Sunday, April 29, 2007

Community Organizing and Urban Education IX: Deliberation vs. Participation

[To read the entire series, go here.]

Progressive education scholars are, on the whole, the children of the Deweyan progressives of the turn of the century. I say Deweyan, but Dewey is central mostly to educators. A wide range of other key intellectuals, including Jane Addams, Richard Ely, Henry Lloyd, Walter Raushenbusch, and others in a broad assortment of religious, social, and political organizations held common cause with Dewey on many issues.

Recent scholarship on the progressives, especially Stromquist’s Reinventing ‘The People’ and McGerr’s A Fierce Discontent, have chronicled the ways in which the progressive movement was, in large part, a response to the class conflict that raged during the end of the 19th Century in America. Progressives, these and other works argue, developed a vision of a democratic society that, they hoped, would overcome these class divisions. They imagined and fought for a democratic nation in which everyone would work together for the common good.

With McGerr and Stromquist and others, I have argued that this is a vision that could make sense only to those with extensive privelige. One does not need to be a doctrinaire Marxist to understand that people without power cannot hope to have an equal dialogue with others who have more power unless they can find some way to be treated as equal. Unless they have some way of exerting their own forms of power, they are doomed in such circumstances.

Community organizers understand this fact of power. This is why community organizing is centrally, if not only, about finding ways to generate power for those who don’t currently have it.

The hope, visible in much of Dewey’s work, was that if people could just be induced to sit down together, they would find common cause. They would discover that they could accomplish more together than they would apart.

Recent work on discursive democracy has thrown cold water on this dream.

On a theoretical level, Mark E. Warren, in Democracy and Association, shows that there is a tension between dialogue across diversity and the ability to freely leave a particular association. He uses the classic distinction between “voice” and “exit.” What he shows is that where an option for exit is freely available, people will generally tend to leave an organization if it doesn’t fit with their current beliefs. It is only in those groups where exit carries a real cost, like unions, where people are likely to stick around to deal with the difficulties that come with real disagreement. In other words, Warren argues that by their very nature free associations are most likely to generate groups of like-minded individuals. A diverse democratic dialogue, in his vision, is unlikely to emerge “naturally” in an open civil society.

In Hearing the Other Side, Diana Mutz, to her surprise, found something similar to what Warren said would happen when she conducted empirical work on deliberation in organizations. In somewhat different terms than Warren, Mutz argues that deliberation and political participation are opposing forces in organizations. Organizations that can tolerate diversity, that can tolerate dialogue across difference are unlikely to be those that can also engage in political struggle. Conversely, those organizations with the capacity to engage in political struggle are likely to be those that are most lacking in internal diversity of opinion. She refers to this as the tension between “deliberative and participatory democracy.”

From a theoretical and an empirical standpoint, then, it seems unlikely that we will ever be able to create a society where we are all able to both talk and act together across difference. The point, of course, is not that dialogue across difference is not extremely valuable. I would point readers, for example, to the wonderful work done by the Study Circles Resource Center, which has developed a powerful strategy for encouraging such dialogic spaces. What Warren and Mutz show, however, is that while strategies like this may inform cross group understanding, real collaboration is likely to be accomplished on a practical level only when different groups come to the table as partisans for their points of view, backed by some kind of organizational power.

To some extent this maps onto visions of public and private developed by neo-Alinsky organizers. In “private” we can talk and get to know each other. The private is a space, in these terms, for dialogue between whole individuals. In “public” we take on our roles as partisans for particular causes. Whereas the private can be made a space of relative safety, the public is an unsafe space where the real interests of different groups come into conflict. And organizers argue that we cannot expect the public and the private to serve the same goals.

Like all simple distinctions, this one is too simple to describe the vast complexity of social and political life. But I believe it is illuminating, and that it fits what we are learning about how associations and political engagement actually work “on the ground.”

And it seems to indicate that the progressive dream of a world without class conflict (which could be expanded to include any conflict over inequalities of power) is simply unachievable. When we teach students that this world is possible, I think we mislead them about the realities of the world around them. We disempower them, by filling their heads with utopian visions that may seem quite comforting but that have little relationship to reality. As Dewey also argued, dreaming is wonderful, but dreams without concrete tools for making them into reality can be very destructive if indulged too long.

