Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Resources Relevant to the Education Sessions at Yearlykos 2007

This was originally posted at dailykos earlier today

The material beneath the fold is a list of resources that are relevant to the two educational sessions I will be leading at Yearlykos, the panel Education Uprising: Educating for Democracy and the roundtable discussion Rethinking Educational Accountability

There will be handouts of this material available as long as they last. It is included in the handouts for the panel, which include copies for the "plan" and statements from Marion Brady and Peter Henry (the latter is included in hyperlinked form at the end of this diary). If those run out, I will also have copies of the the list of resources, which unfortunately due to space left out one important resource in which a number of people at dailykos participated, and thus will only be available in this online version.

Resources Relevant to the Education Sessions at Yearlykos 2007

This is being produced both as a handout and as an online posting, thus the urls will appear unmasked for the handout. It is intended to provide an annotated set of resources that may be relevant for the two educational sessions which have been organize by teacherken, Education Uprising: Educating for Democracy, and Rethinking Educational Accountability. The printed version will NOT include material already printed for distribution at the sessions, but the online version will include access to those materials, hyperlinked where appropriate.

For the most complete history and explanation of the sessions and the participant, the dakilykos diary entitled YEARLYKOS: Education Uprising / Educating for Democracy - the "plan"
is the best place to go.

For participant Sherman Dorn, his website http://www.shermandorn.com provides links to materials about his writing and about his books.

For participant Marion Brady, much of his work over the years can be found at his website, http://home.cfl.rr.com/marion/mbrady.html

For participant Peter Henry (Mi Corazon), he would like to direct you to the New Teacher Network at http://www.newteachernetwork.net/

Participant Kenneth Bernstein (teacherken) suggests the best single place for his thoughts on education is his user page at dailykos, http://teacherken.dailykos.com which does included writings on subjects other than education, although you can scroll down through the diaries to get past those.

Participant Doug Christensen is Commissioner of Education of the state of Nebraska. His official webpage, http://www.nde.state.ne.us/COMMISH/com.html has links to much of his writings about education.


Some different models of schooling:

Coalition of Essential Schools, based on the thinking of Ted Sizer: http://www.essentialschools.org/

Forum for Education and Democracy, founded by a group of prominent thinkers in education, including Deborah Meier, Angela Valenzuela, Pedro Noguera, Linda Darling-Hammond, Ted and Nancy Sizer, and others: http://www.forumforeducation.org/

Waldorf Schools, based on the work of Rudolf Steiner: http://www.awsna.org/

On Montessori education, the American Montessori Society, http://www.amshq.org/
Also, the International Montessori Index: http://www.montessori.edu/

On issues of child development and early childhood education, it is worth exploring the material at the Erickson Institute in Chicago, http://www.erikson.edu/home.asp

On issues of assessment and accountability:

National Center for Fair and Open Testing (Fairtest): http://www.fairtest.org/

Forum on Educational Accountability: http://www.edaccountability.org/

Four books that are relevant, two of which are by authors appearing at Yearlykos 2007

Nichols, Sharon & David Berliner, Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools

Dorn, Sherman, Accountability Frankenstein: Understanding and Taming the Monster

Perlstein, Linda, Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade The author will be signing copies at 3 PM on Saturday, August 4, and then again around 5:15.

Meier, Deborah & George Wood, editors, Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools

Both National Teachers’ Unions are good sources of information. For the National Education Association, go to http://www.nea.org/index.html You will see links for the blogs on the homepage. The American Federation of Teachers has a home page at http://www.aft.org Their blog, NCLB: Let’s Get It Right http://www.letsgetitright.org/blog/ has a fairly complete list of important educational blog sites along the left-hand side, as well as a detailed list of categories of posts on the right-hand side. DISCLOSURE: I (teacherken) have worked with them (although I am an NEA member) and they do feature links to my work on occasion. There is also a link for Sherman Dorn.

The Education Policy Blog http://educationpolicyblog.blogspot.com/ is group blog in which both Sherman Dorn and Ken Bernstein participate. It has the purpose of examining education from a social foundations perspective, and many of the participants teach social foundations of education in teacher training programs.

One important resource not included in the printed version, which ends with the Education Policy Blog, is the Educators Roundtable http://www.educatorroundtable.org this is the product a group of educators who came together to attempt to stop reauthorization of NCLB in anything like its current format. There are many terrific resources there, and many who participated in planning for the Yearlykos sessions also participated there.

Finally, here is the hyperlinked version of Peter Henry's handout for the education panel on Friday:

Teachers and Teaching: Prospects for High Leverage Reform
Peter Henry (aka Mi Corazon) http://www.newteachernetwork.net

Wedged between two Byzantine bureaucracies—unions and school districts, constrained by unreasonable public expectations, hammered by ideologues, criticized by the media, saddled with policies shaped by non-educators, America's teachers have almost no room to maneuver. Their training, workplace, schedule, and assignment are mostly determined by others, and their curriculum arrives “canned” in the form of textbooks from large, well-connected corporations. In some schools, extreme instructional strategies tell them what words to say, when, and how, as if teaching can be reduced to a standard script.

Is it any wonder then that as many as half of teachers quit in five years?

The vast potential of America's teaching corps is not only under-utilized and poorly managed, it is structurally imprisoned to the point that it's inaccurate to even call it a profession. Where there is mastery and commendable performance, it is usually due to an individual who succeeds despite the system rather than because of it.

There is, however, reason for hope: If teachers are liberated from these structural limitations, they have tremendous potential as "high leverage" reform agents. As Peter Senge maintains in his thoughtful classic, The Fifth Discipline, small, subtle modifications of a key organizational element can have a major systemic impact.

Most teachers enter the profession for reasons other than material reward---love of a subject, the drive to "make a difference," a need for personally meaningful work. Throwing money at them without first dealing with the structural limitations imposed by the current system will have little or no effect on their performance or attrition. Merit pay, vouchers, test-score competition, grading schools and other market-based initiatives make assumptions about human nature which apply to few teachers. Indeed, current efforts to bring market forces to bear will actually end up being counterproductive.

Two fundamental changes to teaching are essential. First, it must be realized that increased responsibility enhances accountability. Teachers must be given autonomy, power, control and authority over tasks they perform, taking on some roles and responsibilities now performed by administrators and district personnel. They should be evaluating programs, creating curricula, interfacing with the public and generally taking responsibility for school "climate." Their experienced, practical voices are essential to the shaping of wise policy and effective management of our public schools.

Second, teacher isolation must end. The traditional routine---teachers alone in their classrooms most of the day, five days a week---must be replaced by arrangements which allow them to collaborate, to coach and be coached, to learn and draw strength from others, to demonstrate to students the merits of teamwork. Only by routinely working together and collaborating to identify and address the particular, constantly changing challenges their individual school faces, can their strengths and human potential emerge.

Every school is different. Each has its own assets, problems, demographics, and community setting. Teachers, because they deliver direct service, are in a unique position to understand, define and resolve their particular and unique challenges. By building a collaborative ethos where consensus is sought and every voice valued, schools can become dynamic laboratories for innovation, democratic process and local decision-making. They can, in short, become true "learning organizations", where relationship, trust and meaningful work make the job desirable and fulfilling, with teacher satisfaction and increased retention being significant long-term benefits.

Making these changes---vastly increased responsibility and accountability, and structural alterations which support cooperation and collegiality---is more relevant and possible than ever. Over the next decade, America will need approximately 2.5 million new teachers, roughly half the current force. A new generation, technologically savvy, oriented to teamwork, bringing idealism which often accompanies youth, is well-positioned to make these changes work. And teacher induction, the term for moving novices through three years of training to tenure, is an ideal vehicle for achieving what will amount to the “re-culturing” of public schools. Remarkably, such changes would require no new legislation and few changes to labor contracts, while resulting in rapid increases in teacher performance and tax savings through decreased rates of attrition.

Sadly, the current thrust of education "reforms" threatens not only to weaken teacher professionalism and satisfaction but to erase from collective memory the connection most Americans feel for a great educator in their past. "Teaching," said Parker Palmer, "stands where the personal and the public meet." In our schools we should be promoting the best of American individuality and ingenuity in teachers and using that to renew and revitalize the civic body in the form of America’s youth. Of all places, schools should be in the lead, inspiring hope and idealism, supporting individual initiative and mastery, enhancing creativity and collaborative people skills. They are essential to our survival, and only by allowing teachers more autonomy, creativity, and collegiality are we likely to get them.

Teaching will always be, as Palmer notes, an intensely personal job. Government decrees, institutional demands, threats, sanctions, and penalties don't create great teachers. The current emphasis on "measurable accountability," focusing as it does on minimum standards, is weakening the profession and repelling the most promising candidates. Instead of imposing new limits and burdens, instead of heaping ever more approbation on teachers, policymakers need to re-think, re-imagine and recast what teaching looks like in the 21st century.
A great and resilient society, capable of successful adaptation and change, cannot thrive with an educational system built in the 19th century—managed by top-down hierarchies, one-size-fits-all models and ruled by the cudgel of fear. Excellence is achieved through individual mastery, a collegial network awash with inquiry and creativity, undergirded by trust and tangible support from the larger community. If we want teaching excellence and the resultant development of full student potential, teachers must be lifted up, given the responsibility, authority and training which enhance their natural human abilities, and then respected for taking on this most crucial and challenging work.

Monday, July 30, 2007

New Research: Test Score Progress Weaker and Advances in Narrowing Racial and Income-based Achievement Gaps Have Faded Since NCLB

If these damning research findings just published in AERA's Educational Researcher do not torpedo the reauthorization of the NCLB war on public schools, then nothing will--short of torches in the streets:
New Research on Achievement
Test Scores Slow Under No Child Left Behind Reforms, Gauged by States and the Federal Assessment

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 30, 2007 – As Congress reviews federal efforts to boost student performance, new research published in Educational Researcher (ER) reports that progress in raising test scores was stronger before No Child Left Behind was approved in 2002, compared with the four years following enactment of the law.

The article “Gauging Growth: How to Judge No Child Left Behind?” is authored by Bruce Fuller, Joseph Wright, Kathryn Gesicki, and Erin Kang, and is one of four featured works published in the current issue of ER—a peer-reviewed scholarly journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Bruce Fuller, lead author and professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, noted that the strong advances in narrowing racial and income-based achievement gaps seen in the 1990s have faded since passage of ‘No Child’. “The slowing of achievement gains, even declines in reading, since 2002 suggests that state-led accountability efforts—well underway by the mid-1990s—packed more of a punch in raising student performance, compared with the flattening-out of scores during the ‘No Child’ era,” he observed.

“We are not suggesting that ‘No Child’ has dampened the earlier progress made by the states,” Fuller said. “But we find no consistent evidence that federal reforms have rekindled the states’ earlier gains. Federal activism may have helped to sustain the buoyancy in children’s math scores at the fourth-grade level, seen throughout the prior decade.”

The researchers pushed beyond earlier studies by tracking progress in both state and federal test scores in 12 diverse states, going back to 1992 in many cases. This approach captured the generally positive effects of maturing state-led accountability programs in both reading and math, gauged by state officials and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Using this longer time span as the baseline, annual changes in student performance generally slowed after 2002, as gauged by state and federal testing agencies, and the earlier narrowing of achievement gaps ground to a halt (NAEP results), according to the study.

The university team focused on 12 states, including Arkansas, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington. They selected these states because they are demographically diverse, geographically dispersed, and were able to provide comparable test score data over time. Following passage of the ‘No Child’ law, federal reading scores among elementary school students declined in the 12 states tracked by the researchers – after climbing steadily during the 1990s.

The share of fourth-graders proficient in reading, based on federal NAEP results, climbed by one-half a percentage point each year, on average, between the mid-1990s and 2002. But over the four years after the legislation was passed, the share of students deemed proficient declined by about one percent.

The annual rise in the percentage of fourth-graders proficient in mathematics improved slightly in the
same 12 states, moving up from 1.6 percent per year before ‘No Child’ was signed to a yearly growth rate of 2.5 percent following enactment of the law. This is the one out of six federal gauges where a post- NCLB gain was observed by the research team, tracking NAEP results.

The researchers simultaneously tracked achievement trends gauged by state and federal testing agencies
over the 14-year period. “The correlation between the two barometers was close to zero,” