January 29, 2009

The colonic theory of school reform

Looking at news this morning of university-wide furloughs at Arizona State, where my brother is a professor of geography, has put me in a sour mood. Not only does this affect my family and a bunch of friends elsewhere on the faculty, but it puts the lie to the "this is a great time to winnow out bad programs" argument. When there are draconian budget cuts, and they come quickly, there is no way to avoid damaging good programs as well as bad ones. Even if a university avoids across-the-board cuts for a time, when the cuts become severe enough, everyone feels it. The pain is not felt equally, but it is widespread, and there is going to be damage to good programs.

My friend and predecessor as faculty union chapter president, Roy Weatherford, explained his disdain for the political argument that events needed to get truly bad for the voters to kick out your opponents: "That's the enema theory of politics," he's said on various occasions. There are some advocates of this approach in any political organization, I'm afraid. If you subscribe to it, you hope for the worst instead of arguing for the best.

The parallel argument is now being made with respect to budget cuts: they're good! (I've also heard that argument from one state legislative aide in Florida. That was last spring, and I haven't heard that argument since, at least in Florida.) That assumes that at some point in an organization, the pain is so bad that decisions get better. I'd love to see any research on this, but I suspect this is a seat-of-the-pants argument (see Andy Rotherham and Kevin Carey for more on this point).

For those who still believe that draconian budget cuts somehow make things more efficient, pretend for a moment that there were such as thing as perfectly rational management. Even if that were the case, there is no management system that simultaneously has a perfect understanding of the value of all organization components, is effective in organizational politics, and has not yet optimized stuff. (For the market fundamentalists out there, this is the parallel of saying that stock prices automatically reflect the knowledge that "the market" already has. In this rationalistic world, if there already were information to justify cutting a program, effective managers would have found a way to do that, or they're not effective.) That means that when stuff hits the fan, even if you thought there could be an objective way to make budget-cutting decisions, decisions will be made that cannot be justified based on what's known at the time. That's because there is no such thing as objective ways to make budget cuts, there isn't good information, or the decisions will be made for the wrong reasons.

Decisions should be made for the right reasons at all times, and any claim that "this is the perfect time to do X" strikes me as opportunistic, along the lines of arguments for tax cuts:

  • We have a budget surplus, and it's the people's money, so we should give the money back.
  • We have a budget deficit, and the best way to solve that is through growth, so let's cut taxes as a stimulus.
  • Times are good, so let's cut taxes.
  • Times are bad, so let's not put a greater burden on families.

This reminds me of the classic British argument for tea-time:

  • Working hard in the afternoon? Have some tea.
  • Spending time with friends? Have some tea.
  • Not feeling well? Have some tea.
  • Want to celebrate great news? Have some tea.
  • Nuclear war? Have some tea.

While it's a delight to see intellectual flexibility among my fellow Americans, at some point it is hard to argue that program and policy decisions should be rational when your argument for making those decisions is fundamentally irrational; don't simultaneously indulge in Machiavellian fantasies and then claim that it's all in the service of decency. Maybe I'm the education blogosphere's hobgoblin this morning, but there it is. It's a small consistency I'm asking for, that's all.

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Posted in Higher education at 9:11 AM (Permalink) |

January 28, 2009

Jay Greene lands on the side of John Dewey

Jay Greene points out that expertise should not trump public input on key policy issues. In this regard, he's closer to John Dewey's trust of the general community of citizens than to Walter Lippmann, who was sure that we needed a technocratic administrata ruling key matters of public policy. 

I'm on Dewey's and Greene's side, here. In 2006, I winced in the middle of Reg Weaver's main address at the National Education Association meeting in Orlando, for he was trying to denigrate expertise on one hand (with regard to educational psychologists) and then use it on the other (to raise the status of teachers). You can't do both and get away with it easily.

So maybe my best answer to DeanDad and Stanley Fish is that a liberal-arts education gives you both the general skills and also enough knowledge in multiple disciplines so that you're not easily fooled. It's not an inoculation (as all those who fell for Bernie Madoff can attest), but both republics and democracies depend on a population with sufficient education to enter into a debate about facts rather than just accept the facts that self-annointed experts have offered. Sometimes this openness to debate is disastrous, but I much prefer it to a technocracy.

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Posted in Education policy at 12:27 AM (Permalink) |

Conspiracy Debunking 101

So rumors are flying that Linda Darling-Hammond may become Deputy Secretary of Education and World Destruction, and that the Senate is Stripping Glory from the Stimulus. Before anyone gets their hair too much out of place on speculation of appointments, legislation, and little green beings that are just about to swoop down on 400 Maryland Ave. and "Oprah"--well, apart from Rod Blagojevich, whose mop isn't remotely green--let me repeat a few words of caution and maybe even wisdom from a long-term perspective:

  • Facial plausibility for your speculation does not make it true, even if it could explain a number of observations. Check that speculation by looking for alternative hypotheses and discomfirming evidence.
  • The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend, and two of your adversaries are not BFF just because of their real or imagined adversarial relationship to you. (Google "exaggerated self-reference.") They are human beings, and their relationship is probably as complex as you think it simple. Some day I need to find time to explain why liberals in teachers unions aren't always going to agree with liberals in colleges of education, but just trust me on this one for now.
  • Rome was not destroyed in a day. Apparently the conference committee took a few hundred years.

From all this back-and-forth about oh no! Linda Darling-Hammond--oh no! Andrew Rotherham--oh, no! Linda Darling-Hammond--oh, no! Darth Vader and the E Street Band--I feel like I'm back in middle school and am just waiting for someone to walk by and sneer, "take a chill pill" (a clause I last heard spoken aloud when I was in high school). The common-sense analysis I laid out the day after the election is generally panning out (but with a few exceptions that I'm learning from): the hard issues are still there, and I don't think anyone is going to be rolled on them in a major way in the stimulus.

Furthermore, the cabinet and sub-cabinet appointments in the Lesser Agencies have a pretty good incentive not to be high-handed: those who are appointed can be dumped, and I suspect that is most likely in this administration for violating the No Drama Obama Unless You're Rahm Rule. You know--Work Hard. Be Nice. I know I've heard that somewhere...

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Posted in Education policy at 12:20 AM (Permalink) |

January 27, 2009

Don't panic about teen sex trends. Do panic about pundits and pols who cannot read newspapers

Despite thumbnail histories of cultural declension, it just isn't the case that teenagers are uncontrollable cauldrons of hormones: teens are less likely to have sex than teens of the mid-90s. The alarming trend is a reversal of declining teen birth rates. Before the middle of the Bush era, teen birth rates had generally tracked adult rates (i.e., declining since the Baby Boom peak of the late 1950s).