For a more detailed discussion of the relationships between social class and strategies of social action, see this paper.

attempting to change education - some personal thoughts

I wrote this for dailykos and also posted it at my own blog. I decided that it might have some value over here since the piece is clearly related to the main subject of this group blog, and I hadn't posted anything for a while. If there is strong objection, people can let me know and I will pull it.

Education is the subject about which I most often write, about which I most often think. When I get a chance to speak with a public office holder, it is the subject almost certain to come up. I write about education and not only here. Last year I urged Yearlykos to have a panel on education and took the responsibility for organizing and leading it. I do all this as I continue to deal with the realities of our current educational system as a full-time classroom teacher.

Every now and then I find it useful to step back from specific issues to see if taking a larger view offers me any deeper insight or understanding. This diary is a small example of such a step back. It is of course based on my experiences and observations. It is especially shaped by my recent involvement in a number of efforts to shape the reauthorization of NCLB. And it is not thought out in advance.

Let me repeat that last thought - this diary is not thought out in advance. I am giving you a contemporaneous look at my larger reaction. You are hereby put on notice, even as you are warmly invited to continue reading.

Education is inherently political as well as social and moral. The latter two are perhaps easier to grasp. Education is social because even learning about oneself occurs in a context of interaction with others, both as individuals and in the larger context we call society. Insofar as it occurs WITH other people, be they designated teachers or fellow students, it involves relationships not only with the material, but with each other. I have come to understand it as a moral undertaking because the choices one makes in the process of learning or teaching have consequences. How one uses what one learns also has consequences, and the reasoning or judgment one applies both in the learning and the application of that learned will affect not only oneself but also the others in the varied larger contexts in which we exist. Absent reference points and recognition of the impact both on selves and others, our actions are amoral, as if we were in a vacuum. But we are not. In my mind there is no such thing as knowledge for knowledge's sake, pure knowledge, because the mere act of choosing to devote time and energy to the process of learning requires us to make choice to do that rather than something else, and that choice potential does harm or makes us oblivious to suffering at some level.

All of the foregoing is incomplete lacking a full understanding of the political nature of education. Plato recognized the power of education to shape societies, which is why he attempted to restrict what most members of his ideal Republic could learn. Greater knowledge derived from learning represents a very great threat to existing order. How we choose to organize our thoughts can define how we organize our societies. Knowledge can represent power over others. All of these are aspects of what can rightly be considered a political process.

IF how we thing, what previous experience and knowledge we legitimize in our current thoughts and actions has the power to shape the outcomes,then how much more so is the case within formal educational processes. The mere act of defining a school as "public" clearly indicates that the actions done therein, what and how teaching occurs, is something done on behalf of the society that funds those schools through its willingness to pay taxes. Control over that process - of curriculum and instruction - is thus inherently a major political issue. And given that the direct and indirect costs of public education just through the end of high school represents perhaps 4-5% of this nation's Gross Domestic Product, how those funds are raised and spent is of necessity a major political issue.

Arguments over education policy are very different than those over most other areas of public policy. Almost everyone has sat in a classroom at some point, whether K-12 or post-secondary. And there seems to be a normal human tendency to extrapolate, universalize from one' particular experience. Those who have children of their own often care very deeply that the education available to them reinforce their personal values and/or give their offspring the greatest possible chance for success, however that might be defined, in their future lives. Oftime those who do not have children or whose children are past the age of education or who choose to exercise the freedom this country offers to bypass public schools object to having to pay for the education of the children of others. Since schools are often the largest local government expenditure, and since the primary source of local government revenue remains the tax on real property, every homeowner has a stake in how much money is raised for public education and how those funds are applied. That tends to universalize discussions over education policy, at least at levels through high school. So there is a combination of a near universal belief of the public that they know something about education and a recognition that even without children they are involved in education through their taxes. And political figures who address education are cognizant of this, which further politicizes discussions of education policy.

