area and inside nearby buildings. Please avoid the area if possible. If you are in the immediate vicinity, calmly leave the area until further notice. If you see anything suspicious, call 911.

Update as of 2:39pm:

Attention Tampa Campus: The emergency alert is cancelled. The "man carrying a rifle" turned out to be an ROTC student, carrying a non-functional practice rifle. He has been located and interviewed, and it has been determined that no dangerous situation actually existed.

University Police, AlliedBarton Security, and USF Parking Enforcement quickly responded to the area, set up a safety perimeter, and thoroughly checked outside and inside areas. The Hillsborough Co. Sheriff's Department also sent several deputies to check for the suspect and assist with the safety of the campus. The citizen who reported the possible problem deserves out [sic] thanks for being alert and quickly contacting the police.

Thankfully this turned out to be a false alarm, but the USF people and systems responded very professionally.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Higher education at 2:43 PM (Permalink) |

Is the St. Pete Times covering the Pinellas Education Foundation's white paper appropriately?

On Saturday, the St. Petersburg Times printed an article discussing a proposed site-based management system in Pinellas County (home to St. Petersburg) floated by the Pinellas Education Foundation. As is appropriate, the article disclosed the role of two key Times executives on the foundation's board and advisory council. But the non-bylined article only discussed a few of the recommendations captured in the foundation's white paper: creating a site-based management system that would devolve budget authority to principals. Missing from the article was a discussion of one important substantive recommendation: "end[ing] social promotions" (on p. 5 of the proposal).

In some ways, the article is standard solid work of the Times, with multiple sources and including dissenting views (such as Jade Moore, the executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association). There are also a few aspects of this article that concern me:

  • The article is not by-lined, which suggests it may have been written by an editor or an executive, not by one of the K-12 reporters on the newspaper's staff.
  • The article fails to mention the substantive recommendation in the white paper to end social promotion.

There is substantial research on what happens when you increase the retention rate, and it's highly mixed (especially with regard to addressing low graduation rates). To report on a major proposal and ignore a recommendation with significant consequences and controversy strikes me as a serious omission in reporting, and it's one that I hope the Times reporters fix in the next few days.

There is the other matter that the omission of the end-social-promotions proposal misses: how can a proposal be about decentralization if it contains within it a strong centralized mandate?

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 1:40 PM (Permalink) |

June 22, 2008

History games

While my fall teaching schedule may change, I am currently slated to teach the undergraduate history of ed course I last taught in spring 2007. That semester's class worked well enough, but I want to raise the level of engagement with key issues, and I've been thinking about constructing games around key tasks in a history class. This thinking has also been inspired by Ivanhoe and by the discussion of casual games in liberal-arts education.

In a state university, the challenge for the course I teach is reaching students with a much more diverse background than in a small liberal-arts college. I don't mean demographic diversity but educational diversity: Far fewer will have had experiences with analyzing primary sources or constructing/struggling with historical arguments. Many are in there to knock out a gen-ed requirement, and so I have to "sell" the course. (I have to sell the social foundations course to students as well, but I figured that one out more than a decade ago.) Carole Srole's argument about scaffolding historical skills even for majors is an important contribution, and I've been mulling how to combine conceptual tasks and a game- or puzzle-like environment. The idea is to put some of the skill-building into team exercises that don't contribute to grades but do have a reason for students to stay engaged an work collaboratively.

I quickly figured out one game to build skills in paying attention to voice and other primary-source details. This is a "bluff the classmate" activity patterned after the "Bluff the Listener" challenge on NPR's Wait Wait! Don't tell me!, and with one caveat, it looks pretty good: give teams primary documents and a week to construct two fake documents. They get points for every other team that incorrectly identifies the real document, and other teams get points for correctly identifying the real document. The caveat is the ethical question: how do I explain/debrief on why it's okay to play around with fake primary sources in class but not in papers or published works? And how seriously should I be concerned about this?

There are a whole host of other skills and tasks that I'm keeping in the back of my head, hoping for games/puzzles to match up againt them: causal arguments, counterfactual reasoning, the difference between biases and perspectives (or maybe a spectrum of how one's perspective influences memory and portrayal), identifying underlying social models, identifying underlying assumptions about change/stasis/trends, and others. Suggestions are welcome!

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in History at 10:16 PM (Permalink) |

Graduations as cultural artifacts

Jan Hoffman has an interesting piece in today's New York Times on eighth-grade graduations. This is in response to Barack Obama's Father's Day speech, when he mentioned and criticized the opulence of middle-school graduations. I spoke with Hoffman in the middle of the week as she was scrambling to put together material for the story, and I think she gets several key things right: this is an early-adolescent rite of passage (she mentions bar/bat mitzvahs, quinceanera parties, and so forth), she points out that these ceremonies have multiple interpretations, and she provides several examples of educators struggling with the balance between celebrating transitions and keeping things in perspective. My favorite sentence:

Modern eighth-grade graduations have become a tangle of outdated definitions of a successful education, inducements to remain in school, and contemporary values about self-esteem and enshrining a child's many rites of passage.

The two historians of education quoted in the story are less critical than Obama or others: Diane Ravitch puts it in the context of childhood rites of passage (celebrating education struck her as better than several other possibilities), and Jonathan Zimmerman suggests that it's okay to celebrate eighth-grade graduation if a good proportion of students might not finish high school. I suspect that attitude will grate on Senator Obama's nerves, but I'll just let them talk it over themselves. (That's a joke, readers: I think Zimmerman would make a fine adviser on education history matters, but I have absolutely no evidence Obama is asking education advice from him.)

Coincidentally, my class was reading Sandra Stein's The Culture of Education Policy for yesterday's class, and since Stein discussed the role of Oscar Lewis and Daniel Patrick Moynihan in national poverty policy debates in the 1960s, Obama's speech was part of the mix, as was a Bill Cosby clip. I tried looking for Dan Quayle's talking about Murphy Brown from 1992, but I couldn't find a clip. I was hoping to provoke at least one student double-take when I juxtaposed Quayle and Obama. On that I failed, but I did have time to connect the political rhetoric around culture to the works of John Ogbu and Signithia Fordham and then explain the common criticisms of Ogbu's work.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 12:02 AM (Permalink) |

June 20, 2008

Fears of Gloucester

Not the one in King Lear, but the one in Massachusetts. The story circulating about the high number of teen pregnancies this year is not new: the Boston Globe reported on it June 6. What is new is Time magazine's claim on Wednesday that the pregnancies are the result of a pact among several of the girls to become pregnant, or so says the principal, Joseph Sullivan. The story has spread, with the Boston Herald interviewing two teen mothers in Gloucester who criticize the alleged pact. But even Time's report is old: the Gloucester Times reported an earlier version of Sullivan's claim in March. But the claim in March was different: "According to his conversations with upperclassmen, some younger students may be becoming pregnant on purpose." Then, this week, it became, "All it took was a few simple questions before nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together."