And it's too soon to know if this one- or two-year trend is a minor bump or a serious trend. Just like test scores...

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Posted in History at 2:14 PM (Permalink) |

The good, the bad, and the supremely weird

The good

  • DeanDad shows that he understands higher-ed history far better than Stanley Fish.
  • Eduwonkette has a new gig (sociology at New York University).
  • Barack Obama has been president for a little less than a week, and he's already fulfilled a bunch of campaign promises. (Well, it's good from my perspective.)
  • Paul Krugman's been tearing up the world with ideas, corrections, and so forth.

The bad

  • The economy is still tanking. 
  • We lose Eduwonkette as an active blogger (though I'm hoping she returns after shoving a dozen articles out the door).
  • The new Treasury Secretary is one of the many Americans who didn't pay taxes correctly. His gig includes... supervising the collection of taxes.

The supremely weird

  • Central Florida school districts seem to be falling over each other (or maybe falling down in domino-fashion) to implement mandatory school-uniform policies. So much for basing policy on evidence... search for "mimetic isomorphism" to understand.
  • Rod Blagojevich defends himself not in the Illinois Senate but on daytime television because nothing says calm, reasoned discourse better than The View.
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Posted in Random comments at 8:50 AM (Permalink) |

January 25, 2009

State House Speaker to step down!

From a news report filed at 6 pm today, the House Speaker...

... said in an interview this afternoon that he will resign from the Legislature on Tuesday, saying he is proud of his record and is leaving with his ''head high''...

... has endured public scrutiny because of influence-peddling allegations involving close his friends [sic], was sending a letter to his House colleagues tonight informing them of his decision.

Despite the swirl of ethics controversies, he insisted ... he is leaving with a clear conscience as he steps down ...

... denied that the ethics issues that have tarnished his public image are playing a role in his departure.

Of course, that's about Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi.

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Posted in The academic life at 11:49 PM (Permalink) |

Ron Matus drinks the kool-aid

Aaaiiiieeee! One of the local, well-trusted education beat reporters for the St. Petersburg Times has bought into the bright students still bored criticism of NCLB. I've explained before why that's an ugly argument against No Child Left Behind, as well as why it's bad for what's good about enrichment/advancement programs but I'll repeat the gist:

  • Selective focus fallacy: If students in your advanced classes are bored, check to see if all students are bored. Chances are that the answer is "yes."
  • Historical amnesia: While I have concerns about Advanced Placement courses as an equivalent of "hard and rigorous," there is no doubt that Florida provides far more opportunities for students of all kinds to take AP courses than the state did 10 or 15 years ago.
  • The "they're special" rut of gifted-ed arguments: For almost a century, we've distributed educational resources and opportunities based on assumptions that there is a fixed student capacity (or fragments of capacity). If gifted-education advocates cannot run away from that assumption, they are not nearly as smart as they need to be, either politically or intellectually.
  • Insults to the rest of humanity: Surely we can talk about the need for more and better investment in education without denigrating those absent from the room. If you're a parent and don't think your children are gifted and deserve individual attention, you need your heart checked. And if you don't think parents of the kids you're not talking about will be upset when you claim that your kids (and not theirs) are special, you need your head examined.

What is especially surprising is that a good reporter such as Matus did not look for anyone with a different take on the issue.

A few minutes ago, one of my daughter's best friends rang the doorbell to say hello while she's in the middle of her daily training run. In elementary school, she would never have been considered for the type of gifted-education program that Ron Matus discussed in this morning's article. Today, she's 17 years old, a good friend to many peers, a joy to be around,... and in as many AP classes as her friends who were in elementary and middle-school gifted programs. She would not have been where she is today without an incredible drive to achieve and without also some assistance in elementary schools from an astute second-grade teacher and an effective teacher of pullout services. To all advocates of gifted education who have a static definition of what giftedness is, and are willing to push it in a policy context, you would do well to remember that there are more talented students "than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Update: Ron Matus responds.

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Posted in History at 2:32 PM (Permalink) |

Minimal Sansom blogging for a while

At least for a few weeks, there will be little discussion here about Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom because there are multiple investigations under way, from a grand jury in Tallahassee to an ethics commission and maybe others. While others such as Howard Troxler are having fun, I'll enjoy their work and wait for the results of the investigation(s).

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Posted in Higher education at 2:27 PM (Permalink) |

January 23, 2009

iTunes rock stars and the cultural script of college teaching

Listmania time! I'm glad that I'm in the tenth hottest profession (though some would disagree). And apparently I have the seventh best job in the whole world. Yeah... Let's be clear: tenured university faculty (who are the minority of faculty in the U.S.) have significant benefits in terms of due process on the job and (for the most part) being able to choose which hours you work each week. (I'd steal the "I can work any 50 hours I want" line if it hadn't already been written for lawyers.)

But there are two deep problems with these lists. As everyone should know by now, "historian" is a great job if you're employed full time with job security (see the "tenured" bit above), but it's entirely inapplicable to adjuncts and other contingent academic workers. The other problem is about cultural stereotypes: there is something unreal in the promotion of professors as personalities instead of looking at the social organization of colleges and universities. (That's true for all professions--I much prefer the "best organizations to work for" lists to the "best occupations" because for your job satisfaction, where you are is at least as important as what you do.)

Let me focus on the cultural stereotypes of the professor and understandings of college teaching. A case in point is standout lecturer Walter Lewin of MIT. He's become famous for the video lectures available through iTunes, and from the lectures I've watched, justifiably so. Yet his fame (and iTunes availability) also reinforces certain cultural stereotypes about higher education: the lone lecturer who is engaging and charismatic at the front of the stage. It's a heck of a lot better than other stereotypes of faculty as absent-minded, clueless, and uncaring, but there's still the common script of the university as a set of lectures and exams. 

What is missing from this script is the discussion and other non-lecture stuff in and out of classrooms. I've never seen an iTunes recording of a seminar discussion, and certainly I doubt there's an iTunes track of an organic chem lab. The reverse is true, too. When Sara Rimer wrote about the redesign of the MIT intro physics course less than 13 months after writing about the famous iTunes lectures, Lewin was absent from the discussion of teaching physics at MIT. It was as if the two articles were about different universities, though the department and the Times reporter were identical, in a subtle act of journalistic amnesia that made me wonder if Lewin had been interviewed and what his thoughts were about redesigning courses away from lectures. 

But one thing you can be sure of: to borrow from Gil Scott-Heron, the evolution will not be televised ... or on iTunes.