In my forays into educational policy, as a reader, a graduate student, one whose classroom practice is shaped in many ways by the application of policies in which I have little say, I have come to realize that there is much wrong with our educational policy. Perhaps that is because we do not have consensus on the purpose of public education. People tend to talk past one another because they simply presume common understanding of purpose which does not exist. I recognize that we do not have a consensus on most important issues facing this nation, and a major part of our political discourse is devoted to trying to sway a sufficient number of voters and opinion makers to one or another point of view. Education policy is not completely different, but given the belief of most people that they understand education (and as a teacher I would argue with that belief) the political discussions involving education are that much more complicated. In things like international relations or tax policy in general there is at least a reasonable amount of common vocabulary (although how that vocabulary is used is subject to interpretation). One real problem in discussions about educational policy is the seeming lack of a common vocabulary. Even the words that appear the same can mean diametrically different things when expressed from differing philosophies about the purpose of education.

Another complication is the admixture of scales. By this I mean that there is a major contradiction between the desire for the perfectly personalized instruction that meets the needs and interests of an individual child - something for which many parents advocate on behalf of their own children - and the general understanding that doing things in more standardized fashions is more efficient and hence more cost effective. After all, much of our ability to afford so much "stuff" comes from the the uses of standardization. We use mass production, we have set sizes for everything from clothes to drink containers to door openings to lightbulb sockets to whatever else you care to add to such a list. Yet even as we are often drawn to the savings in money and reduction in aggravation (in finding something that fits/ we gain from such standardization, we are also often drawn to the unique, the hand-crafted, the custom-made. This conflict plays out in many areas of American life: think for example of the conflict between homeowner associations that try to keep some uniformity of appearance and the desire to customize and personalize that which one owns including one's home. Education is not different. In our attempts to seek to determine if educational funds have been well spent we seek some standard measure even as we may be unsatisfied if the uniqueness of our own child is ignored in the process of achieving success on such a measure.

During the past few years I have had many occasions to deal with a wide range of people concerned about schools, teaching and education. All of the complicating factors noted above have come into play. And when dealing with elected policy makers or those who aspire to such positions there are several additional factors. More often than I care to recall I have encountered an additional set of complication; the politician
- recognizes the insufficiency of his position and the correctness of what I am telling him but tells me why it won't sell to his voters/committee chairman/financial supporters/interest groups that back him
- has taken a position that is contrary to what she now recognizes is correct and does not feel she can afford to take the political hit to change her previous position
- sees the value of what is being suggested but argues against it on the basis of cost, even when shown that over the longterm the additional costs are far less than just the economic benefits

Perhaps because of my online writing about education and my participation in a number of lists devoted to various educational topics, I have increasingly had occasion to have others share their thoughts on how to fix education and teaching. I recently solicited ideas on a few narrow topics on behalf of a congressional staffer with whom I am working and got back no less than three complete approaches to reforming some aspects of education. In each case the person sending had reflected long and hard about a particular aspect of education, usually curricular, and developed an approach that was rooted in a particular philosophy and applied - often quite ingeniously - much of the knowledge developed in recent years in the various cognitive sciences of how people learn, retain, and apply new information and skills. All were impressive. None were directly on topic to the request I had sent out. I am sympathetic to the senders: they have worked long and hard to come up with an overall framework that they perceive as far more effective than our current approach to schooling. I admire them, because I am not that systematic as a thinker, despite the pretensions of this essay. And I am frustrated, because for all of the insight they have gained, often in real-world application of their approaches, in our current way of doing education policy in this country there is little chance that what has been learned in such approaches will even be considered. Too much of our battling over educational policy is because we are pushed to believe that there are immediate crises that must be addressed, that we cannot wait until there is greater understanding, that we must act NOW. And as a result we pour incredible resources - of money, of the time of our educators and our policy makers - into approaches that lack the experiential base of some of the approaches that have been sent to me - and what we wind up doing is creating even more problems.

I recognize that there are those who are venal. They seek to undercut the legitimacy of public education. or to shape it so that they can make a profit, or to insist that it meet their economic needs even if it does not meet the needs of those being "educated." Realistically, they are less of a problem than those who are well-meaning, but unwilling to step back and look at the larger picture. Politicians in particular want to fix problems. That is how they can make a difference. So if someone can identify a problem and offer a way to fix that problem, there is a strong tendency on the part of politicians to want to grab hold of the suggestion and run with it. And few politicians have the time - or the inclination - to fully understand a topic as complicated as education. Remember, we all tend to think we understand it, because we have almost all sat in a classroom.

