Saturday, September 30, 2006

Corporal Punishment
[Matthew Yglesias] The New York Times writes about corporal punishment in American schools, legal in a broad swathe of red America, but in practice overwhelmingly taking place in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. Obviously, as a good upscale liberal my instincts are overhwelmingly opposed to this. In addition, my ex ante skepticism that Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama have together hit upon a useful public policy experiment ignored by the rest of the nation is extremely high.


Friday, September 29, 2006

Reading First and Margaret LaMontagne Spellings

First posted to Schools Matter 09.29.06
If there is a core claim that distinguishes every ED response to the emerging Reading First criminal conspiracy, it is that Margaret Spellings came on the scene long after most of the dastardly deeds were committed by Doherty, who has now been selected as the "Michael Brown" to be sacrificed in this debacle. Too bad that this core story line is another lie: Margaret LaMontagne (Spellings) was Bush's chief domestic policy advisor before she became Secretary of Education, and in 2000 she was spokesperson for Reading First and education advisor even before Bush was appointed President, when she and Lyon and Carnine's Oregon mafia built the infrastructure for the crackpot con game that would become the Reading First we now know about. On March 29, 2000 Margaret Warner had the story:

MARGARET WARNER: Bush calls his program "Reading First." It would spend $1 billion a year to do the following:

  • Help states develop and administer diagnostic tests to identify which kindergarten and first-grade students need special reading help
  • Subsidize special training for kindergarten and first-grade teachers in reading instruction, using research- tested methods such as phonics
  • And, subsidize intervention programs for the students who need help including tutors, after-school programs, and summer school.

Schools receiving the federal money would be required to adopt all these elements, and would be held accountable for the results. . . .

MARGARET WARNER: For more on Bush's plan, we're joined by Margaret LaMontagne, Governor Bush's education adviser, and William Galston, senior policy adviser for Vice President Gore and a professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland. Welcome, both of you.

Ms. LaMontagne, first of all give us a few more details on this plan. How many students? The handout from the campaign talked about 900,000 students. Is that the scope of the problem? Is that how many students can't read at the grade level in those grades? And would this fully address it?

MARGARET LaMONTAGNE, Bush Education Adviser: Well, that's a good estimate and a good start. I mean, I think one of the things about trying to derive a number about how many kids are really in need of special help to be readers -- because we know that if kids are not on track to be readers by the end of third grade, the likelihood is very high that they won't ever be and that they'll not be able to succeed in school or in life. And so it's a game that's fought and won early.

But one of the things I think about the number is that it speaks to the need for more accountability, more data, but we do believe that approximately 900,000 children would need special assistance to make sure that they're on track to be readers. We've modeled this program after something the governor launched here beginning in '96. The governor called for all children in Texas on grade level reading by the end of third grade. And that was followed by some acknowledgment of reading as a major problem in the country by the Clinton-Gore administration. This is a plan that's developed on a successful model that we've used here in Texas.

What else was Reading First spokesperson and education advisor, Lamontagne-Spellings, talking about that evening in 2000? No Bush plan would be complete without a plan to destroy the public schools with vouchers. Over to you, Margaret and Margaret:

MARGARET WARNER: So, under the governor's plan though, if a school was in this program and after two or three years not many of their students were reading a lot better, what would happen?

MARGARET LaMONTAGNE: We would allow portability and up to $1500 per child to be matched by the state and to flow to the parents so that they could make a difference choice. I think what the governor laid out yesterday that expands on his previous proposal is that we're willing to put some skin in the game to make sure that we have as few kids as possible portable but at some point in time we have to say, if kids are not getting opportunities in public schools, then they need options.

AYP has always been a device to manufacture the failure necessary to usher in vouchers. For Spellings to deny innermost knowledge of what was going on at ED before she was promoted to Secreatary is just as believeable as any other lie emanating from the failed government in the White House.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Guest Posting by Michael Katz: The Gap Between Philosophy of Education and Teaching

Michael Katz, president-elect of the Philosophy of Education Society (USA) and former professor at San Jose State University in California, responded recently to a question posed on PHILOSED (A Google Group for the discussion of Philosophy of Education). His response struck us as worthy of further notice, and he agreed to let us post it here.

The question was: "Has the gap between philosophy and practice for teachers grown too wide? And how can we fix this?"

Michael's response:

I have been actively involved in teacher education since 1977 and in academia since 1974; I could not agree with you more; here is some speculation on why the divide is so great between teacher education and philosophy of education--as well as other social foundational areas such as history of education, anthropology of education, etc.