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Posted in Higher education at 8:08 AM (Permalink) |

January 22, 2009

Cooling the mark out -- an explanation

Several comments on my discussion of CC remedial/developmental education asked what "cooling the mark out" meant. In 1952, Erving Goffman's "On Cooling the Mark Out: Some Aspects of Adaptation to Failure" appeared in Psychiatry. (At the time, Goffman was a graduate student in sociology at the University of Chicago. Not a bad start to his career!) Goffman used a routine in crime--where designated members of a gang would "cool out" unhappy con-job "marks" by explaining to them why it was just that they were taken advantage of (or that they weren't taken advantage of, or somesuch)--to point out that such cooling-out functions happen broadly in society, where people unhappy with how they're being treated are let down in some way to avoid ruffling feathers. (And apropos the Bernie Madoff story, Goffman discusses the social distinctions between petty con jobs vs. white-collar crime.) In this way, Goffman argued that the con man, the restaurant host, and the complaint department of a business all serve the same essential function.

The con man who wants the mark to go home quietly and absorb a loss, the restaurant hostess who wants a customer to eat quietly and go away without causing trouble, and, if this is not possible, quietly to take his patronage elsewhere--these are the persons and these are the relationships which set the tone of some of our social life. Underlying this tone there is the assumption that persons are institutionally related to each other in such a way that if a mark allows himself to be cooled out, then the cooler need have no further concern with him; but if the mark refuses to be cooled out, he can put institutional machinery into action against the cooler. (p. 17 in the reader)

In 1960, Burton Clark's article The "Cooling-Out" Function in Higher Education ($$ American Journal of Sociology) pointed out that the same dynamic exists in higher education. Using his observations of counselors at San Jose City College, Clark argued that education inevitably must address the gap between the promise of an open American educational system, where everyone can theoretically return to school at any time, and limited upward mobility in the labor mark, where not everyone will have a job (or a good job). In contrast to the "hard" letdown of universities that kick students out when they fail classes, Clark said that community colleges have a "soft" institutional repertoire of testing students before they can take credit courses, counseling them to take vocational programs, requiring an "orientation to college" class, and repeating the testing and advising routine if necessary until and through probation until a student is resocialized to accept a lower fate. As he write (p. 573):

Adverse counseling advice and poor test scores may not shut off his hope of completing college; when this is the case, the deterrent will be encountered in the regular classes. Here the student is divested of expectations, lingering from high school, that he will automatically pass and, hopefully, automatically be transferred. Then, receiving low grades, he is thrown back into the counseling orb, a fourth step in his reorientation and a move justified by his actual accomplishment.

Clark argued that there were several traits of an institution with a cooling-out repertoire: alternative definitions of achievement, incremental rejection, use of a paper record to persuade the mark, the existence of "agents of consolation" (academic advisors), and the dissolution of hard-and-fast standards. By diverting students without having to tell them a painful truth of limited opportunity and personal worth, community colleges had an essential role: "the cooling-out process in higher education is one whereby systematic discrepancy between aspiration and avenue is covered over and stress for the individual and the system is minimized" (p. 576). Ginsburg and Giles's 1984 article pointed out that within community colleges, selective programs have options in how to divert students (in essence replicating the soft/hard distinction that Clark assumed was the division between public universities and community colleges). Steven Brint and Jerome Karabel's 1989 book The Diverted Dream put this argument into an historical setting, the postwar development of community college systems.

It is important to note that this argument does not go unchallenged. One challenge is to the history that Brint and Karabel present; their example (Massachusetts) is late and arguably unrepresentative in the status and policy environment for the system. Robert Pederson's 2000 Teachers College dissertation is the most vigorous challenge that I'm aware of, essentially a brief against inferring broader patterns from junior-college and community-college history. Then there are the contemporary challenges, academics pointing to specific programs that feed into jobs, states with articulation agreements that do enable transfers, the solid teaching that exists in hundreds of 2-year colleges around the country, ... and literature leading to today's IHE article.

But for those who were curious about the term "cooling the mark out" and community colleges, that's a brief gloss.

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Posted in Higher education at 7:57 AM (Permalink) |

January 21, 2009

One step in the right direction... but let's end single "national evaluation" studies

As Stephen Sawchuk notes, the stimulus bill package requires randomly-controlled studies of federally-funded performance pay (from the Teacher Incentive Fund, which is receiving $$BIG in the stimulus). From pp. 166-167 of the draft:

Provided further, That a portion of these funds shall also be used for a rigorous national evaluation by the Institute of Education Sciences, utilizing randomized controlled methodology to the extent feasible, that assesses the impact of performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems supported by the funds provided in this Act on teacher and principal recruitment and retention in high-need schools and subjects...

First, kudos to the bill authors (legislative staff) who inserted this language. I'm almost rolling my eyes at the randomized controlled trial language because I thought we'd been through the methodology debate sufficiently to understand that RCT is not a panacea. It is a good option for comparing discrete options (e.g., two different "treatments" that are distinct and clearly defined), but it is extraordinarily hard to arrange in education, there are other legitimate options even for that relatively narrow effectiveness question (e.g., regression discontinuity and propensity score designs), and there are other important analyses to consider (depending on the question and the discipline, economists would ask about cost effectiveness, and the educational equivalent of epidemiologists would ask about the "number to treat" or broad population-treatment questions).

But I'm not rolling my eyes because it's the first full day of the new administration, I'm 43, and my eyes might stick that way if I keep doing it. Hmmn. The serious reason why I'm not going to quibble too much with that language is because if done correctly, discrete studies will still tell us something, there's the "to the extent feasible" clause, and on principle, it is a good step to require planning for evaluation at the front end.

On the other hand, I think it's a mistake to require "a rigorous national evaluation... that assesses the impact" as in a single analysis. That language has a grammatical problem: it's using the singular when the plural is more appropriate. There should be a single rigorously-designed and -collected set of data, but it is wrong either to put the analysis in a single group's hands or to frame the question in a singular fashion, as if the answer to any effectiveness of a national program is "yes, it's effective" or "no, it's not effective."

That's the headline for any single, putatively authoritative national evaluation, and if my favorite policy in the whole wide world were performance pay, I would work like the dickens to make sure the questions were framed differently, because it might well turn out (and we should expect the world to work in this way) that the first and second generation of performance-pay plans will largely do squat. "Do squat" is technical language for an average effect size around d=0. Again--if my favorite policy in the whole wide world were performance pay, I'd want to make sure that the questions revolved around differences among programs and pay schemes (including non-performance-pay structures), not just the difference between systems with and without performance pay. And I'd want to make sure that Hawthorne effects were screened out. And all the other things that could subject any such study to criticism within half a day or so. And I'd want the data made available to researchers with different perspectives, so no single person or group could spike the results.