I will admit I'm skeptical of these claims. Neither Time's reporter nor anyone else has been able to confirm Sullivan's claim with any of the families, and something about this claim seems out of a bad B movie: "We found out one of the fathers is a 24-year-old homeless guy," Sullivan is quoted as saying. That doesn't mean that the story is false, but that is the type of extraordinary claim that we'd expect a little more than a single person's assertion to back up.

There is sure to be a wave of media attention on this, beyond the first few days, with questions about whether Juno glamorized teen pregnancy, whether abstinence-only education is the problem, and so forth. When fears of teen behavior are the focus, every anecdote becomes metonymy.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 7:25 AM (Permalink) |

June 19, 2008

The missing points on the Milton Friedman Institute

Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I think the collective faculty letter criticizing the creation of the University of Chicago's Milton Friedman Institute is both correct and beside the point. The faculty point out that the investment of $200 million in this new entity will privilege a certain view of markets associated with Friedman, a point that seems to be without too much controversy. But they talk about it in terms of "the interests of equity and balance" and ask the university "to provide roughly equivalent resources for critical scholarly work that seeks out alternatives to recent economic, social, and political developments."

The point could be sharpened by talking about the academic losses involved in the massive investment in a single perspective: Isn't behavioral economics one of the most exciting fields in economics and one that will be entirely ignored by the Milton Friedman Institute? To put the issue in standard neoclassical language, the opportunity cost of building the Milton Friedman Institute is the investment not going into building up the university's economics research in other areas, including behavioral economics, public economics, and so forth. To me, it seems like a deliberate institutional risk to put so much of one's resources into a single academic approach to any field.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Academic freedom at 6:41 PM (Permalink) |

Slurs against the apparently evil Linda Darling-Hammond and what TFA is really good for

I was struck by the following vivid language used today by the usually calm Kevin Carey:

Of course, no TFA article would be complete without the requisite disparaging quote from Stanford professor and Obama advisor Linda Darling-Hammond, who has elevated TFA haterism into something of a fine art over the years.

That's pretty extreme, so I went to the New York Times article about TFA founder Wendy Kopp and her spouse Richard Barth, who runs the KIPP charter-school network. I wanted to see the hate in action. And here is the entire passage mentioning Linda Darling-Hammond:

Since the mid-1990s, prominent academics have argued that Teach for America's two-year assignment ensures that recruits leave just as they are learning to teach. "You lose them just when they are becoming effective," said Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford.

I read that paragraph twice. I read it backwards, to see if Darling-Hammond were saying that Paul was dead. I thought about that quotation and tried to figure out where the hatred was. I tried to think about how I could turn that argument into hatred. And I will confess that I just don't get it. Unless someone can point me to evidence that Darling-Hammond has truly been hateful in some venue about TFA as an organization, in future I'm going to treat this claim as a rhetorical bluff.

When I've read Darling-Hammond's work about TFA, it seems to me that she is contesting the argument that TFA is a proof of concept for alternative certification programs. Others have claimed that because TFA successfully recruits liberal-arts college graduates to serve in poor communities, that means that states can and should give up standard teacher education programs as the primary route to entry. Darling-Hammond's studies (such as an EPAA article published in 2005) reveal a more complicated picture than is often portrayed in the press. So, because Darling-Hammond contests the most positive claims, she hates TFA? Again: please point me to solid evidence of some malicious intent before you continue to make this claim.

Let me take a step back and look at the bigger picture, or rather ask how big the picture really should be. My understanding is that TFA's recruitment, selection, placement, and support has changed in the last few years, so the mixed picture of Darling-Hammond's research may not be true any longer in Houston. That's what continuing research is for, and I can't see why Darling-Hammond is being attacked for being skeptical. Isn't that the attitude we should be encouraging towards broad claims about education reform? In addition, there are several additional questions one can raise about the generalization from TFA's experience to teacher recruitment more generally:

  • Given the changes in TFA recruiting and preservice training in the past few years, how has that changed the relationship between TFA recruits and student outcomes?
  • Beyond changes in the national program, are there local TFA programs where recruits come up to speed faster than other new teachers? What factors affect local variations?
  • What are the practical consequences for teacher recruitment from the evidence of success (or failure) from the highly selective TFA recruitment, training, placement, and support process?
  • Is the primary purpose of TFA to be a proof of concept for alternative certification?

Given the highly selective nature of TFA, I think the answer to the last question is obvious: TFA would be an interesting proof of concept if you needed no more than a few thousand new teachers per year in this country. That isn't the case, and I don't think one can generalize from TFA, especially given the changes in the program over its lifetime. Credit goes to Kopp and her staff for reinventing the organization several times when it was in crisis. But by definition, that change means that it's not wise to see TFA as the champion of alternative certification.

Maybe my memory is mistaken, but I thought that Kopp's original intention was to help fill a gap in school systems with a history of persistent recruiting failures. Given the number of poor children whose classrooms are headed by long-term substitutes and a rotation of short-termers who leave within a few weeks, it's hard to see how TFA could do worse than the rotating-door experience of too many students. TFA doesn't have to change our broader picture of teacher recruitment and professional education; the modest goal of providing a few well-educated teachers who will stick with a school for two years is reason enough for its existence.

Beyond that modest central goal, I think the broader impact of TFA is far removed from debates about teaching as an occupation: it is creating a growing body of well-educated adults who have had experience teaching poor children in urban public-school systems. On the whole, it's a good thing for a broad range of people to know what happens in public school systems. There is something dynamic and unpredictable about public service, and I can point to a number of historical examples where public service opened up discussions. For example, as James Trent has explained, WW2 conscientious objectors helped spark the postwar controversies over institutionalizing individuals with mental retardation when they were placed in state institutions and saw how they ran (and abused residents). I am not saying that TFA or other public-service programs are sufficient to change systems dramatically. But there is something in public service that is both life-changing and potentially system-changing.

There is another benefit, to give young adults experience in the public sector. We've had several decades of ideological attacks on the public sphere, and it's time for that to be balanced by experience. As I wrote above, I can't argue that TFA recruits are going to be as bad as a rotating door of subs, and TFA might help change the discussion about public service and the public sphere. That possibility is also why I support the U.S. Public Service Academy proposal. But there's a catch: that potential use of public service programs does not obviate the programs' responsibilities to the clients/patrons of the target system, which in the case of TFA are the students. The experiences of TFA recruits and alumni has not been all positive, and star TFA alumna Michelle Rhee acknowledges she was a lousy teacher her first year. For this reason if for no other, to avoid allowing the children in the systems being guinea pigs and stepping stones for TFA recruits' professional careers, I wish TFA the best of luck with its support programs. Jonathan (JD2718) agrees with me on the general point of welcoming special-recruit program participants, in his case trying to fight dysfunctional responses to the NYC Teaching Fellows program.

I hope my larger point is clear: Like Popeye, TFA is what it is. It isn't a model or test of alternative certification. If anything, it is a singular public-service program and should make us think about the ethics and possibilities of public-service programs. But even there, generalizability is limited. So if you want to say Linda Darling-Hammond goes beyond a skeptical look at the broader claims about TFA, the burden's on you: show where she goes beyond hard-nosed skepticism, or stop making the claim.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 5:15 PM (Permalink) |

June 18, 2008

One additional bit of news

The letter from my university's president with the following snippet showed up in my department mailbox sometime in the last few days, but I'm counting it with yesterday's birthday stuff:

Dear Dr. Dorn -- Congratulations on having been promoted to Professor.

I now have to cross out a few hundred copies of "Associate" on the remaining stash of my USF business cards. (If someone decides to spend money this year on fresh business cards for me, I'm going to stare at them until they blink realize the error of their ways.)

I hope your week has started well.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in The academic life at 9:03 PM (Permalink) |

Mental drops in a scattered morning

Some odd thoughts this morning as I catch up on a bunch of things (but probably not enough):

  • The key difference between great colloquial writing and great formal writing is how efficient the formal writing is. There are some vocabulary differences (colloquial writing uses slang, while formal writing generally avoids it), but too many undergraduate and graduate students misunderstand formality as syllable-counting. There is some difference in the complexity of sentences, but too many students misunderstand formality as a greater density of adverbs, commas, and semicolons. Great colloquial writing uses stories and extended metaphors and welcomes tangents. Great formal writing illustrates and uses metaphors to teach, not to distract. Great colloquial writing invites the reader into a conversation. Great formal writing leads the reader by the eyeballs. The greatest writers can shift between colloquial and formal without readers' noticing. The rest of us mortals must be more careful.
  • Reporting on education research is too close to tourism and too far away from analysis. I see too many articles that describe a single study, report, or brief without any context. I wish I had an easy solution to this. Newspapers could refuse to print anything on research unless there is a "here's the context" piece that passes a good reporter's sniff test on reasonableness. The fifteen-minute sniff test that a reporter can try with any press release that claims the research is the "first" or "only" anything: go to Google Scholar. Use a half-dozen search terms. See if that research really is the first of its kind.
  • Birthdays close to Father's Day are good for my sanity, but not great for completing work-related tasks. The world gave me a pretty good birthday this year, ending with an exciting finish to the Cubs-Rays game I took my son to. (Is it just Tropicana Stadium, or are fans in baseball stadiums far more racially homogeneous than when I was a child?) It wasn't as good a day for the world as in 1991, when South Africa repealed its Population Registration Act, but it certainly beat an attack on democracy in 1972 (Watergate break-in) and sheer weirdness in 1994 (the interminable car "chase" of O.J. Simpson leading to his arrest).
  • I need a working time machine to help me with my workload. Unfortunately, my search on eBay didn't turn up much of practical value.
  • The last two paragraphs were examples of (not-great) colloquial writing. So is this.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 10:39 AM (Permalink) |

June 17, 2008

My (undelivered) (okay, unwritten) graduation speech

Twenty-five years ago today (it's still on the 25th anniversary in California, though it is past midnight in Florida), I graduated from Corona del Mar High School, in Orange County, California. I wasn't at my high school graduation, because I was at the national speech tournament that year, I think in Salt Lake City. (My friend and debate partner Jeff Sklansky carried us through the district tournament, and we went to nationals three years in a row.) It tells you something about my parents that while I wasn't at my own graduation, they were. If I had attended, I probably would have been able to give a forgettable speech. But I didn't get a chance to, so I never thought seriously about what I would have said.

A quarter century later, I wonder what I would have said. And given my research interests in graduation, I've been giving some thought to what I could and should have said to an audience that included some very wealthy parents and some poor parents in a fairly schizophrenic community, and the younger siblings of my classmates. I graduated just a few months after the release of A Nation at Risk, and no high school senior would then have guessed what would happen to schools and education politics over the next few decades.

Since it's an anniversary of sorts, I'll take my best shot at it now: the graduation speech I never gave but wish I had.

Dear parents, siblings, teachers, Mr. Evans, and everyone else - on behalf of my classmates, thank you. Thank you for coming today. Thank you for being there for us so we could be here in front of you. Thank you for pushing us in the last few years when we needed pushing and backing off when it was better for us to feel and think about the pain of our mistakes. Thank you for asking the right questions, so we have your voices in our head over the next few years. We may not thank you next year, but we'll do it again in about twenty. Thank you for giving us responsibilities, so I suppose I should thank you for making us take out the garbage, both ours and the rest of the household's. It's a life lesson in shared responsibility, though I think next time I'll ask to pick the trash liner. And Mrs. Thompson, we know most of that's a metaphor, but probably not the trash liner bit.

I can tell you about the teachers I've learned from in this school, from Mr. Harvey in English to Mr. Knowlton and Ms. Painter in history, from Ms. Mook's newspaper class and Mr. Fish's Spanish classes to Mr. Vassos in physics. If there is any grace in how we write, a teacher in this school deserves credit. If we know osmosis from mitosis, either Mr. Ghere or Mr. Schnicter is the reason why. If they've made mistakes, I won't mention them today, because our teachers have shown us what to do with our mistakes, how to revise and rework and get up and dust yourself off. There is no class called persistence, but it's what they teach in high school.

But that's not just taught in school. I want to tell you about the most persistent people in my life. I am the youngest of five children, and my parents have now sat in this quad at five graduations. They have been to dozens of concerts and speech tournaments and hundreds of sports games and parent-teacher conferences. They have driven five children to all corners of this county, taken five of us to emergency rooms (though not all at the same time), comforted five children on the loss of pets and grandparents, listened to the rants and dreams of five teenagers, and raised five of us to adulthood. My father has driven to dozens of C-sections in the middle of the night and picked up the phone at all hours to give advice to parents worried because their young children are sick. If there's one thing I know from my father's job, it's that you should wait a few hours until your stomach calms down, then try Pedialite, or maybe ice chips or weak tea.

My parents have told us that our job is going to school, that knowledge is joyous, and that we were responsible for our own work. But what they said is the least part of it. They have not told us about persistence. They have lived it. And now, at least one phase of your life as parents is over. Mom, you don't have to buy any more college-ruled paper.

My parents taught us about more than persistence. My parents have shown me how to help friends and how to make them. We live in one of the most fortunate communities in the most fortunate country in the world. My parents have never forgotten that. When I was young, they took in exchange students visiting the U.S. In the last few years, they've shown me how to welcome new Americans to California. They have shown us how to look at what's not in the headlines, how to ask the uncomfortable questions. Every time that my teachers have asked me to look at things in a different way, they have reinforced my parents' lessons.

So I look at my classmates and our teachers and all of our families -- all of you -- and I think this is wonderful. And it is. You are a class with wonderful possibilities, who can do amazing things in the next few years. You are friends I have learned from and admire and always will.

But my parents and other teachers have taught me well, perhaps too well. Some of us have had a much easier path to this point than others. Remember that my parents told my brothers, sisters, and me that our job was going to school? They didn't allow us to take jobs for pay in the school year. They wanted to turn their good fortune into their children's advantage, into my advantage. That hasn't been true for everyone. This wealthy community has plenty of families who are not as fortunate. Some of us have taken jobs and worked through high school because our families had no choice. These are the classmates I admire the most, the ones who worked and then came home and finished homework late at night, or took a few minutes on their jobs to scribble in the margins of James Joyce in the break room in the back.

And there are my classmates who worked during the school year, but who didn't have to, who did so for gas money or insurance, not because parents couldn't afford the expense of a car but because that was the agreement at home. I've never argued my parents' values with my friends, because it wasn't our choice who our parents were. And high school is not so hard that a few hours of work in the week will kill your grades. But while I am the youngest in my family, there are plenty of younger siblings here, watching their brothers or sisters graduate. Let me challenge the parents here with the question my parents would ask: if your child does not have to work at a job, what do you want his or her job to be during the school year: doing homework and reading, or working as an office secretary or at a fast-food restaurant? I don't think it's the challenge just of my parents. It's the challenge that many of our teachers would raise. And it's also the challenge that college teachers will raise.

Finally, I am thinking of who is not here. Even in this fortunate community, not everyone graduates. If I close my eyes, I can see their faces. So can all of us: the students in Spanish or French classes who didn't come back after one of the summers. There is something wrong in their not being here, in our not acknowledging that this is a smaller group than we should have here today.

That may seem a somber note on which to end a graduation speech, but I think a graduation is a bit like a funeral or a bar mitzvah. There is somebody or some people whose lives you are celebrating, but it is as important for the community as for the people at the focus of the event. Taxpayers do not fund public education just for the private benefits of graduates and their families. There is a broader purpose to high school if there is any merit in public schooling, and there is something amiss when we don't acknowledge that we are not yet where we want to be.

That's true of our society, and it's also true of us as graduates. This day is a celebration of promise, but we have to work to fulfill that promise. If high school graduation is the best point of our lives, we don't have much to look forward to. But I know that Caroline and Colleen and Jeff and so many others here have a great deal to look forward to. The same must be true of public schooling. If we stop where we are here, with these graduates and no more, we have very little to look forward to from the class of 1984, or the class of 1985, or the class of 1995.

My parents told me some years ago what their parents must have told them: We wish that you grow up to know more and to do the world more good than we know or do now. That's an ambitious dream of parents, it's either a promise to me or a curse, and someday I will get my revenge on my own children. Or maybe now on everyone else here. My friends and classmates, I wish that when we see each other at reunion years in the future, you are far smarter and wiser than any of us are now. Ms. Mook, Mr. Ghere, and all the other teachers: I wish that you teach even better next year. And I wish that the graduating class next year is larger, smarter, wiser, and more accomplished than the class of 1983. I think we're pretty good now. But for both us and for our younger friends and siblings, I'd like to be able to say (with the permission of Mrs. Thompson for what's ungrammatical), "You ain't seen nothing yet!"

I'll explain more about Miriam Thompson tomorrow (or later today).

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 12:19 AM (Permalink) |

June 16, 2008

Florida's draft social studies standards

Florida Department of Education staff have kindly sent me a text version of the draft social studies standards for Florida (XLS), which I have reworked into an Excel spreadsheet with two versions, one sorted by discipline and standard and another sorted by grade level. (Note: to do the sorting, I had to create standard codes. These are NOT codes created by the state education department.)

The draft standards are... long, with 931 "benchmarks." Some of the new stuff is good (primary-source documents), but a bunch of the details as well as the general organization worry me a great deal. (For example, the third-grade benchmarks in world history treat history as cultural tourism. I know a French historian who thought that as a grad student, but it trivializes history.) If you are a Florida resident, the drafting committee wants your feedback by mid-July.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 4:45 PM (Permalink) |

June 15, 2008

Families and schools (Father's Day edition)

I'm recovering from the ritual that millions of parents have been through before me: taking a teenager out for the lane-changing experiment. My daughter earned her Florida learner's permit 9 days ago, started driving classes at a local high school last week, and has been driving short jaunts with her mother or me every day since. She handles our cars well, and she tells us that we've been far less nervous than she expected. (I'm not sure whether to count this comment as a compliment.)

We live in a subdivision with a few quiet roads around us but hemmed in on three sides with major streets. My daughter has been expanding her local range cautiously, but she needed a chance to try changing lanes when the traffic was light. This morning, we headed north on one of the major roads (7 lanes near our house). We had a small detour when she spotted a tortoise on the road, found a place to park to check on the turtle, and discovered it had already been killed by other motorists. Then we headed back to the highway where she changed lanes several times, generally kept up highway speed, grumbled her irritation at fellow drivers who rushed to turn close in front of her, and returned home. And only then did she remember it was Father's Day.

Driving classes are the classic example of an "add-on" function of schooling that irritated the authors of The Shopping Mall High School. Driving classes exist in public schooling because teenagers are relatively risky drivers, most teenagers attend school, and someone decades ago figured high schools were the logical place to offer driving classes. "They will come, so build it." Insurance companies in Florida give small discounts after the completion of a certified driving course, so there is an incentive for parents and young drivers to seek out the classes. (My daughter reports that several classmates in the course after driving for months, just to get the discount.)

What surprises me a little (but not much) is that with few exceptions, I don't hear anyone publicly questioning the role of driving classes in high school. They're available, so I'm happy to use them for my own children, but I don't think they deserve the same level of support as other areas of the curriculum. Learning how to drive before you graduate is less important than all sorts of other things. Why driving became the responsibility of schools makes sense if you know about the history of secondary education but it makes little sense if you think about the possible ways in which families and schools could share responsibility for children.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 2:06 PM (Permalink) |

June 13, 2008

I was manifest(o)ly wrong

Several days ago, I echoed Steve Diamond's argument that the dueling manifestoes this week are related to "the battle for the soul of Barack Obama." Larry Mishel took me to task in comments, and I will now publicly apologize, since David Brooks has now made the same point Diamond and I did. In his Manichean spin, Brooks claims that one cannot agree with both manifestoes, and that they represent the status quo camp and the reform camp. But wait: isn't NCLB the status quo, and high-stakes accountability the status quo in many states before that? And how does Brooks' one-or-the-other story jibe with Arne Duncan's being a signatory on both? (And per Eduwonk's offhand remark, do we really need another controversial local superintendent bumped up to Secretary of Education?) Quick, everyone: post sentries at the camp entrances!
Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:17 AM (Permalink) |

June 12, 2008

Shared responsibilities for children I

I had intended to blog about the responsibilities of schools for a few weeks, since Harry Brighouse responded last month to April's Richard Rothstein-Rick Hess(-and-others) debate and Matthew Yglesias responded a week later to Ezra Klein's comments on education and the economy. I've been swamped by other things and am writing this first entry (of two) during a fragment of my day when I can't do anything else productive. (This is the background piece: the Uber Education Manifesto Du Jour With Humor will be the second entry.) But, in any case, this goes back at least a few weeks before this week's manifestoes presented Tuesday and yesterday. Then again, I suppose we should really go back to Richard Rothstein's Class and Schools (2004). Or maybe Berliner and Biddle's The Manufactured Crisis (1995). But that's only the recent lineage. Other ideas that will appear later in this entry come from Jennifer Hochschild and Nathan Scovronick, Michael Katz, Miriam Cohen, and Stephen Provasnik, among other historians and social scientists who have written about education as part of the state for about 40 years or more. Well, that's not quite accurate: the current line of academic writings is 40 years old, but the North American debates they've covered are several hundred years old. In other words, the relative responsibility of schools for academic achievement is not something that's new or newly struggled over. My goal in this entry is to identify three key issues underlying the current (and older) debate.

Probably the most important issue is the role of schools in citizenship and the welfare state. Because schooling became closely tied to the rhetoric of citizenship two out of the three times that the franchise expanded dramatically in the past two centuries, we think of education today as a birthright. Primary education became common in the U.S. earlier than in other early-industrializing countries, and as a result education is the primary form of social citizenship in this country. As Hochschild and Scovronick note, we imbue education with many of the same functions that a broader welfare state serves in other industrialized countries: education is supposed to advance economic opportunity, better health, happier lives, and so forth. (The last, most corrupt form of progressive curriculum ideas was called the Life Adjustment movement, and it was the reductio ad absurdum of education as a substitute for broader social citizenship.) So now schools are supposed to do everything from resuscitate the economy to save lives to ... oh, I don't know, cure split ends. There is a legitimate and identifiable human capital consequence to education, but the rhetoric on that is overblown. There is an inevitable temptation to see education as the cure for all ills, and the politics of education is liberally infected with panacea attribution disease. One part of the serious debate over accountability is the precise role of schools, and that is intimately tied to questions about the extent of the American welfare state.

One complication in thinking about education is the fact that elementary and secondary schooling is among the most equally distributed resources in the United States. In the states with the worst inequality in school spending, you'll see maybe two or even three times as much spending for some children as for others. Think about the distribution of other resources: access to health care, housing, transportation. All are distributed less equally than schools, because schooling is part of the democratic state and a right of citizenship by politics and state constitutions. That fact does not excuse educational inequality, but it's something we don't talk about openly or think about clearly.

I think there's a way out from the quagmire I've identified above: schools, other agencies, and families share responsibilities for children. Each is independently responsible for a reasonable but critical role in the lives of young people. Schools are not time machines: they cannot go back and undue what happened or didn't happen in earlier years, nor can they provide health care, clean air, and so forth. Nor can they take over the lives of children. But neither are they or teachers able to use the rest of children's lives as excuses; you take the students you have and move them. Period. The same is true for parents: they're not responsible for teaching their children calculus. But neither are they supposed to sit on their butts when things go wrong in schools, nor is it responsible to neglect their children. Oh, yes, and you're responsible for talking with people in the other roles, too.

There is a crucial advantage of having twin principles (responsibilities for both coordination and independent functioning): It fits with the broad sense of U.S. parents and other adults that both families and schools are responsible for academic achievement. I've pointed out this apparent inconsistency for several years, but in reality it's not an inconsistency. It reflects one reasonable solution to the dilemma: we're all supposed to be responsible.

But there's a sticking point in this grand ideal: given that schools have a serious but limited responsibility, how do we define the scope of that responsibility? Let's assume (for now) that we're concerned primarily with academic achievement. What exactly do we want schools to do? The final issue I want to identify is the series of shortcuts we take when talking about standards, proficiency, expectations, and any synonym you can find to the general concept of what we want children to learn. I have made the following point in Accountability Frankenstein among other places, and no one has even challenged me on it: almost every policy displaces the hard choices about expectations into a different forum. That doesn't mean that I have no expectations for my children or for schools. It just means that the process of turning rhetoric into policy mechanism removes the definition of academic expectations from public debate. Some of us say we want "high standards," but that does not say a single thing except in the politics of symbolism. Reformulating the concept doesn't help: growth models are equally suspect. In short, "proficiency" is a cipher.

Oh, damn: and there you thought I was headed into a Grand Bargain, a reasonable solution to all the fighting over accountability? Unfortunately, I'm an historian, not a Nobel Peace Prize winner. And I have somewhere to be in a few minutes. But do not fear: for those who grumble about the lack of specifics in this week's manifestoes or this entry, just hold on (or read the last chapter in my book, which is available without waiting for the second entry on this topic).

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 7:04 PM (Permalink) |

June 11, 2008

The politics of education platforms

Steve Diamond is right: the public pronouncements of sweeping education approaches are all about a "battle for the soul of Barack Obama on education policy." That is true whether you're talking about the Bolder Approach announcement Monday, a Klein-Sharpton alliance that will be announced today, or what have you. (Ed in '08 counts, though it is technically nonpartisan: It has consistently wanted to influence all candidates.)

All the attacks this spring on Obama's links to Bill Ayers and Linda Darling-Hammond are both partisan (when Republicans try to pile on in hopes of finding something that will stick as an attack in the fall, as with Ayers) and influence-seeking in a sideways fashion, trying to peel away potential sources of influence (as with attacks on Darling-Hammond).

I'm still going to comment on the EPI collaboration when I get time, and probably the Klein-Sharpton potpourri as well, but for now, there are two parts of these attempts that seem self-defeating in some way:

  • If you think Barack Obama is a blank slate who's easily swayed on either policy or rhetoric, you haven't been paying attention to the nomination process.
  • In practice, the most important decisions on education policy will be appointments to transition task forces and political appointees to the USDOE and the relevant White House advising offices.
More importantly, I will draft an Instantly Coopting Everyone: Duh, You Octagonal Usurper (ICED YOU) statement that will beat all of the efforts at inter-egoorganizational statement-drafting. This statement will be superior because I have actually listened to Obama a few times and because the statement will have one thing that is missing from all other attempts at the Uber Education Statement Du Jour (UESDJ, an unpronounceable acronym and therefore inferior): a sense of humor. Pffft!
Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 11:18 AM (Permalink) |

The costs of layoffs

It looks like faculty at USF are "getting off" lightly in terms of layoffs by almost any measure. I have some questions remaining about the choices available to my institution, but the position of faculty here is better than USF staff and better than those who work in other sectors hit hard by the recession. I know of one layoff notice to an instructor and another one to a professional researcher employee, and I expect to receive copies of a few others, mostly to professional employees who are in the bargaining unit. If you'll accept my apologies for the use of academic jargon to describe institutional behavior, this sucks. But it's still better than what Florida university administrators have pondered over the past few months.

Though very few faculty will receive layoff notices, there are real costs to everyone for staff layoffs, and we are starting to see those consequences this week. For the last few weeks, both faculty and staff have been walking around on eggshells, wondering who would receive layoff notices. Now we know: my guess is that more than half of those who will receive layoff notices this summer have been told, though we still may have some trickling in for a week or more. Anyone faculty member who's teaching and drops by the department this week will know which staff members are being laid off.

I know staff who have received notices, and if you aren't concerned about your coworkers' personal welfare, you're pretty low on the scale of human decency. These include people with disabilities, widows, single parents with children, those who have worked at USF for decades and have a solid job record. They have fewer resources than professionals and faculty, and they're being laid off in the worst economy in almost two decades, with gas prices heading sky-high. If you know someone who's laid off in your department and you don't have your productivity hit from several things (helping someone polish a resume, worrying about them, etc.), you need some help with your soul.

Then there are the long-term consequences of laying off staff. There will be longer wait times for equipment repair, more mold in buildings because leaks take longer to be fixed, students who are a little more likely to be alienated because they're less likely to see a human being when coming in for an appointment, stuff that takes longer to get done because there's a growing queue of logistical tasks for fewer people, and a general sense that the university is being dragged backwards.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in The academic life at 11:00 AM (Permalink) |

June 10, 2008

Missing out of the action, still

I'm swamped by work, so I'm afraid I'm going to be missing the party today on A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, the collaborative statement on education policy headed up by the Education Policy Institute. Eduwonkette praises the statement. Richard Lee Colvin cautiously praises the emphasis on early childhood education while noting that it is likely to be controversial. Sara Mead's view is highly mixed. Eduwonk and Mike Petrilli are outright cynical.

I'm going to be late in responding to this (and other major stories such as Ed Week's grad-rate release last week). I'd give my brief gloss on the topic, but I've already written a book on accountability, and I'm too exhausted right now for pithy comments.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 4:27 PM (Permalink) |

June 8, 2008

Nailing down accreditation

Kevin Carey has an interesting short essay this weekend on college accreditation, essentially arguing that the federal government should use its regulatory authority over regional accreditation agencies to exert indirect pressures on colleges. There's a thumbnail history of government support of higher ed in the postwar era* and an argument that it was kosher for the Bush administration to use federal oversight of the accreditation process to create additional responsibilities for accreditors.

The current accreditation system works well in some ways. Accredited colleges are very unlikely to steal your money and take it to the track or hand you a worthless diploma from KevU. Accreditation brings certain standards in terms of faculty credentials, financial integrity, etc.... But the peer-based nature of accreditation also limits its utility.

I agree: accreditation is useful for some purposes and not for everything. According to Carey, it serves the "don't let federal dollars go to fly-by-night institutions" purpose well.

The critical question is whether accreditation can or should serve more than that purpose as far as the federal government is concerned. Carey describes the backlash against the Bush regulatory attempts as an explicit desire to escape accountability. I suspect it's far closer to a feeling among accreditors that the federal government is pulling a bait-and-switch tactic. Having created an apparatus to do precisely what Carey says (making sure that accredited institutions are not frauds), Spellings wanted them to look much more like Big Brother in higher education. I don't think accreditors have the capacity to do what Margaret Spellings and Kevin Carey would like them to do, I don't think they'd have the legal or political authority to do it as the Bush administration packs its bags, and I think if forced to do it, they'd do a lousy job. I'm afraid this is a case of seeing accreditation agencies as a hammer, with accountability looking mightily (and incorrectly) like a nail.

* Not so minor pickiness: Carey's propagation of the Myth of Research Fetishes:

So we made universities care about one thing—research—even as we needed them to be good at another thing—teaching. This fundamental and on some level irreconcilable tension is the source of much of what's wrong with higher education today.

There's much we can debate about a Weberian analysis of higher education, but that claim about emphasis is simply not true: not only are most students and faculty still in institutions largely devoted to teaching, but Carey knows (or should know) that the vast majority of undergraduate students are in public institutions (not many of which are Research I), and more than a third of undergraduate students attend 2-year institutions far removed from research. Far more to the point is his previous argument that legislators often give some institutions preferential treatment come budget time. He assumes it's always the flagship university. I'm not so sure; in some states, community colleges have enormous political sway. And in plenty of states, legislators don't seem to care about higher education as anything more than an opportunity for patronage and corruption (ask faculty in Alabama).

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Higher education at 7:57 PM (Permalink) |

When to stop working for the day...

I've been in my office for most of the past 6 hours, engaged in various editorial tasks. Most of the time, I have been writing disposition e-mails, generally rejections and requests for revisions. I know it's time to head home when I cannot write another rejection note. I'll just have to carve out time later this week for more e-mails.
Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in The academic life at 4:53 PM (Permalink) |

Feeling lazy at 9:30 am

I must be too-well socialized: I'm reading my daughter's book manuscript this morning, but I'll probably leave the house shortly to get some work done on Education Policy Analysis Archives and then reading and grading papers. Yesterday's class documented two things for me: I had planned enough for an entire day of teaching, and it's been 9 years since I've done that. That is, students grumbled a bit as we went a few minutes overtime (I'll figure out how to make up for that), and I collapsed after I came home. And my spouse had no sympathy for me, since she's taught full days for 13 years of her life, the last 6 in special education.

This morning, I woke up to find that our finches were mad (short, sharp vocalizing instead of singing). My wife and I had no clue why they were mad since they had fresh water and millet, and she had opened "their" sliding-glass door so they could hear the birds outside. That usually sparks some active singing, but it didn't. (The finches also like opera, especially coloratura arias.) Apparently, the younger finch had been mad at us last night. So I said hello and started exercising, which apparently satisfied the older guy, since he started singing. But the younger one was still grumpy (I think from lack of sleep, though I'm sure I anthropomorphize). He cheered up only when I did some shoulder rolls (as in whole-body rolls over a shoulder). Since birds are in very bad shape when lying on the ground, watching human exercises such as crunches or rolls must be the bird equivalent of going to horror movies: "He's on the ground and still alive: it's a giant food-bringer zombie!!!" And the nice thing about rolls is that if you do five or six of them in a row, you get much the same feeling as if you had been on a turn-you-upside-down roller coaster, all without the sunburn or entrance fees of theme parks.

On second thought, maybe the finches are just laughing at us when we exercise, an entertaining break from their efforts at redecorating. For now, I'll finish reading this chapter and then head off to work.

June 5, 2008

Confederate flag flap in Tampa

The local Sons of Confederate Veterans has acquired a permit to raise a huge Confederate battle flag near a major highway intersection in Hillsborough County. Tampa hasn't had such an embarrassing outbreak of nationally-visible racism for almost two decades. The last time you could sense a countywide wince was when the all-white, all-male sponsor of Gasparilla (Ye Mystic Krewe) embarrassed the city before the 1991 Super Bowl.

From the news reports, it looks like the flag-raising group has acquired the proper permits, and I suspect there is nothing that the county can do to bar them from doing something this stupid. Yes, they probably have the right to fly the flag, but it will not help the image of the city one whit.

There's a lot of myth surrounding the use of the flag, starting with the false claim that there was a consistent and uniform use of the flag between the end of the Civil War and the end of WW2. Let's take one mistaken gentleman from 2000, speaking of the controversy that year in South Carolina:

The Confederate flag that flies over the capitol of this state was flown for over a century in defense of slavery and segregation.

Thank you for playing U.S. history trivia, former Senator Bradley, but you're wrong. According to John Coski, the battle flag was not generally used in any political sense, nor was it incorporated into Southern state symbols, until the renascence of Southern racist intransigence. The battle flag popped up in the political life of the Dixiecrats in 1948, apparently the Dixiecrat use of the battle flag was not uniformly welcomed by the various Confederate heritage groups. The battle flag was then incorporated into state flags in the 1950s with the resistance to school desegregation and civil rights in general. The use of the flag between 1948 and at least 1970 was clearly tied closely to resistance to civil rights, so that federal judges allowed schools to restrict students' free-speech rights if convinced that wearing the battle flag during desegregation would provide bona fide disruptions.

At this point, the battle flag has multiple meanings, and anyone commenting on the current controversy in Tampa would be wise to acknowledge those multiple meanings. Regardless of the uses of the battle flag before 1948, its modern history is intimately tied up in postwar resistance to civil rights. I suspect few are aware of that history, including most of the late adolescents who go around with the battle flag on vehicle bumpers and plenty of those who are going to rail against the huge flag in my county. I forget who had probably the best comment on displays of the Confederate battle flag, and I've searched for the comment, but in vain. So if you know who said this, please speak up in comments: "If they want to celebrate their defeat, let them."

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 6:48 PM (Permalink) |

Galaxy heeds Mike Petrilli

After Mike Petrilli's opinion piece on the costs of teacher obesity, the Milky Way galaxy has issued a press release saying it is undergoing bariatric surgery. Said Way, "No one likes to give up the pleasures of the occasional ice cream or supernova, but I'm just getting too fat around the spirals. My doctors tell me that my growing girth around the central black hole is a danger to my health, and that there is no other way to fight this galactic spread, so I'll be having two of my arms surgically reduced."

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 1:47 PM (Permalink) |

Scheduled fragmentation is less stressful

Today is F day, as in fragmentation (so get your mind out of the gutter). It's the first day of summer vacation for my children, but my teaching spouse is in for a final closeout day to finish her paperwork for the year. Or, rather, it's the paid closeout day, since she may have to head in next week to finish the paperwork in truth. (This last year has been her sixth in special education, and she has a relatively high case-load this year, which was also the first year in which she was asked to take her students for individualized state testing, something that set her back several weeks as far as paperwork is concerned. But that's a topic for a separate entry.)

With teenagers, my supervision duties are fairly light, but I don't anticipate long stretches of time for concentration. My daughter has two online tasks today (one that will require a few hours), and I expect I'll have to be Tech Support for her slower computer, or negotiate time on the family office computer. I have one appointment in the early afternoon, and then we have Events later this afternoon and evening. In the meantime, one student just told me that the university's switch of e-mail services has thrown off e-mail forwarding for a large group of students in my summer class, so the stuff I thought would get done today might not be done until tomorrow (when I had hoped to have time to concentrate on other tasks for the class).

At least I knew today would be fragmented. I think I'm going to have to fight fragmentation on at least one day a week this summer, put my foot down, and say no to all meetings for one day a week. Otherwise, I won't get anything done.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in The academic life at 11:19 AM (Permalink) |

June 4, 2008

Can we count graduation??

Ed Week has its annual graduation special issue online, Diplomas Count 2008. Joydeep Roy and Larry Mishel have a brand-new article out today criticizing Swanson's measures as well as those of others, available at the ASU server or the epaa.info server for Education Policy Analysis Archives. (Disclosure: I'm the editor. And I've done some research on graduation myself.)
Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 2:54 PM (Permalink) |

Academic freedom threats, the real version

The vet who writes My cat ate my homework has a poignant list of scientists whose academic jobs and sometimes lives have been threatened because they taught evolutionary science. (Hat tip.)
Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Academic freedom at 9:37 AM (Permalink) |

June 2, 2008

Academic offspring terminology needed

One of my colleagues at USF gave birth over the weekend, and coming on the heels of a few engagement announcements, it's another bit of welcome news. The world needs that, I think.

One of the great changes in academe over the past half-century is that institutions are becoming more accommodating of family life. Not that much in the U.S., compared to other countries (see yesterday's entry on busy academics), but over the 12 years I've been at USF, department colleagues have had or adopted over a dozen children, a few colleagues have become grandparents, and there have been plenty of graduate students who have had children while in our department. Especially in a college of education, that keeps us honest.

I know my own children are cynical about my academic pursuits, in part because they are teenagers and cynical about a lot of my life and in part because they've heard my spouse and I chat about work and pick up the work politics. So what is the right term for children of faculty? There should be one, to parallel military brat or red-diaper baby. Book brood just doesn't seem right. Suggest terms in the comments!

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in The academic life at 10:53 PM (Permalink) |

Do not copy and paste

This morning (or at least now), I am reviewing the syllabus for the course that starts this Saturday. In reality, the term began last month, but we are meeting for the first time on Saturday. I sent the students several e-mails over the past few weeks after uploading the syllabus to the relevant Blackboard (ick! I know) page. I also gave students an opportunity to note errors or omissions from the syllabus, with an incentive that is meaningful to at least several students. So today, I finish the minor revisions on the syllabus based on feedback (version 1.1) and upload it. (For students who read my blog, don't worry: I just changed the last assignment to a 50-page paper requiring original research. Just kidding!)

Revising the syllabus also gave me the chance to look at my standard "class policies" language before I create syllabi for the fall. I've decided I very much like the advice I give on avoiding plagiarism:

If you are not sure what the standard is for online materials, maybe a rule of thumb will help for this course: Do not copy and paste. Do not copy and paste without citing at all: that is plagiarism. Do not copy and paste, fail to put in quotation marks, but put the author(s) and publication date in parentheses: that is awful citation mechanics. Do not copy and paste, put in quotation marks, and cite properly, because you are wasting precious space. I do not grade students for how well they quote sources. The highest grades are earned by thoughtful evaluation and synthesis. You cannot meet that standard by copying and pasting.

I know that teachers sometimes socialize students into the string-the-quotations-together school of writing a research paper, but a paper where 60% is quoted material drives me bonkers. If they cared about improving their writing, students would understand they need to avoid quoting. What feedback do students want on weak papers: "Next time, pick better quotations"?

Addendum: Yes, I will be cleaning up the colloquial language for the fall. You now see the warts in the current version.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Teaching at 9:02 AM (Permalink) |

June 1, 2008

Brain... dripping... out... editor's... ears...

I've done about all I can on editing today. I still have e-mails from last week I need to respond to, reviewers to nag, disposition e-mails to write, ... but I've been in my office for over 8 hours, mostly alone, and if you are waiting for me to send you something, please understand that you don't want me to do that right now. Trust me on that one.

No golf for faculty, either

Last month, Dean Dad wrote an entry discussing the generational culture differences among higher-ed administrators. There's an important point here that's hidden in the piece, something about work habits as well as culture and leisure change by generation. Anyone who goes into grad school expecting a leisurely life of the mind should know that Margaret Soltan's assumption of plentiful sabbaticals is more myth than reality for faculty across the country. While I know of no study about the prevalence or use of sabbaticals, I would guess that a graduate student in liberal arts would be more likely to end up as a freeway flyer adjuncting at several campuses than to be at a liberal arts college or major research university with guaranteed sabbaticals every seven years.

More generally, I find relatively few new faculty who have much time to be lazy during the year. There are faculty who have better control over their time than others, and there are also many faculty who find 50-60 hour weeks less hectic than their previous lives, or more enjoyable. (I don't have a point of comparison, having gone straight from college to grad school to various roles in academe.) But I don't know many unoccupied faculty who have come to USF recently and stayed in the job for long. Whether they're great managers of their time or spinning their wheels, they're working hard. (I'm somewhere between those two extremes.) This is also true of faculty who are caring for young children or older relatives. There are plenty of faculty members who have written books in the odd minutes and hours around children's naps, parental care, and so forth.

Probably the largest question of faculty time for new scholars is who takes the summer off. Note that I did not say that the difference is between who is paid and who is unpaid during the summer. At my institution, there are both 9-month and 12-month faculty, and many 9-month faculty also depend on summer appointments to pay the bills. (A curtailed schedule this summer has effectively cut the pay of many faculty.) But there are plenty of faculty who are not paid and yet still work during the summer to meet tenure requirements, to complete research requirements, to catch up with reading that was left undone in the summer, and so forth.

There is probably a reason why I'm writing this entry today: I came into the office today to work on something I'm not paid for this summer (editing Education Policy Analysis Archives). I am teaching a course starting this month, and I'm tied to a bunch of union commitments, but that's not all. Like many of my colleagues, I am socialized too well to just sit around during the summer. (Yes, a colleague came to his office today, a few doors down from mine.) In today's case, that's partly because my May is always hectic, and I never get enough done in May. (Case in point: I started this entry a few evenings ago... but didn't finish it until now.) So June 1, I must start catching up. But my experience is also a reflection of the reality of faculty lives. I'm sure there are a few clever layabouts who can start a tenure-track job today and get through with a minimum of effort. I just haven't met any.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Higher education at 4:18 PM (Permalink) |

One more brief item on health care and education

I need to return to editing an accepted manuscript for publication, but just one more brief entry on Peter Orszag and health care economics. I haven't yet commented on Corey Bower's blog entries earlier this spring on one way of seeing flat spending on education (per-pupil spending as % of GDP) and the degree to which education is treated as essential or a luxury, but I thought the point was original. (I'm not certain his measure is appropriate—why is per-pupil spending being compared to GDP instead of per-population spending? But the idea is certainly intriguing.) When education spending is discussed, it's usually in isolation as a time series, not in comparison to the economy as a whole or to other sectors such as health care.

I suppose I could cherry-pick spending in various non-education areas and argue that there are clearly areas where society is spending an increasing amount of money with relatively little to show for it, as is the occasional rant about schooling. But such cherry-picking would be polemical rather than analytical. The larger point is that such arguments about education are taken out of context.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 2:10 PM (Permalink) |

Health care and education

On May 19th, Congressional Budget Office Director Peter Orszag was on the Diane Rehm show. Several times that hour, Orszag talked about health care costs, and I had a few thoughts while listening:
  • This guy is smart. I don't know if my oldest brother agrees with him about health care policy, but there's a frood who really knows where his towel is.
  • So much for the reigning myth in education policy debates that health care decisions are based solidly on evidence.
  • He's probably right that "the deficit will bankrupt your grandchildren" is not a winning argument, politically.
  • The tradeoff between health-care costs and social investments (in either infrastructure or education) are an interesting way to frame policy discussions. As with the point above, it probably is not a winning argument politically, but it's definitely a "hmmmnnnn" point.

Oh, yes, and Orszag has a blog at CBO.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy at 10:35 AM (Permalink) |

Possible boondoggle in broadband build-out?

There's something possibly important but important to check in the Educause podcast of a May 8 speech by John Windhausen, who runs the Telepoly website. To put his argument briefly, he is convinced that the U.S. will run out of broadband capacity, and he argues for a "national broadband policy" to expand the broadband infrastructure, specifically a $100 billion investment in getting broadband to every single home in the U.S.

I don't know about his factual predictions based on an exponential model of broadband usage growth, but I do know that he is right that the private market is not enough: the basic economics here don't make sense unless you say upfront that federal and state governments are going to pay for the majority of every single inch of conduit for this expanded broadband capacity. If I remember correctly, what happened the last time that there was network expansion (and this was not at the "last-mile-to-the-consumer" issue that Windhausen discusses) was that it was built on wildly inaccurate assumptions about the profitability of networks, with fairly highly leveraged capacity construction. Once built, the price that anyone could charge for access to the network (or, more importantly, anything above a local ISP) dropped. I forget who was left holding the bag the last time that network capacity increased dramatically, but if we're going to have more broadband, I don't want to have public financing through the back door of company bankruptcies from another highly-leveraged build-out.

Having said that, I'm still skeptical that the best use of the next $100 billion in federal resources is to put broadband in every home.

Listen to this article Listen to this article
Posted in Random comments at 12:11 AM (Permalink) |