The following are speculative reasons growing from my experience as a "teacher of teachers" in teacher education programs:

1)The thrust of accreditation has minimized the importance of broad theoretical perspectives on education, in spite of efforts of national organizations such as AESA and the Council of Learned Societies (where Philosophy of Ed. made significant financial contributions for many years); accreditation visits did not, for the most part, chastise and take action against programs that did not have essential foundations courses in their undergraduate and masters programs or programs that used faculty not trained in foundational areas to teach these courses;

2) the major thrust of education schools has been a "methods" orientation, even though methods courses are also experienced by students as "not being practical enough" as they are often analogous to teaching driver training without getting students behind the wheel of a car; lots of "how to do it' talk in an experiential vacuum.

3) there has been little coherence or cohesiveness to what philosophers of education consider to be the central "questions" of our field and particularly little emphasis on the importance of teachers having begun to develop a well thought out philosophy of teaching, wherein students have begun to define the core values and ends to which they are committed and thought through the cultural, historical, social, institutional constraints they will face in implementing their philosophy. I doubt that most student-teachers emerge from philosophy of education course with a much clearer vision of what it means to be an effective educator or to be part of a "good school." In fact, there has been considerable sentiment in our field that philosophy of education should not overly contaminate itself by trying to be "too useful to teacher" or "future teachers."

4) In spite of the wonderful work of many of our colleagues, we have few "giants" in our field that most educators know about---if we asked our colleagues in education to name the prominent philosophers of education of the last 30 years, I doubt many of them could name one from the following list: Israel Scheffler, R.S. Peters, Nel Noddings, Tom Greene, Maxine Greene, Walter Feinberg, etc.

5) We have not taken our work significantly into the public press and made it accessible to a lay audience. Out here in California, for awhile, Larry Cuban (a historian of education at Stanford and a former superintendent of Schools) wrote a bi-weekly column in the San Jose Mercury News critiquing common misconceptions of American education--such as our obsession with testing as a vehicle for improving our economic competitiveness. That effort was very useful, but unfortunately, short lived.

6) Philosophers of education and other foundational scholars have been notably silent and notably ineffective politically in making their voices heard or their influence felt. Occasionally, one of us, such as Nick Burbules, ventures into the political world with a blog, and tries to make a difference there, but that effort is not usually associated with advancing the political or academic status or clout of our field.;

7) We have witnessed an incredible loss of key positions in our field at some of our leading institutions---U.C.L.A., Ohio State, Georgia among others---I could name 10-15 prestigious jobs in our field that have disappeared in the past 15-20 years; why is that? Because we are the "general service "
courses in a professional field where other programs have dedicated constituencies who do not value us--elementary educators, secondary educators, administrators, counselors, special educators, etc.; so we are like the "economics course" in a business school--which similarly minimizes more abstract theoretical thinking.

8) We have missed major opportunities to connect our field to the "hot curricular trends" that became "au courant"--e.g. multicultural education (Young Pai urged us on here), "critical thinking" (which has helped save some philosophy programs), applied ethics (also saving some philosophy programs, but we have done little here). And there must be many more reasons I have left out. This is not an exhaustive list--simply some "speculative brain food" for folks to chew on.

In recent years I have experienced a good deal of "policy despair" as educators watch the "no child left behind" movement takes its reductionist view of education and schooling as the effort to improve cognitive test scores to its logically absurd conclusions--firing administrators who do not raise school scores fast enough, engaging in unethical practices to raise scores (passing out previous tests, fudging results, encouraging certain groups of kids to miss the test, etc.). In spite of some valiant efforts by some of our colleagues, including the Presidential efforts of Nel Noddings on the American Council of Education, this "bandwagon" of teaching to the test, and measuring effective schools by test scores, however inappropriately achieved, marches on--rolling over all informed opposition. So, as educators consider what schools ought to emphasize and what it means to educate the next generation of Americans, philosophers of education, presumably folks with some expertise in the area of "the appropriate ends of education" have increasingly been left out of the conversation---and definitely without much influence on public policy.

But, we persevere as an Academic Society, trying to nurture our young scholars, trying to be the best citizens we can be in our own limited sphere of influence, and never ceasing to believe that he/she who lacks a philosophical perspective on education lacks something very, very central to the task of educating others.

May the dialogue continue. --Michael Katz

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Reading Last

Bush treats his education policies just as he treats Halliburton and his oil buddies: loyal contributors and cronies get the spoils
[Steve Benen] Reading First is not just another grant program in the Department of Education. According to the cabinet agency's website, it is "the academic cornerstone of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act." Reading First, the Department of Education has argued "is a prime example of the No Child Left Behind law's emphasis on programs and teaching methods that have been proven to work."

As the "academic cornerstone" of its education policy, the administration has funding the reading program with some enthusiasm. Over the last four years, about 1,500 school districts have received $4.8 billion in Reading First grants.

All of this matters because, as it turns out, the Bush administration ran the program the same way it does practically everything — with incompetence, corruption, and disregard for the law.

A scorching internal review of the Bush administration's reading program says the Education Department ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wanted.

The government audit is unsparing in its review of how Reading First, a billion-dollar program each year, that it says has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use.

It also depicts a program in which review panels were stacked with people who shared the director's views and in which only favored publishers of reading curricula could get money.

The Bush administration? Manipulating a multi-billion program while breaking the law? You don't say.

In one particularly amusing example, Chris Doherty, the Reading First director wrote an email to a staff member, urging the aide to come down hard on a company he didn't support. "They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the (expletive deleted) out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags," Doherty wrote.

(By the way, Doherty told a Senate committee his program did not give certain publishers preferential treatment. He was lying.)

While Bush's Department of Education insists Reading First emphasized programs that have "been proven to work," today we learned that the curriculum pushed by the agency was suspect. So, why'd Bush's cronies push it to the point of illegality? Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has an idea.

The Bush administration pushed local school districts across the country to use a reading curriculum that had been developed by a company with close political and financial ties to the administration despite concerns about the quality of the curriculum […]

"Corrupt cronies at the Department of Education wasted taxpayer dollars on an inferior reading curriculum for kids that was developed by a company headed by a Bush friend and campaign contributor," said Miller. "Instead of putting children first, they chose to put their cronies first. Enough is enough. President Bush and Secretary Spellings must take responsibility and do a wholesale housecleaning at the Education Department. […]

McGraw-Hill's Chairman and CEO, Harold McGraw III, and its Chairman Emeritus, Harold McGraw Jr., contributed a total of over $23,000 to the Republican National Committee and to President Bush's campaigns between 1999 and 2006. The Bush and McGraw families have been personally and professionally close since the 1930's, according to published reports.

Some days, I'm amazed at the degree to which the Bush administration resembles an organized crime family.

The full report:

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Teacher Education is Out of Touch, and I am Proud of It

No doubt much hand-wringing will result from Arthur Levine's out-of-touch appraisal of how out-of-touch teacher education programs are. Here is how Brahmin Levine's Executive Summary (PDF) frames it in the opening sentence:
The nation’s teacher education programs are inadequately preparing their graduates to meet the realities of today’s standards-based, accountability-driven classrooms, in which the primary measure of success is student achievement.
I haven't had a chance to read the whole report, but there is enough here to get my attention. Let me say unequivocally that, as a teacher educator, I agree wholeheartedly with Levine's opening statement, and, furthermore, I would not have it any other way. Teacher education programs, the best ones at least, are entirely out-of-step with the present-day disaster of "accountability-driven classrooms" to which Levine refers.

Indeed, the present-day "accountability-driven classrooms" neither require, nor desire, teacher education programs, particularly if these programs include any departure or variation from this high tech version of the same iron-fisted 19th Century traditional pedagogy that was just as ineffective a hundred years ago as it is today. The fact is that the federally-mandated classroom of today looks much more like the prevailing model classroom of 1906 than it does the education models of 2006, which, by the way, continue to be the focus of good teacher education programs despite the anti-democratic aberration that has sucked the oxygen from any other educational narrative or methodology. So yes, Levine is right, thank god--we are hopelessly out of step with the march toward the past, a past that makes teacher preparation as irrelevant and foreign as, let's say, social justice and equality of opportunity.

In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs teacher training to teach to the the high-stakes standardized junk tests that have replaced professional standards and curriculums all across the nation. In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs teacher training to do the parrot math and reading programs that are pushed by the Reading First thugs (and what will soon be Math First thugs). In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs a child development course when the insanity of testing kindergarteners and first-graders has made core principles of child development entirely irrelevant. In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs an historical or philosophical foundations course when the current agenda of worldwide economic domination has replaced all the other purposes and aims that historically shaped schools that were once devoted to creating good people and to building a good democracy. In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs educational psychology courses when the current chain-gang behavior modification tactics for classroom control are provided in the various commercial scripts and canned instructional programs that accept no deviation in their lock-stepping toward "data-driven" results.

When, eventually, sanity is restored, when the public dialogue once again replaces the silenced voices, and when these crooks, hucksters, and corporate fascists are expelled from the seats of power in Washington, we may, in fact, come to celebrate those teacher education programs now demonized for not "preparing graduates to meet the demands of today's . . . accountability-driven classrooms." Perhaps those university teacher prep programs will have at least preserved the possibility of a free and just society during this melee of the fundamentalist cultural revolution, and perhaps then, when humanitarian decency is again restored, we can truly begin to give teacher education programs the attention they need to honestly make them better.

In the meantime, let us celebrate our failure.

Posted 09.20.06 to Schools Matter

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Arthur Levine and foundations

Arthur Levine's Educating School Teachers report is out today, with responses already from NCATE's Art Wise, Alexander Russo, and Jenny D., thus far. It's sure to get other press as well.

Let me focus on the section which discusses the history of teacher education (pp. 23-26). Praiseworthy: Levine's read one of the old classics on schools of ed, Clifford and Guthrie's Ed School and one of the sure-to-be-classics on normal schools, Chris Ogren's The American State Normal School. On the other hand, Levine entirely missed Jurgen Herbst's classic And Sadly Teach as well as David Labaree's more recent The Trouble with Ed Schools, and those omissions may explain some blinders in both Levine's treatment of the history and an amazing inconsistency in the general approach to reforming teacher education.

Levine's focus on the story at elite institutions misses the broad use of teacher education institutions for more than teaching teachers. In the late 19th century, educational institutions were far less specialized than their names often implied. Often as not, a state normal school would be the local tertiary school that local residents could access. So they were as filled with general education as with teaching specific skills. The historical irony of state normal schools is that their success in providing access to general education helped many rise in that common institutional trajectory upwards into college and university status. The tried-and-true example for education historians is Illinois State University, whose college town is Normal, Illinois.

I think the omission is important. Levine ties the dislocation of ed schools from practical effectiveness to a claimed historical shift to a more theoretical curriculum in the competition with disciplinary schools (such as chemistry and psychology). He specifically calls out two social foundations areas—sociology of education and history of education—as prime examples of such theoretical lacunae (see p. 23 of the report). There are several factual problems with Levine's claim. First, if there's any discipline that colonized teacher education, it was psychology, not sociology or history. Second, this story is true primarily for elite institutions, where the influence was largely with administrators, not the bulk of teachers. It isn't even true at some very important teacher education institutions, historically Black colleges and universities, which have never risen as high in institutional status as their historically white counterparts. Third, the only institutions where humanities and social-science perspectives on education dominate teacher education are in liberal-arts colleges with educational studies programs. My impression is that many schools and colleges of education attacked their social-foundations components in the 1980s, leaving many teacher education programs with the shells of disciplinary perspectives on schooling. Whether that has led us to better or worse teacher education is beyond the scope of this entry, but teacher education programs are more likely not to know what is the desired relationship of pedagogical knowledge to professional perspectives than to go off in search of the theoretical. Or, if our non-foundations colleagues are in search of the theoretical, it's less likely to be based in disciplinary fields than Levine implies.

The broader (nay, even theoretical) problem with this selective understanding of teacher education's history is with Levine's implication that the Search for Status has crippled teacher education by dividing faculty from the work of schools. The problem with Levine's narrative is that distance from schools is not clearly related to distance from teacher education. In some cases, the Search for Status may encourage faculty to leave teacher education for the loftier status of graduate and research education or (even better, for some faculty) mostly research. But there is nothing in that status competition that is related to "connection to schools." I know many colleagues who spend much of their time in graduate education and research programs who engage schools deeply. They design programs to be tested in real classrooms, encourage their graduate assistants to "get dirty" in real schools, and so forth. They're still isolated from teacher education but not from schools.

By contrast, I know many faculty who spend most of their time in teacher education but little time in schools. Some have spent plenty of time in professional development schools but found the work largely unrewarded by a university that promotes a relatively narrow view of research. Others are absorbed by their teaching assignments and barely eke out enough time for writing.

I'm not sure at this point how Levine's report fits into all the other reports on teacher quality and teacher education. But if I were to grade him only on the passage referring to the history of teacher education, he'd get a B: he knows part of the literature, and he has an interesting (but factually wrong) argument.

Friday, September 15, 2006

How Colleges Are Failing: Let Us Begin to Count the Ways

Posted to Schools Matter:

With the Spellings Commission Report ready for release, the media bombing campaign against colleges and univerisities is already underway, as evidenced by today's piece in the NY Times featuring the "failure" of higher ed to graduate more minority and poor students at a faster clip. According to a study from last spring by Maggie's sisters at Education Trust, large numbers of students are not graduating within six years of entering college.

We now take that fact, do no analysis of the underlying causes (or put them far down into the article), blame the colleges for not making it all better, and introduce a mantra into the media echo chamber that spills out that colleges are failing, colleges are failiing. Like I said, the bombing campaign has begun.

Here are a couple of variables that are ignored in the current round of handwringing:
  • The worst graduation rates cited in the study are in the poorest areas where large numbers of the students are enrolled half-time or less. Why? Some started families early, and most cannot afford to go full time, family or no family. Of course, Pell Grants have remained flat over the past five years and billions have been cut from student assistance programs, while tuition costs continue to go up.
  • Other factors? Many of these students come from poor families, who attended poor schools in poor communities. It doesn't take a seer like Margaret Spellings to know that these students are behind academically, and that they often need remediation and/or reduced course loads. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the NCLB charade to change the reality of childhood poverty that is the underlying root of this saddest of social realities.
  • Another factor: The Ed Trust study conveniently ignored to track or account for students who transferred out to other colleges from which they began or students who graduated after transferring in from other colleges: "Dr. Daniel also said that conventional methods for calculating graduation rates significantly understate how many students actually earn degrees. Universities calculate how many freshmen who enrolled as full-time students six years earlier have graduated. Students who transfer to other universities do not count as graduates, even if they graduate from another institution. Nor do students who transfer into the university and eventually graduate. About half of the undergraduates at both universities have transferred in from other institutions, primarily community colleges, officials said."

Are these facts likely to stop the drumbeat against colleges that are "failing students," particularly the poorest students that right-wing conservatives are so concerned about? This rhetoric is just more of the NCLB cynical hokum graduated and moved on to college.

It is interesting to hear NCLB advocates like college database entrepeneur, Kevin Carey, of Rotherham's sludge tank now offer this misplaced critique against colleges:

Kevin Carey, the research and policy manager at the Education Sector, a nonprofit research organization, said governors and legislatures could make it clear that the presidents’ continued employment hinged on improving graduation rates. “That’s what businesses do,” he said.

“When you have a system where virtually everyone fails, how is that different from designing a system in which the point is for people to fail?” Mr. Carey added. “No one can look at that and say this is the best we can do.”

No, he is not talking about NCLB, even though the critique fits perfectly. This new round of corporate-inspired madness is looking more like NCLB dumped down another rabbit hole.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I think we have lost our way

I have wrestled for quite some time with finding a topic on which to focus for this, my time to be the official poster. I thought I had decided last night, and then I opened up my Washington Post this morning to read a story by my friend Jay Mathews entitled National School Testing Urged (url is with a subtitle of “Gaps Between State, Federal Assessments Fuel Call for Change”. After some reflection I decided I would address this as evidence of my larger argument, and would do so by referring to something I had previously written.

Recently I had occasion to be the only teacher in my district (Prince George’s County Public Schools) to testify before a blue ribbon committee established by our County Council because of concern about the impact of Maryland’s High School Assessments. These will “count” for the class of 2009, and based on scores so far seem to indicate that our graduation rate will drop significantly. The County Council is involved because the implications of such a drop go far beyond the schools, to things like property values, willingness of employers to locate within the county, and so on. I was asked to testify for several reasons, among which are that I have some knowledge of educational policy matters and thus could provide some information comparing Maryland with other states. I am known to be an opponent of an approach which is effectively a reliance upon a single high stakes measure even if students are allowed multiple opportunities to pass the test (we begin given them the exams in 9th and 10th grade, depending upon the subject), and I have a track record of success in preparing my students to do well on the tests even as I refuse to “teach to the test.”

I began my presentation by talking about context, specifically the three recent major efforts at educational reform, beginning with A Nation at Risk, proceeding through Goals 2000 and finishing with our current focus coming out of No Child Left Behind. I then included the following paragraph (and Dr. Tompkins is the Assistant Superintendent for Accountability):
One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing while expecting a different result. Santayana once wrote “Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.” I prefer to describe what we are doing using something one of your panel taught me. When I was at Kettering Middle School, Dr. Tompkins, you told teachers they always needed to have a plan B, because - and I quote - “if the horse you are riding has died, beating it won't make it go any faster.” I believe what we are doing with HSAs is beating a dead horse.

This leads in to what I had originally intended to write today. I think our entire approach to education needs to be reexamined, nay, REPLACED. The model upon which we have been imposing generation after generation of reform is, in my humble opinion, badly flawed, cannot be fixed by simply adding more and more and stricter and stricter requirements. In the process of claiming that we need to leave no child behind we increasingly rely upon measures that of necessity are unfair to some children whose brains work differently, we narrow the curriculum so that the intellectual stimulation of our children is being diminished, and then we wonder why even the measurements we impose seem never to demonstrate that what we are doing is succeeding, beyond raising scores on tests whose measurement is of a limited nature.

My perspective is perhaps somewhat idiosyncratic. I am now in my 12th year of classroom teaching of secondary social studies. Four of those years were at the Middle School level teaching American History. The rest have been at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt MD, where for all except one year when we were changing our sequence of courses I have taught Government, a course which is a subject of the state-mandated tests for which passing is now a requirement for graduation. I have taught classes that were multi-level and for the second year I am teaching Advanced Placement to a group that is predominantly 10th graders. I believe I have sufficient experience across a range of abilities and previous success to draw some conclusions. For those who do not know me, I am also ABD in Educational Administration and Policy Studies at Catholic U, with a concentration of the policy side, although I have withdrawn from my program with my dissertation proposal almost ready to be defended. While in that program I was a co-author (with another student and Iris T. Rotberg of George Washington) of a monograph on the Bush education proposal before it was introduced into Congress to become the law we now know as No Child Left Behind (if interested, you can download a PDF of the work at this url: . Since leaving my doctoral program I have achieved National Board Certification.

I am also someone who participates extensively in online discussions about education. I was a regular participant in the old Bulletin Board of, am a longtime participant in the Assessment Reform Network ( url http:/ ) of Fairtest (url http:/ ). In the past two years I have written extensively on education for various blogs, most visibly at (at dailykos where as you can see many of my diaries are on subjects other than education). I organized the panel at the convention in Las Vegas last June for Yearlykos2006 (which you can read about here: and here: .

Much of what I have posted online about education has been in an attempt to help people understand the nature of education and teaching. At times it has been anecdotal, at other times I have tried to make people aware of some of the issues about educational policy that perhaps they did not understand. Underlying all of this was an effort on my part to defend public schools from being further undermined by those hostile to the idea of public education as a public good. But I am reaching the point where that is insufficient. I recognize that there is much wrong with our approach to schooling, and I would like to posit that we reconsider starting over.

I am not a scholarly researcher, nor am I that well versed in the history of education in this country to call myself an educational historian. But I believe that for far too long we have made a mistake in approaching education. We have had an insistence on a cohort approach, usually divided into discrete subjects, and - pace Frederick Taylor - at the secondary level using a model of fixed periods and the like derived from the “scientific” study of management in the early 20th century which to my mind over emphasize ‘efficiency” in the delivery of education versus efficiency in learning. Our periodic efforts at reform have all been rooted in such models even as we have evidence of other models that may be far more effective for at least some of our students, if not the vast majority (and here I acknowledge that there is insufficient data to draw conclusions as broadly as I might want). We have seen wars on educational policy that are as highly charged as those elsewhere in the political environment. And yet we seem unwilling to reexamine our basic assumptions.

We have a wealth of knowledge about alternative approaches. These include the early childhood model of Reggio Emilio, the extensive experience of a Montessori approach, the experience of Hungary in organizing much of their education around music using the work of people like Carl Orff. We have in our own country the evidence now more than half a century ago of the Eight Year Study that “progressive” approaches to secondary education seem to be at least as ‘effective” in preparing and evaluating students for post-secondary education as were more traditional methods.

As a classroom teacher and as a former school student I wonder about our insistence upon all students moving through curricular material at the same pace. I was ready to some subjects much earlier than my cohort fellows but in other domains I lagged (especially in writing, in which I did not become skilled until at least my late 30s). I was ahead of myself in school, and thus attempting AP Calculus when I was 15 in a day when it was exceedingly rare even for 17 year old seniors. I look at my students today and I see students like me, for whom math is easy but for whom written expression is something that seems more like torture.

Please note - I accept the idea that we have a responsibility to ensure that our students can read accurately a variety of kinds of texts and express themselves in a variety of written and spoken formats. But not all will achieve that by going through the same sequence of instruction, nor will all move through that or any other domain at the same speed. I believe that there is some validity to the work of Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences, and have found that students strongly oriented in one intelligence can use that strength to assist them when required to work in another intelligence. I watch as students who are not by nature either verbal-linguistic nor logical-mathematical struggle in a school environment in which perhaps 90% of their instruction and assessment in core subjects is the former with most of the rest being the latter.

I am not yet at the point of proposing a particular model or series of models of what education should look like. First, I am not sure having one model makes sense, given what we know of learning and of the differences among students. Part of what is wrong with our current approach to education is that we seem to be narrowing the choices of instructional models available for most of our students. I would argue that the approach we have been taking has been leaving many of our children behind, that the very idea of a national test will inevitably mean a national curriculum which will have several very important deleterious effects. First, such a national test will inevitably lead towards what will effectively be a national curriculum - anything not covered by such a test will increasingly be excluded from the instruction of many students, and the narrowing will be most profound for students of more limited backgrounds - we have already seen this to be the case with both the state tests that came from earlier rounds of reform and with the current round of testing due to NCLB: in the latter case I note that since Social Studies is NOT part of the testing scheme, I am increasingly seeing students arrive in high school with diminishing prior instruction in history and related subjects, even as they are now required to pass a test at the high school level in order to receive a diploma.

We will also see test scores used to further undercut support for education as a public good. And more and more of the financial resources will be shifted to for-profit organizations who will provide curricular and test-prep materials geared specifically to those national tests - we are already seeing this with the testing mandates imposed in the two most recent rounds of reform.

Ultimately I think we need a real discussion of the purpose of education and schools. If the purpose is to prepare a compliant workforce for large employers, perhaps we might be able to justify SOME of what we have been doing to our schools, although I would also note that such employers are increasingly moving knowledge-based jobs offshore for lower wages (employees being viewed increasingly as a cost rather than as an asset) so that there is ever less motivation for students to persist in their educational endeavors). But if our focus includes the value to and empowerment of the students, our instruction would of necessity be far different. We would not be eliminating instruction in the arts, for example.

I wanted in this posting to provoke some thoughts by others. This was not intended as a scholarly argument, for I am not a scholar, either by temperament or background. I am a classroom teacher who chooses to engage in discussion derived mainly from the experience of the classroom, and perhaps shaped around the margins by reading and participating in discussions of policy. One reason I wanted to participate in this forum is because I wanted voices from the classroom to be part of the discussion -- far too often our discussions about educational policy lack the voices of classroom teachers and of the students upon whom we impose our mandates. That may be one reason why many of our efforts at reform have not met our high expectations.

Let me close this far too long - and unfocused - presentation using the words with which I closed my presentation to the Blue Ribbon Commission, and then invite your responses.

The political reality is that those of us in public schools have to accept that there will be some external mechanism to evaluate what our students have learned. The best that we can currently hope for is to ameliorate the otherwise deleterious effects of such mechanisms, to apply them in a framework that gives the greatest hope and encouragement to our students. We need to recognize that often what persuades a student to remain in school and keep struggling with core courses is the excitement they have in their elective courses or their school activities. We need to be very careful that we do not so narrow the curriculum and the opportunities that we discourage our students. Math and science and English and social studies are important, but are not the only things that interest our students, or our adults, nor should they be. To that effect, let me end with words from our second President, John Adams, in a letter he wrote to his wife Abigail in May of 1780, a variant of which you may read on the wall of the JFK Center for the Performing Arts:

I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.

Thank you for letting me speak with you today.

And I thank you for letting me participate in this forum, and to offer my inchoate thoughts on education.

Friday, September 01, 2006

TO: All Water Carriers for the Spellings Commission on Higher Ed

TO: All Water Carriers for the Spellings Commission on Higher Ed
Posted earlier to SchoolsMatter

Dr. Thomas Hochstettler, President of Lewis and Clark University, can lay claim to many interests and areas of expertise: Military historian, efficiency expert, Germanophile, college president, and most recently, as evidenced by his commentary in WaPo, water carrier for the Bush plan to meddle in managing higher education. Unlike many of his colleagues who are concerned with the Spellings Commission's dream to develop a database that will track students from pre-K through college and into the work place, Dr. Hochstettler is impressed with the
potential for a robust (and privacy-protected) set of metrics that would yield essential data with tremendous potential for advancing our individual institutions and for identifying with greater precision those areas where our national education policy needs to be strengthened. Where some see the specter of government intrusion, I see the possibility of transforming our current separate data-reporting schemes into a streamlined system that is beneficial to students and useful to faculty and administrators.
Yes, yes, our national education policy. Hmm, I wonder if Dr. Hochstettler has any concerns about the control of that "national education policy" in higher education, something that thus far has a successful history of decentralized autonomy and diversity that has made American higher education the envy of the world. Does he know that these "reformers" are the same ones who have done the recent crafting of "national education policy" in K-12? Does he ever wake up a three in the morning wondering what his university would be like if Chuck Miller or Margaret Spellings or Dick Cheney or, my God, G. W. Bush had the power to intervene in university matters that are none of their incompetent business? Or is Dr. Hochstettler comfortable with the dream of Washington's corporate welfare artists, who are the real policymakers today, to turn the university into R & D reform schools that will regularly receive their piecework research assignments from corporate efficiency experts whose offers can hardly be refused? Does Professor Hochstettler know what the need for autonomy means as it exists outside the demands of the corporate state?

If these unanswered, or un-asked, questions are not enough to make you wonder about Dr. Hochstettler's connection to the real world, try this steeple-climbing conclusion:
At a time when hard experience has taught the public to question institutions that once enjoyed their implicit trust, a new ethos is beginning to take hold in higher education. "Openness" and "transparency" are the new buzzwords. . . . Will we open ourselves to scrutiny and assessment, or will we continue to keep the public at arm's length? Will openness, transparency and accountability be revealed as mere cliches, or can we embrace them as values that can influence for the better who we are and how we pursue our missions? Do we have it in us to live up to our historical commitment to open inquiry?
Dr. Hochstettler, if I may address you directly: There has never been another Executive Power in the history of this country that has approached the levels of hoarded secrecy as this one in Washington today, the same one now clamoring to control the records, academic and otherwise, of every American. This Administration's disdain for its own oversight and its repudiation of calls within its own government for accountability are breathtaking by any American standard. And transparency? Margaret Spellings only knows the ones she puts on her overhead projector when she takes her Rovian script on the road.

I am convinced that "living up to our historical commitment to open inquiry" requires nothing less than the repudiation of the current federal-corporarte reform efforts that, indeed, are the biggest threat to that open inquiry commitment to which you refer.

UPDATE (09/01/06):
The New York Times today reports this story, a relevant addendum it would seem:

The Federal Education Department shared personal information on hundreds of student loan applicants with the Federal Bureau of Investigation across a five-year period that began after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the agencies said yesterday.

Under the program, called Project Strikeback, the Education Department received names from the F.B.I. and checked them against its student aid database, forwarding information. Each year, the Education Department collects information from 14 million applications for federal student aid.

Neither agency would say whether any investigations resulted. The agencies said the program had been closed. The effort was reported yesterday by a graduate student, Laura McGann, at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, as part of a reporting project that focused on national security and civil liberties.

. . . . “This operation Strikeback confirms our worst fears about the uses to which these databases can be put,” said David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents 900 institutions. “The concentration of all this data absolutely invites use by other agencies of data that had been gathered for very specific and narrow purposes, namely the granting of student aid to needy kids.” . . . .

The SAT "crisis'
[Matt Yglesias] Why is The Washington Post panicking about SAT scores?

The dramatic decline in SAT scores announced yesterday raises the issue of whether there is something wrong with the new test or, even more worrisome, with the lessons being taught in high schools.

Sounds bad. But how dramatic was the drop? Well, reading went from 508 to 503 and math went from 520 to 518. That doesn't sound especially dramatic to me. . .

What's more, they changed the test. They added a new writing section. Adding a new section to the test means, presumably, that this year's round of kids spent slightly less time studying and preparing for the math and reading tests than did previous cohorts. And so they did slightly worse. Seems to me it's about what you'd expect.
[Matt Yglesias] The Washington Post is part of the same business enterprise as the Kaplan test prep company and therefore has a large financial interest in spreading paranoia about SAT performance.

Normally, I don't like to fling these kind of "follow the money" accusations around without evidence, but it is true that I don't see the country's other major newspapers describing a 0.7 percent decline in scores as "dramatic."