It just so happens that the same diversity of questions and distribution of data would be good from the research community's standpoint, too. It's a shame that the habit in large federal programs is different. If you doubt the wisdom of my advice, seek counsel from those upset about the national evaluation of Reading First.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:54 AM (Permalink) |

A wish for honest arguments

Since Jennifer Jennings and Aaron Pallas are providing their wish list for the new administration this week, I'll chime in with a hope that Paul Krugman's observation for the economic policy team is also true in education. Here is what Krugman wrote January 10 when discussing the Romer-Bernstein graph on the anticipated effects of the stimulus:

Kudos, by the way, to the administration-in-waiting for providing this--it will be a joy to argue policy with an administration that provides comprehensible, honest reports, not case studies in how to lie with statistics.

So, too, it would be wonderful to have a U.S. Department of Education that is more interested in asking hard questions than in fobbing off pat answers and spinning sound bites. This is not a problem that lies solely with the former Bush DOE. It's a problem in school districts, in states, and in past administrations.

When opponents claimed that President Bush lied to the country to start the Iraq War, as an historian I thought to myself, "That assumes that we know his state of mind. Is it a lie if he deluded himself?" At the end of eight years, the former president convinced me that he had deluded himself on many topics. My tentative conclusion about education is that much craziness that passes for education policy comes from the delusions of policymakers that they know "what works" in schools because it fits with their internal thumbnail sociology.

We can no longer afford such delusions and the policy consequences of confirmation bias. Here's the test: will political appointees to the Department of Education state openly where they are not sure, where the research is inconsistent or inconclusive? Will advocates inside and outside the Beltway? That's the difference between focusing debate and shutting off debate, the difference between knowing your values and knowing the limits of research, and the difference between being confident in your judgment and thinking you have a direct line to the truth.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:02 AM (Permalink) |

January 20, 2009

"Cheese and applause"

For trivia buffs in the future, as Barack Obama came out of the Capitol building, greeted by wild applause, the closed captioning for the official streaming read "[CHEESE AND APPLAUSE]." Well, that's nutritious...

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Posted in History at 11:44 AM (Permalink) |

Caffeine plus inauguration = work??

About 30 minutes ago, I realized why I had a headache each of the last few mornings: caffeine withdrawal. Our 15-year-old supercaffeine machine solved that problem (and my appreciation to the nice folks at FakeSugarCompany for sending us that fake-sugar-plus-mocha flavor packet), and I now have the official inauguration streaming site up in another window. (For the record, fake-sugar-plus-mocha packets work, but you can get the same effect with plain cocoa powder plus sweeter of choice. And I forgot the chipotle.)

The challenge will be to maintain some concentration before 11:30 or so, when I'm going to give up all pretense at focusing on other tasks, at least for an hour or so.

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Posted in History at 9:52 AM (Permalink) |

January 19, 2009

Redesigning remedial education

The Bailey, Jeong, and Cho study of remedial education reported on by Inside Higher Ed today is not surprising, but it is still depressing: for the community-college students who most need direct assistance in skills, they are also the least likely to finish a sequence of remedial (aka developmental) courses and also likely not to start on such a sequence at all. I have a strong suspicion that these are not the students in their mid-20s who passed high school algebra courses with a B or higher and forgot the content over 6-10 years (and for whom high-school-age "college readiness" is an irrelevant concept). These are students who are barred from the regular curriculum by testing prerequisites and, at least according to this paper, are the least likely to finish a developmental sequence and start earning college credits.

In 1960, Burton Clark wrote an article that extended the 1952 Erving Goffman "cooling the mark out" argument (in the Goffman Reader) to community colleges; in 1984, Mark Ginsburg and Joanne Giles echoed that, and that's what the Bailey et al. paper appears to suggest: when remedial courses and a sequence of several courses is a gatekeeping mechanism that colleges use before a student can take a for-credit class, it discourages students not only from completing the sequence but often from beginning the sequence in the first place. (Also see John L. Johnson's article a few decades ago in the Journal of Special Education for a parallel argument with a sharp twist.)

Community colleges are in a bind here: faculty and administrators do not want to use the limited resources available to community colleges by giving seats to students who are unlikely to pass a class. But remedial classes are not costless, and I assume most faculty know that testing prerequisites also screen out a significant number of students whom colleges are supposed to be serving.

Here is where Kevin Carey's argument from the November Washington Monthly applies, if it applies generally. I shook my head when I read Carey's article a few months ago, because he was assuming or implying that most spending in public four-year institutions is on instruction (something the Delta Project should be disabusing us from). While there's another entry I need to write about how to think about spending on instruction, research, and football, let me get to the meat of this. Carey argued that there could be much better instruction squeezed from existing resources. This argument is based on the work of the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) and the evangelism of Carol Twigg on course redesigns. Twigg argues (and Carey picks up on this) that one can use technology to engage students more and use faculty, T.A., and staff time more efficiently.

I've talked with some thoughtful people in the college teaching-effectiveness world who are skeptical of Twigg's more extensive claims, but I'm willing to skip over those debates and say that below some level of resources, it is not possible to provide extensive one-on-one coaching, let alone individualized instruction on key topics in a course, and that Twigg's approach is most likely to be a reasonable strategy when resources are low and the material is reasonably standardized.

Remedial/developmental math courses seem to qualify on both fronts: in general it is in community colleges where resources are lowest and where there are a common set of expectations students must meet in reading and math.

But this is in the abstract -- obviously, many community colleges would need a short-term infusion of resources to transform developmental courses, and this should be tested rather than assumed to be true. Unfortunately, of the NCAT's current membership, there are only 8 community colleges (the majority in Texas), and no community college appear to have been involved in the FIPSE-funded projects in the past few years.

But this is a look from afar--those who teach or work in community colleges, please have at this idea!

Addendum: in comments, skoolboy (aka Aaron Pallas) properly takes me to task for forgetting Burton Clark. Mea culpa!

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Posted in Higher education at 8:10 PM (Permalink) |

January 16, 2009

MLK weekend plans and reflections

Tiny bits for Friday evening:

  • If he were alive, Martin Luther King, Jr., would have turned 80 years old yesterday. He was born in the year that a decade-long agricultural slump turned into the Great Depression. One hundred sixty years ago, or twice his birthday from today, the United States was absorbing the Mexican territories it had won in war, but the compromise of 1850 (and the Fugitive Slave Act) was more than a year away. How far we have come in two (long) lifetimes.
  • My spouse is rousting her Girl Scout troop tomorrow morning to clean up a camp. In return, they get to stay overnight without the usual charge. The temperatures tomorrow night are close to freezing. I bought a copious number of handwarmers. We'll see if they still camp or if they go home at the end of the cleanup. My service? I will put my life on the line this weekend to save my fellow human. Don't worry about me: I'm just donating blood. But if you can, you should, too.
  • I feel like I've been drinking from a firehose the last two weeks: the semester has started, I'm getting demands to deal with a whole host of issues, and the pace is not letting up. Nonetheless, I'm doing a reasonable job of cutting down the number of times a day I check e-mail. The college's e-mail server will be changing Monday afternoon, and the sysadmin promises that the new server will have better options for autoresponders. 
  • Today's hero was no accident: Chesley Sullenberg did not save the lives of his passengers and crew and the residents of the greater New York City area by seat-of-the-pants improvising: he planned and practiced the skills he needed for years, and he's been teaching others to plan for catastrophes.
  • Yo-Yo Ma had me grinning from ear-to-ear in a segment on NPR today. He had recorded himself playing Dona Nobis Pacem and in December had publicly invited listeners to mix themselves in and submit the result to a contest (a sort of "open source" musical collaboration). The winners he picked: a handbell choir and a heavy-metal band. 
  • As promised/threatened earlier this week, I have been writing my own letter to Barack Obama. I will be using an interesting venue to publish it (I hope by the end of the month), but I'll let you read the first sentence now: "Dear President Obama, I am one of the 67 million Americans who hired you for this job...." It's not as original as Jose Vilson's letter, but it's not as predictable as at least one of the NPR-commissioned inaugural poems.
  • I think the coldest morning I ever walked outside was January 20, 1985. It was also Reagan's second inauguration, which is why I remember the exact date. Though my dorm had a dining room, I decided to bundle up and walk through the -30 wind chill to see friends in another dining room. I don't know what I must have been thinking, but I bundled up well enough to survive without serious mishap.

My regards to everyone who is freezing (or at least cursingly cold) right now. Take care, get warm, drink lots of hot tea/coffee/lemonade/cocoa, and I promise you that in six months, we Floridians will envy you. Oh, yes, and try adding a sprinkle of chipotle to the cocoa.

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Posted in Out of Left Field Friday at 11:14 PM (Permalink) |

January 14, 2009

"Ther" Florida State University

"He's Winnie-ther-Pooh. Don't you know what 'ther' means?"
"Ah, yes, now I do," I said quickly; and I hope you do too, because it is all the explanation you are going to get.
--A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Apparently, Florida State University's administrators are going ther route of adding ther definite article to ther university's name, in a vain hope that definite articles do anything for image. (Hat tip.)

Second thought: Maybe this would have been more interesting if ther administrators had put "the" in the middle of ther name. Imagine, if you will,

  • Florida State the University
  • Ohio State the University
  • Johns Hopkins the University
  • State University of New York the Press

I'm not sure that's an improvement, but at least it has ther advantage of making you think a bit.

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Posted in Higher education at 8:27 AM (Permalink) |

January 13, 2009


E-mails have been making the rounds among some educational advocates and researchers, stating rumors that Andrew Rotherham (Education Sector), Wendy Kopp (Teach for America), and Russlyn Ali (Education Trust) were being considered for sub-cabinet posts under Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan, and asking that recipients contact the transition personnel office to object to such appointments. While I haven't seen any e-mail traffic with rumors about the posts for Rotherham or Kopp, Ali supposedly is in line for the Office of Civil Rights inside the USDOE.

First things first: I took a stand against the vitriol directed at Linda Darling-Hammond last month, explaining that on principle I am opposed to ad hominem attacks. My philosophy hasn't changed in the last two months. Has yours?

Second: not only are ad hominem attacks wrong on principle, they are also foolish politics unless you can point to a smoking gun about fitness to serve. Unless policy differences rise to the level of potential criminality (and none of those individuals come close to John Yoo on that scale), policy differences are not going to be a convincing reason to a transition personnel office. Duncan probably knows the policy positions of Rotherham, Kopp, and Ali. Does he also know that by making certain appointments he's going to upset associate and full professors at Directional State University or even Real and Not Facade Brick Private University? While I wish I had greater sway over policy, I suspect pleasing or displeasing me is not high on his concern list at the moment.

Third: the slamming of all three individuals makes little sense from a standpoint of using political capital shrewdly. Assume for a moment that Russlyn Ali is headed to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Is there any reason to believe that the responsibilities of an appointee at OCR would cover the high-stakes accountability issues that presumably people might disagree with Ali on? So if this rumor happens to pan out, Ali's appointment to OCR would remove her from most issues that put her name in that e-mail. 

When I began writing this entry, I wasn't not sure whether to be angry or sad at this latest sandbox fight. It's turned to disappointment. Those who look at the Obama transition years from now will admire Obama's ability to appoint people with gravitas in the headline Cabinet posts and then wonder why the Department of Education appointments were the focus of so much gossip and backstabbing.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:17 PM (Permalink) |

Oversight boondoggle

Last week the Wall Street Journal lambasted Florida Governor Charlie Crist for failing to appeal a ruling that struck down the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission as an unconstitutional infringement on the powers of county school boards in Florida. The legislature wanted to set up the FSEC as a second authorizer of charter schools in case county boards were unfair and refused to let enough charter schools open. This bewildered me because Florida has no statutory cap and there are a few hundred charter schools in the state.

This afternoon, I remembered a blog entry written by St. Pete Times reporters in December: the FSEC has been spending the people's money like it was water, racking up almost half a million dollars in expenses over two fiscal years without authorizing a single charter school that has yet opened its doors. 

Isn't the Wall Street Journal supposed to have a conservative fiscal philosophy?

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Posted in Education policy at 4:37 PM (Permalink) |

Brooklyn KIPP teachers unionizing

As reported in EdWize. What caught my attention was the issue of turnover:

KIPP AMP teachers believe that the high staff turnover at the school has harmed their efforts to build a positive and consistent school culture for their students. "There is a need to make the teacher position more sustainable," says [Luisa] Bonifacio, "so that teachers don't burn out, but are able to make a long-term commitment to the students and the school."

As any labor historian knows, unionization is usually driven by material and also by other considerations that motivate people to sign pledge cards: wanting to be treated decently on the job, having conditions likely to foster success, etc. Having co-chaired a card campaign, I know a touch of what a card campaign involves. If there were an Employee Free Choice Act at the federal level and parallel provisions for public employees in New York state, recognition would be automatic with a supermajority (which apparently UFT has collected from this school's teachers). Then the two sides could sit down immediately and negotiate a contract that meets the needs of teachers and students.

That's possible under current law; it just requires voluntary recognition of the UFT as the collective-bargaining agent for the schools' teachers.

Where is the bureaucracy reenactor crowd?

In the past few months, I have been struggling with how to teach a difficult topic: bureaucracy. It's not hard to enter the topic with a class; everyone experiences bureaucracy in ways that they can talk about at one level. Generally, I find that students absorb notions of street-level bureaucrats, scripts about "real school," and loosely-coupled systems. And one of the most popular books I assign is about bureaucracy: Tyack and Cuban's Tinkering toward Utopia. Especially for current school administrators, bureaucracy can be a very attractive topic.

But at another level, a bureaucracy is hard to learn. Though we experience the status games that Weber discusses, and though most adults spend months and years learning the tacit knowledge that Polanyi has described, I know relatively few friends and colleagues who can reliably describe the weird ways that bureaucracies work.

It's not that people don't theorize, but that their theories are often two-dimensional: bureaucracies always behave a certain way, at least in many of the explanations I hear. But that's not a legitimate generalization. Large organizations have repertoires of behavior, and the choices of individuals matter. The truth is somewhere between guessing the psychology of individual administrators and making cookie-cutter pictures of school bureaucracies.

There are two common errors I have observed in the lay perspective on bureaucracy, even from people who work within them. First is an inattention to the interplay of explicit and tacit knowledge, an inattention to the relationship between formal rules and the inevitable discretion in applying them. At universities, this is often played out in arguments about what an accrediting body will or will not call a university on the carpet about. Some things are no-brainers: if news reports show that an institution is the victim of massive financial fraud and mismanagement, an accrediting body will almost inevitably place the institution on probation. But the rules are often more flexible than what a reader may assume. So while my regional accrediting body requires that college teachers have a masters degree with 18 hours in the instructional area, institutions (usually department heads) can certify an individual as qualified without meeting that requirement. Too many such exceptions will raise red flags, but not the occasional one.

At other times, people confuse the discretionary authority of administrators with what is politically or financially possible. In many universities, for example, there is a political balancing act between a provost's office and departments. While in theory many a provost can overrule every department recommendation on tenure and promotion, in few cases will university administrators ignore recommendations that come from both the tenured faculty and a department chair. If the recommendation is to deny tenure, few provosts want to discourage what they perceive as higher standards. And if a provost consistently denies tenure to faculty that are recommended for approval at the department level, there will also be a political price to pay. 

A related error is inattention to institutional routines. I recently read the novel manuscript of a friend, and while I loved the plot, I winced whenever the author confused jails with prisons, swapped police and sheriffs' deputies, ignored the existence of continuances, and so forth. I do not read many mysteries these days, and when I have, I have usually enjoyed the Agatha Christie more than police procedurals. But there is something about the details of institutional behavior that matters to me.

I suppose I am the bureaucratic equivalent of a Civil War reenactor: I have an acquired instinct for institutional behavior and can spot inaccuracies faster than you can say thin slice. I have no idea where I acquired it, and I am not sure how to teach it or if one can teach it at all. But that knowledge should be teachable, because many of the problems that frustrate parents on a day-to-day basis is bureaucratic behavior. "They're just unfair" is an understandable reaction to events, but neither despair nor screaming at principals (or threatening lawsuits) will get your child the best opportunities, or at least not without considerable cost.

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Posted in Teaching at 9:49 AM (Permalink) |

January 12, 2009

Deantidisestablishmentarianism in education policy rhetoric

Joel Klein and Al Sharpton wrote an open letter to Barack Obama and Arne Duncan that appeared this morning in the Wall Street Journal. And I have just a few questions about this:

  • How can the sitting chancellor and a long-time civil-rights activist claim to be railing against "the entrenched education establishment" when you could reasonably conclude that they are The Establishment?
  • Why do they think that placing a column in the WSJ establishes their anti-establishment street cred? That newspaper isn't exactly an underground pamphlet.
  • Isn't Klein the type of guy who already has Arne Duncan's cell number? They're fellow urban superintendents, they've talked at meetings, and you assume he could call Duncan up at any time, and probably get Obama's number as well. So why do they need this open letter--do they feel this deep psychological need to pose as Village Voice rebels with a cause?

Klein and Sharpton are setting up a straw-man opponent. In my masters class in the fall, one of my students argued that accountability is well-entrenched as part of the public-school policy script. Whether you want to use Tyack and Cuban's "grammar of schooling" or Mary Metz's "real school" language, I think there's a case to be made that anyone who claims that accountability is "new" is in denial and as punishment should have to watch three or four consecutive playings of an inane 1980s adolescent-rebellion film.

So someone who is less establishment than Joel Klein would be... anyone? Anyone?

Second thought: For a few years, I've had the suspicion that the public "letter to the next president" was a bit precious (in the pejorative sense). The collections of letters to the president published after the end of an administration are usually drawn from the sample of correspondence from ordinary Americans that the White House staff select for a president to read as a reality check. Even if Klein gets some credit in my book for having a salary far less than what either New York financiers or university presidents are commonly receiving these days, in no way could one call Joel Klein or Al Sharpton "ordinary Americans."

So if Joel Klein gets to write a "letter to the next president," though we all know he could call Obama up with ideas about either antitrust policy (his Clinton-era gig) or education policy (his current gig), then the gloves are off. I'm writing a letter, too! And you know from my loving hardass manifesto that I intend to bring some style to it. So here's the rule for 2009, for all of you: Staid pretentious public letters to the new president are out. Your job is to write the most outlandish letters that tell the truth. Come on: it's going to be the Obama era. You can say it.

One more update: Apparently Margaret Spellings doesn't have Arne Duncan's cell number, either! Or at least she's pretending not to. Isn't it so nice of major papers to devote part of their ever-shrinking news hole to long classified ads from major policy honchos who can't navigate their cell-phone menus? Though I think the following would have been free on Craigslist: "Arne: call me. Margaret." What? The Post may have been joking? Oh, yeah, and that's a good use of newsprint...

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Posted in Education policy at 8:30 AM (Permalink) |

January 11, 2009

Last chance to tell me off

No, it's not: you're always welcome to tell me off in comments. But this is the last day that the January 2009 reader survey will be available. Again, my thanks to everyone who has participated. It takes just a few minutes (or more if you want to give me lots of ideas for topics). Tell me what to do by taking the survey!

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Posted in Random comments at 12:20 PM (Permalink) |

Sansom watch, January 11 edition

With Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom's resignation Monday from his job at Northwest Florida State College, I wondered whether the story would disappear. Not by a longshot. Editorial boards of the St. Petersburg Times and Bradenton Herald as well as former friend and fellow Republican Joe Scarborough continued to savage Sansom. Investigative reporter Alex Leary discovered that Sansom met with key players in early December in what Destin's mayor called "CYA time."  The Leon County prosecutor referred the case to a grand jury for an initial inquiry. And in its coverage of the grand jury referral, the Times reported that another Florida citizen filed an ethics complaint.

Sansom's colleagues in the Florida House of Representatives who were relieved on Monday may well find themselves squirming by the start of the general session. Sansom's defensive speech on Monday and a television interview this week will not help, especially when the spotlight shifts to other legislators who have public jobs and who either acquired them in a backroom fashion after their election or received suspiciously high raises.

In March, if Sansom continues to refuse interviews with most reporters, those reporters will turn to other legislators and ask them questions both about the legislative session and the speaker's position. And other reporters may do what the Times has done and requested copies of constituent correspondence about Sansom from House leaders. Usually the House and Senate are coequal in the annual tug-of-war we call the regular session of the legislature. But with a tacit Speaker, the lower chamber may find itself in a much weaker position vis-a-vis the Senate.

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Posted in Higher education at 11:50 AM (Permalink) |

Columnists exist to make the rest of us look smart

The intellectual woes of major-paper columnists continue. Ken Bernstein and Kevin Carey both think Thomas Friedman is wrong in arguing for tax cuts for teachers. One calls the idea very bad, and the other thinks it's stupid. As far as I'm concerned, I'm just surprised Friedman didn't ask for a pony. In the meantime, Berkeley economist Brad DeLong is holding an Epically Bad Tom Friedman Column Contest

Update: Matthew Yglesias piles on (usefully).

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Posted in Education policy at 11:18 AM (Permalink) |

January 9, 2009

The big news in college football this morning

Congratulations to Western Washington University, which has decided to eliminate its football program rather than have more money sunk into athletics. Athletic Director Lynda Goodrich said, "We are facing a dire financial crisis now and the university wasn't prepared to continue to bail us out and absorb our budget cuts and our foundation issues."

Tom Palaima and Nathan Tublitz would applaud WWU.

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Posted in Higher education at 7:49 AM (Permalink) |

January 7, 2009

Off the deep end on Griggs v. Duke Power

Before I get to the main topic this morning, my thanks to everyone who has participated in the reader survey, which will stay available through the weekend. It takes just a few minutes (or more if you want to give me lots of ideas for topics). Tell me what to do by taking the survey!

On Sunday, George Will decided to use a think-tank paper last year by Bryan O'Keefe and Richard Vedder to argue that policies have unintended consequences. Thanks, George: we never knew that without your help. But because Will accepts O'Keefe and Vedder's argument at face value, I have to correct the record.

O'Keefe and Vedder make an argument that Vedder has made repeatedly over the years: the Griggs v. Duke Power (1971) decision discouraged employers from using intelligence tests and therefore falsely magnified the credential value of college degrees as the easier way for businesses to make distinctions among applicants. In the case, 13 African American employees of Duke Power complained that after the Civil Rights Act, Duke Power changed its promotion criteria to eliminate references to race and to add a high-school credential requirement as well as specific scores on two tests. Because the combination of these disproportionately affected African American workers, the plaintiffs argued, Duke Power was using race-neutral means to maintain discriminatory outcomes. The Supreme Court accepted the reasoning of the plaintiffs, and Griggs was a landmark in disparate-impact litigation. O'Keefe and Vedder argue that because the Court said that credentials and tests had to be tied to business necessity, businesses began to turn from general IQ tests to college diplomas as the main screening device used in personnel decisions. 

There are several reasons why this argument holds little water, and let's start with the case itself. O'Keefe and Vedder are correct only if the Court discouraged IQ tests and let educational credentials alone. Without that distinction, there's no argument that businesses used college diplomas as a substitute for IQ tests. So let's peek into the crucial passage:

On the record before us, neither the high school completion requirement nor the general intelligence test is shown to bear a demonstrable relationship to successful performance of the jobs for which it was used. Both were adopted, as the Court of Appeals noted, without meaningful study of their relationship to job performance ability.

Maybe I'm misreading the case, but it looks as if the Supreme Court said both credentials and IQ tests were indefensible unless tied to job performance. I don't understand why Vedder has made this argument over the years without addressing the obvious problem with his line of reasoning.

But even if the Supreme Court had written differently, or even if HR professionals developed the same misreading that Vedder did (in which case the fault lies with them, not with the Court), it's a stretch to tie credentialism to a specific case. To believe that, we would have to believe that in the entire history of industrialization no one thought about using educational credentials as a screening tool until the 1970s and then--pow!--employers discovered that some applicants and employees had college degrees and others didn't.

In the paper, O'Keefe and Vedder do not even attempt to collect or display evidence that any industry started using college degrees after 1971 when they had used IQ tests before. And the reference they use to imply a broad historical sweep?--

In fact, according to Staffing Industry Report, a human resources newsletter, 65 percent of companies reported using some type of pre-employment screen, up from 34 percent in prior years. (p. 12)

--is from a 2008 New York Times story titled Dilbert the Inquisitor. I have no clue what "up from... in prior years" means, but it's not pre-1971. I know what business history is. I've read business history. Bryan and Richard, you are not business historians.

Keep in mind the broader uses of this argument that Vedder's shown: because college expanded in significant measure due to businesses' inability to use IQ tests, we have credential inflation and a greater use of college that is warranted strictly by human-capital needs. Ergo, we should invest a lot less in college.

Well, Richard, we already have: starting almost with the time of Griggs, states have dramatically shrunk their subsidies of undergraduate education at public colleges and universities. Students and their families have continued to see college as a good thing, even though they are having to acquire more debt as a private investment instead of a substantially public investment. Part of that is credentialism, but if so, I don't think you can blame Griggs. There are arguments to make about the problems of student debt and college waste, but O'Keefe and Vedder's argument is bad history.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:15 AM (Permalink) |

January 6, 2009

New semester resolutions

My spouse fervently hopes that Barack Obama keeps "that new president smell" for the entire year (her words, not mine), and given the deep recession we're in, I agree. (I hear that if your representative or senator is starting to smell moldy, you can buy "new politician" air fresheners at the Capitol Hill Visitors Center.) The same is often true with semesters; faculty hope that we begin and end the semester with enthusiasm and energy, even if a semester doesn't have a smell, a slogan, a logo, or a festive inauguration.

Well, some places try to inaugurate new school years or semesters, but that's often aimed at students, not faculty, and in times of fiscal constraints, opulent events without fiscal restraint will often be seen by faculty and staff as tone-deaf. Maybe cutting that $1,000 spread wouldn't save the jobs we fear will be cut, but couldn't you be a little more frugal when we're not talking about essentials?

The spring semester is also right after the New Year, so here's a New Year's resolution, or maybe a New Semester resolution: at least 2-3 times a week, I will start my workday offline to get at least one significant task done. This might be reading a journal manuscript, or an article/book, or planning something. I hear it's best to read your e-mail once or twice a day and that's it, and the best way to accomplish that goal (for me) is to stay away from machines that receive e-mail. (I've discovered awayfind.com, which allows correspondents to notify you when there's a truly urgent issue.) Over the break, this worked fairly well: I took my reading glasses, a notepad, and something to read out of the house or office and worked for 2-3 hours. 

And, speaking of which, I'll be heading off to find a comfortable chair until about noon...

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Posted in The academic life at 8:32 AM (Permalink) |

Reader survey to tell Sherman Dorn what to do

If you would like to tell me what I'm doing right and wrong in this blog, as well as suggest topics for me to write about in the next few months, please click here to take a seven-question survey. This is not for publication but just for my use in figuring out where to go with this blog in 2009, and it will remain open for this week and the weekend. It should take you just a few minutes (or more if you want to give me lots of ideas for topics). So please help me improve this blog by taking the survey!

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Posted in Random comments at 8:16 AM (Permalink) |

January 5, 2009

Sansom resigns

Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom has resigned his post as Vice President of Northwest Florida State College. The Tampa Tribune's political blog is reporting his full speech.
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Posted in Higher education at 12:00 PM (Permalink) |

January 4, 2009

Sansom watch, January 4 edition

Recent items in the news on Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom and his position at Northwest Florida State College:

  • On January 1, the Miami Herald's editorial board wrote that other legislators' silence was as damaging as Sansom's actions: "When the principal figure in the House is himself accused of wrongdoing and followers in his own party can't seem to bring themselves to confront it, the people of Florida have to wonder about the quality of their leaders."
  • Also on January 1, the St. Pete Times's Donna Winchester profiled David Plyer, who filed the ethics complaint in December against Sansom: "'Whether this fellow is guilty or innocent is not for me to decide,' Plyer said. 'But we need to know the facts before we can go anywhere, and the facts seem to be hard to come by.'"
  • On January 2, the Panama City News Herald editorial board wrote about the Speaker's fatal wounds: "Sansom showed appalling judgment getting so deeply involved in [Northwest Florida State College President Bob] Richburg's plotting, especially after he'd been tapped to become speaker. He has a higher duty than to be some college president's legislative flunky.... Sansom does not have the standing to continue as speaker."
  • January 2, the Tallahassee Democrat mentioned Sansom's office's deletion of e-mails in an editorial on public records: "It's troubling, however, that the Legislature itself, which makes the laws, has exempted itself from an array of Government in the Sunshine provisions that other agencies and levels of government must follow. Just this week, for example, when information regarding e-mails to and from House Speaker Ray Sansom's office were sought, it was revealed that his e-mails are purged every 30 days, rather than archived, ostensibly to free up server space."
  • In the same issue in the Democrat, Ray Bellamy called for Sansom to resign: "The Republican Party's failure to address Sansom's apparent violation of ethical standards and conservative principles is disheartening and downright disgusting. As a registered Republican, I call on the party leadership to act now to restore integrity to the party and respect for the legislative budgetary process."
  • In the St Pete Times January 2, Dan Ruth proclaimed Sansom "a walking Blue Light Special of political opportunism, who has managed to set himself up as more ethically challenged than Snidely Whiplash before he has even gaveled his first session of the lower body to order." In the same issue, the Times editorial board said legislators should be prohibited from benefitting from dubious insider hires: "Florida's universities and community colleges, like all of state government, need to hire the best people. Only open and transparent job searches assure that's happening."
  • On January 3, Northwest Florida Daily News staffer Pat Rice referred to reporting on the Sansom scandal when making the case that journalists are essential government watchdogs.
  • Also yesterday, the Treasure Coast Palm editorial board gave a thumbs down to the e-mail erasures in Sansom's office. 
  • This morning, the Daytona Beach News-Journal's Mark Lane ripped Sansom in a column, Speaker at work: "House Speaker Ray Sansom's doing something I hadn't thought possible -- he's making fellow legislators squirm in quiet ethical embarrassment."
  • The Bradenton Herald's editorial board is the latest to write, [The] Speaker should go: "This avalanche of ethics lapses imperil Sansom's leadership role in the House. He has violated the public trust."
  • The Tampa Tribune editorial board used Sansom as the object lesson in its editorial today, arguing that the state should combine better pay for legislators with a stricter set of ethics rules to prevent conflicts of interest.
  • And about 90 minutes ago, the St Pete Times education blog reported state Senator Charlie Justice's comments about public agencies who hire legislators: "I think the broadest line should be drawn between those of us ... who were working for the university prior to getting elected. If you get elected and you're a chairman of a committee that funnels money and then you get hired, certainly that doesn't look as good."

This issue isn't going away until Sansom leaves one of his jobs.

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Posted in Higher education at 10:33 AM (Permalink) |

January 2, 2009

Most education advocacy groups unable to borrow "Mission Accomplished" banner

Washington, DC (APOCRYPHAL PRESS)--The fundraising group Democrats for Education Reform has found itself unable to secure the Mission Accomplished banner that President George W. Bush used to declare victory in the Iraq War.

"Apparently, it's been reserved by the National Education Association," said a prominent member of the group when contacted for this story. "They went to the National Archives five minutes before we did. Damn them!"

According to sources at the National Archives, at least fifteen advocacy organizations plus another big-city superintendent tried to reserve the infamous banner for press conferences announcing their pleasure at the designation of Arne Duncan as Barack Obama's Secretary of Education. One confidential memo secured by the Apocryphal Press shows the speech that was to be used by an unidentified advocacy group:

We have successfully invaded the Obama Administration. With Arne Duncan installed in the Secretary position, the forces of educational terrorism are in retreat.

As soon as we can, we will transfer sovereignty for its policies back to the Obama White House.

No group would take responsibility for the statement, though one representative speaking on condition of anonymity said every advocacy group wanted to praise Obama for his choice "because doing otherwise would make anyone look like a jackass or a sore loser."

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Posted in Out of Left Field Friday at 2:15 PM (Permalink) |

January 1, 2009

Creative Commons and the First Sale Doctrine

To all my readers, Happy New Year!

Over at Open Content, David Wiley has a fascinating legal puzzle for us to ponder: does the First Sale doctrine undermine the Creative Commons licensing system? I suspect the answer is no from a practical basis because the First Sale doctrine only applies to individual copies of works. But I hope the folks at the Volokh Conspiracy or Crooked Timber take it up.

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Posted in Teaching at 9:27 AM (Permalink) |