I don't have high hopes that we will ever get education right. On the other hand, I know that our young people are actually far more resilient when it comes to learning than many involved in the policy making process understand. They often learn very well the unofficial curriculum. If they attend school in run-down and overcrowded buildings with overworked teachers and under the gun administrators they learn very well that our society does not value them enough to put sufficient - and the correct - resources into their education. When we place all of our emphasis on high stakes tests of one sort or another, it merely reinforces a tendency that used to develop in middle school but is apparently now becoming more evident in lower grades: they want to act with economic precision, so if it is not going to be on the test, why should they pay any attention? And once the test for which we gear them is complete (often a month or more before the end of school), of what importance is anything else we may offer them?

As a teacher I am a public employee, hired to carry out public policy that is shaped at many levels, often quite removed from the reality of my own classroom. That often presents me with a direct conflict of the needs of the individual students who appear in my classroom (and remember, some get so turned off to school that they simply stop coming). I am constantly juggling the various aspects of such conflicts, with varying degrees of success.

I make the attempt to communicate what I see and experience in the hope that I may thereby make a positive difference for a few more students. I have no illusions that my own perceptions about education are any more complete than those of any other person. While I do not universalize my own experience, even as a teacher, and while I am probably far more widely read about educational policy and theory and practice than the vast majority of people, I am also not omniscient either in aspects of education or in the challenges that different groups of students bring to the classroom. Still, I feel that perhaps the voice that I offer, the understanding I have of the intersections between the political, social and moral aspects of education, give me a somewhat unusual point of view, even perhaps a unique one.

And so I persist in acting beyond my own classroom. I write, I talk with policy makers and "ordinary people." I know that our system of education badly needs changing. Meanwhile I have students before me whom I must assist in learning. It is a balancing act, with choices that are not always pleasant to make. I have no choice but to compromise by ideals in the hope of having some immediate positive effects. I suspect that many involved in making policy, whether as professional educators or as politicians confront that same problem.

This has been a rambling excursion through some issues that concern me. I wonder if people encountering it will even embark upon reading it, and if so, how many (or will it be few?) will persist to this point. I cannot predict that. The writing has served me - it has enabled me to place my current activities of lobbying on the Hill in a broader context, and perhaps thereby enabled me to persist even knowing how little impact my actions may have. I am but one drop of water hitting upon the rocks of our educational policy. Perhaps there will be others, and perhaps someone will read this and be motivated to act as only she can, with her unique experience and perception. And if enough of us bring our uniqueness together in commmon? Perhaps we can begin to make a difference in how we do education.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

She Should Just Stick to History (I Think…)

A recent article in Education Next continues the attack on “social justice” in schools of education. Laurie Moses Hines, an assistant professor of education at Kent State University, Trumbull (in Cultural Foundations, of all areas, for goodness sake), published “Return of the Thought Police” that made the basic argument that “The screening of prospective teachers for maladjustment 50 years ago and the dispositions assessments going on today have remarkable similarities.” Both, she argues, are useless and politically regressive.

Oh, it is just all too easy to pick on teacher education programs and dispositions. Us, bad, bad, indoctrinators.

I am not going to argue about the historical data; for all I know she is right. What I deeply, deeply reject and resent is that she takes a situation of dire educational consequence—the drastic education gap across racial, ethnic, SES, and immigrant status categories—and slams the easy targets of educators trying to figure out how best to solve the dilemma. Moreover, she does this in an extremely sloppy manner—full of errors and misunderstandings—all, it appears, to get embraced by the right type of crowd.

Let me throw out the most blatant problems.

The first is that she just cherry picks the easy fruit, the issues that have gotten oh so much attention:
1. A prospective teacher expelled because he advocated corporal punishment (such as spanking) in his philosophy of education paper
2. Incidents at Brooklyn College, which included being shown Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 and an occasion where students in a class on language and literacy development told to accept that “white English” is the “oppressors’ language”
3. A prospective teacher asked to attend a “sensitivity training” session because he wrote, among other things, that there was no such thing as “male privilege”

None of these occurrences, I should be clear, are defensible on the part of the faculty. Students should not be graded on whether they correctly parrot back the professors’ ideology.

But exactly because she picks the easy fruit allows her to glide over the big picture, which is that there is no data that such occurrences actually happen on any scale in higher education. Pennsylvania was the only state that actually held hearings on Horowitz’s claims of students being indoctrinated. The panel, after a year, concluded that there was absolutely no basis upon which to make such egregious claims. As the Chronicle reported, “While the draft report says the panel was urged to endorse a statewide policy guaranteeing students' rights, it says the committee felt such a step was "unnecessary" because violations of students' academic freedom "are rare."”

The second, related to the first, is that in her haste to grab the easy fruit, she misses the issue. Her use of NCATE as an example is telling. She states that “social justice” was “Within the list of [NCATE] dispositions” and then takes a swipe at Arthur Wise by stating that “he maintains that social justice was never a required disposition.”

Oh, if only she would read. NCATE mentioned social justice as one example among many in the glossary section that defines terminology. Social justice was never, ever, ever, a disposition that NCATE “tested” for.

The third, and the really galling issue, is that she has this naive belief that by not discussing one ideological set of principles (social justice), students are by default neutral and just fine. Which, of course, completely ignores and obfuscates that the lack of discussion of issues of race, class, and gender is itself an ideology. All this talk about dispositions actually has a basis in facts and reality. Dropout rates for Latino and African-American youth hover around 50%. Kids from top income bracket get into top colleges at rates 25 times those of kids in the low income bracket. Household wealth disparities, urban segregation patterns; access to health care. Do I need to go on??

Of course smart people can disagree about how to solve these issues. But to just say that all our discussions about race, class, and gender is ideology is even worse, for it refuses to engage the most pressing of educational issues.

Finally, two small points. A Google search revealed that she sat on a committee that approved Kent State University’s Educational Diversity Plan. This plan had as its aim that all faculty, students, administrators and staff (which includes her, I guess),

“become more diverse, our strategy and response to diversity becomes living practice that leads to:
everyone in the CGSE being able to see multiple images of her/him self-portrayed throughout the faculty, students, administrators, and staff as well as in the curriculum experiences that the CGSE offers to ALL;
· everyone in the CGSE being able to see her/himself as democratically accountable, and socially responsible to contribute positive changes to the unit’s mission of diversity; and
everyone in the CGSE will become an active leader (meaning more than a participant) in developing and implementing responsive strategies for continuous improvement on the unit’s diversity mission, which will form the culture of CGSE as transcultural.”

Hmmm...sounds like a conflict of interest? Hypocrisy? Not following her own committee decision? You tell me.

And a really, really, last small point. In the article she identifies herself as an assistant professor in both education and history. But I didn’t see her name in the directory of faculty in the history department…. Now why do you think she would make that up???

Self-Defeating Standardization

Note: Over at a new blog worth watching, Next Things, Len Waks comments on "self-defeating standardization." Thanks to Len for allowing this cross-post. - AGR

Self-Defeating Standardization
By leonard waks

The New York Times today reports that Eli Broad and Bill Gates plan to devote $60 Million to push educational reform to the top of the 2008 political agenda.

The two philanthropists call for “stronger, more consistent curriculum standards nationwide; lengthening the school day and year; and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures.”

These ideas are self-defeating. Nationwide curriculum standards stifle teachers and nullify our federal system as a “laboratory of democracy” where many innovations can be tested.

Lengthening the school day and the school year are entirely unnecessary if teachers could make curriculum choices that fully engaged students in learning.

Students pay scant attention to the dreary materials served up to them now. Why prolong the agony? Merit pay might attract brighter people to teaching, but not if we measure teacher quality by student achievement on standardized exams.

No bright person wants a job as an operative. A superior approach is to free teachers from standardized curricula and tests so they can apply their full intelligence to reaching and teaching their students.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Jeffersonian Life

Crossposted from my blog, Moo2:

Albert Borgmann, a philosopher at the University of Montana, writes about a "Jeffersonian life" as an ideal in his new book, Real American Ethics (Chicago, 2006).

"The dinner table is that focal thing, the center of grace where we can rest the case of our lives...The particular character of our ethics comes into focus through the American reality that is gathered in a household and at the table. We can think of that gathering as a Jeffersonian life" (p. 197).

He goes on: " The beginning of wisdom is to be broadly familiar with the width and depth of American culture and to realize deeply one of its possibilities at the dinner table...Although the celebration of dinner should be wholehearted, it cannot be unreserved. Celebration has to imply the determination to widen the circle of well-being until it includes everyone in this country and on earth.

Fortitude has to go ahead of dining and follow it. The temptation of yielding to the comforts of fast food and relaxing entertainment is always there...

Once retired, Jefferson was in the happy situation of having made the exercise of fortitude that is such a challenge for us a normal part of his domestic life. "From breakfast, or noon at latest, to dinner," he wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush in 1811, "I am mostly on horseback, attending to my farm or other concerns, which I find healthy to my body, mind, and affairs""(pp. 199-200).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fiddling With Test Scores While American Jobs Burn

From Schools Matter:

While the Congress deliberates over the Business Roundtable's and the Aspen Institute's Great Domestic Diversion, NCLB, American corporations continue their off-shoring of American jobs, both service jobs and highly-skilled professional jobs. And while the U. S. Chamber of Commerce polishes its plans to transform American high schools into science and math camps, Boeing and Cisco continue to funnel science and engineering jobs to cheap labor markets overseas:

Boeing now employs hundreds of Indians for aircraft engineering, writing software for next-generation cockpits and systems to prevent aircraft collisions. Investment banks like Morgan Stanley are hiring Indians to analyze American stocks and to write reports for institutional investors, jobs formerly done by Americans earning six-figure salaries on Wall Street.

Eli Lilly is doing major pharmaceutical research in India. Cisco Systems, the leading maker of communications equipment, will have 20 percent of its top talent in India within five years, and global-consulting giant Accenture will have more employees in India than in the United States by the end of this year.

IBM reduced its American work force by 31,000 while increasing its Indian staff to 52,000. Citigroup, which already has 22,000 employees in India, plans to eliminate 26,000 jobs in the U.S. and increase its Asian work force by another 10,000 where the pay is lower.

Follow the money, of course, explains this massive shift in jobs. It's cheaper to hire and produce in India than in the United States.

The unhappy results of these policies are now apparent; they richly benefit the corporations but are devastating to the American middle class. Outsourcing reduces good American jobs, our standard of living, our national security, and our world leadership.
At the same time, Bill Gates argues for throwing open the door to import skilled workers in order to train foreign nationals who will return to their home countries to run the operations that he plans to export:

Corporations whine that H-1Bs are needed because of a shortage of Americans with skills, but major studies at the University of California Davis and Duke University conclusively prove we have thousands of unemployed or underemployed Americans with all the needed technical skills. Nobel economist Milton Friedman accurately labeled H-1Bs a government "subsidy" to enable employers to get workers at a lower wage.

The best way to deal with the demand for a limited number of H-1Bs would be to auction them off, so then we would find out if they are really needed and how much they are worth. An auction would enable taxpayers to get some return on the H-1B subsidy instead of the current system that allows corporations to influence congressmen with campaign contributions and pay high-priced lobbyists to get legislation to increase the number.

Contrary to corporate propaganda, H-1Bs are not an alternative to outsourcing skilled jobs but a vehicle to promote outsourcing. H-1Bs enable corporations to bring in foreigners, train them in American ways, and then send them back to guide outsourced plants in Asia.
Who can we blame for all this? Well, of course, it is the fault of the teachers and children in our public schools. And who has the solution? Well, of course it is a corporate solution, which, if unchecked, will eventually lead us to online corporate schools manned and womaned by disembodied voices located somewhere in a foreign country lecturing on the virtues of American democracy.

Here is a clip from a most interesting piece on Princeton economist, Alan Blinder, with links to his important article that appeared in
Foreign Affairs last year. Which jobs are likely to be safe from export? The ones that physically cannot be exported by corporate bosses who don't give a damn about the consequences, a fact that places a new educational premium on auto mechanics as compared to, say, computer graphics. It also gives added added credence to Lester Thurow's mostly forgotten dictum that for America to survive, we have to make things.

From Finance Mentor:

At Princeton, he began to reassess some of his views on trade. Visiting the yearly business gabfest in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2004, he heard executives talk excitedly about moving jobs overseas that not long ago seemed anchored in the U.S. ...

. . . .

[H]e'd begun to wonder if the technology that allowed English-speaking workers in India to do the jobs of American workers at lower wages was "a good thing" for many Americans. At a Princeton dinner, a Wall Street executive told Mr. Blinder how pleased her company was with the securities analysts it had hired in India. From New York Times' columnist Thomas Friedman's 2005 book, "The World is Flat," he found anecdotes about competition to U.S. workers "in walks of life I didn't know about." ...

At the urging of former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Mr. Blinder wrote an essay, "Offshoring: The Next Industrial Revolution?" published last year in Foreign Affairs. "The old assumption that if you cannot put it in a box, you cannot trade it is hopelessly obsolete," he wrote. "The cheap and easy flow of information around the globe...will require vast and unsettling adjustments in the way Americans and residents of other developed countries work, live and educate their children." (Read that full article.)

In that paper, he made a "guesstimate" that between 42 million and 56 million jobs were "potentially offshorable." Since then he has been refining those estimates, by painstakingly ranking 817 occupations, as described by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to identify how likely each is to go overseas. From that, he derives his latest estimate that between 30 million and 40 million jobs are vulnerable.

He says the most important divide is not, as commonly argued, between jobs that require a lot of education and those that don't. It's not simply that skilled jobs stay in the US and lesser-skilled jobs go to India or China. The important distinction is between services that must be done in the U.S. and those that can -- or will someday -- be delivered electronically with little degradation in quality. The more personal work of divorce lawyers isn't likely to go overseas, for instance, while some of the work of tax lawyers could be. Civil engineers, who have to be on site, could be in great demand in the U.S.; computer engineers might not be. ...

Diana Farrell, head of the McKinsey Global Institute, a pro-globalization think-tank arm of the consulting firm that has done its own analysis of vulnerable jobs, calls Mr. Blinder "an alarmist" and frets about the impact he is having on politicians, particularly the Democrats who see resistance to free trade as a political winner. She insists many jobs that could go overseas won't actually go.

Ms. Farrell says Mr. Blinder's work doesn't take into account the realities of business which make exporting of some jobs impractical or which create offsetting gains elsewhere in the U.S. economy. ...

Mr. Blinder says there's an urgent need to retool America's education system so it trains young people for jobs likely to remain in the U.S. Just telling them to go to college to compete in the global economy is insufficient. A college diploma, he warns, "may lose its exalted 'silver bullet' status." It isn't how many years one spends in school that will matter, he says, it's choosing to learn the skills for jobs that cannot easily be delivered electronically from afar.

Similarly, he says any changes to the tax code should encourage employers to create jobs that are harder to perform overseas. While Mr. Gomory, the former IBM chief scientist, suggests tax breaks for companies that create "high value-added jobs," Mr. Blinder says the focus should be on jobs with person-to-person contact, regardless of pay and skill levels -- from child day-care providers to physicians.

Mostly he wants to shock politicians, policy makers and other economists into realizing how big a change is coming and what new sectors it will reach. "This is something factory workers have understood for a generation," he says. "It's now coming down on the heads of highly education, politically vocal people, and they're not going to take it."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Does Education Create Jobs? The Difference Between "Education" and "Empowerment"

One of the key assumptions behind investments in education is that educated people somehow create jobs, so that improving education will improve the economic situation for everyone. However, there is a great deal of evidence indicating that having an educated population doesn’t actually lead to a significant increase in employment.

Ralph Gomory (cited by William Greider), for example, argues that it wasn’t the education of individuals that made America wealthy, it was the investment in technology that made these workers more productive.
We invested alongside our workers. Our workers dug trenches with backhoes. The workers in underdeveloped countries dug ditches with shovels. We had great big plants with few people in them, which is the same thing. We knew how, through technology and investment, to make our workers highly productive. It wasn’t that they went to better schools, then or now, and I don’t know how much schooling it takes to run a backhoe [italics added].
“Free-trade believers insist US workers can defend themselves by getting better educated,” Greider reports, “but Gomory suggests these believers simply just don’t understand the economics.”

In other words, Gomory and others argue that education, by itself, is unlikely to have a significant impact on the state of the economy. And if this is true, it means that better educating those on the economic “bottom” won’t have much impact on a broad scale. Those who can compete best will still be the ones who get the best jobs.

Jean Anyon has come to much the same conclusion. In an article appearing in the Spring 2007 issue of Teacher Education Quarterly (PDF), for example, she and Kiersten Greene argue that education policies (like NCLB) would not be effective anti-poverty programs even if they actually improved education. They “demonstrate that there are significant economic realities, and existing public policies, that severely curtail the power of education to function as a route out of poverty for poor people.” For example, they note that “an increasing number of college graduates—about one in ten—is employed at poverty wages,” and that “more than two-thirds” of welfare recipients in 1999 had high school degrees."

They focus on NCLB and argue that this program is really
a federal legislative substitute for policies that would actually lower poverty—legislation that would create jobs with decent wages for those who do not have them. Our critique has been that an assumption underlying NCLB, that increased educational achievement will ultimately reduce poverty, does not prove valid for large segments of the population.
The terrible truth seems to be not only that we don’t know how to significantly improve inner-city schools, but that even if we did know how, it wouldn’t make that much difference for the vast majority of students who attend them.

What does this mean for educators and educational scholars? Is this our problem? And if it isn’t, then exactly what do we think we are doing when we expend so much effort to improve schools for impoverished students and their families? Are we just being "used" to some extent by powerful people who don't really want
to invest in the areas that would actually make a difference for the poor?

More broadly, what, exactly, do we expect educators and educational scholars to do when they hear these arguments?

I believe that to respond to these challenges, we must rethink what it means to be an “educator” in the 21st Century. I doubt if we will really do this. But if we are serious about contributing to real social change, it seems absolutely vital. And this will require institutional changes in what schools of education "do."

As long as “education” is only about traditional forms of “schooling,” “education” won’t have much to do with empowerment.

Data-mining of students raises alarms

Some lending companies with access to a national database that contains confidential information on 60 million student borrowers have repeatedly searched it in ways that violate federal rules, raising alarms about abuse of privacy, government and university officials said.

The unauthorized searching has grown so pervasive that the Education Department is considering a temporary shutdown of the government-run database to review access policies and tighten security.

Some officials worry that businesses are trolling for marketing data they can use to bombard students with mass mailings or other solicitations. . . .

Saturday, April 07, 2007

NCLB is in trouble – big trouble

[NYT] When President Bush and Democratic leaders put together the bipartisan coalition behind the federal No Child Left Behind Act, they managed to sidestep, override or flat out ignore decades of sentiment that education is fundamentally a prerogative of state and local government.

Now, as the president and the same Democrats push to renew the landmark law, which has reshaped the face of American education with its mandates for annual testing, discontent with it in many states is threatening to undermine the effort in both parties.

Arizona and Virginia are battling the federal government over rules for testing children with limited English. Utah is fighting over whether rural teachers there pass muster under the law. And Connecticut is two years into a lawsuit arguing that No Child Left Behind has failed to provide states federal financing to meet its requirements.

Reacting to such disputes in state after state, dozens of Republicans in Congress are sponsoring legislation that would water down the law by allowing states to opt out of its testing requirements yet still receive federal money.

On the other side of the political spectrum, 10 Democratic senators signed a letter last month saying that based on feedback from constituents, they consider the law’s testing mandates to be “unsustainable” and want an overhaul.

“It’s going to be a brawl,” said Jack Jennings, a Democrat who as president of the Center on Education Policy has studied how the law has been set up in the 50 states. “The law is drawing opposition from the right because they are opposed to federal interference and from the left because of too much testing.” . . . [read on]

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Major Education Dept reading program sent out for evaluative review – to the company that developed it

[WP] The government contractor that set up a billion-dollar-a-year federal reading program for the Education Department and failed, according to the department's inspector general, to keep it free of conflicts of interest is one of the companies now evaluating the program. . .

More on “Reading First”: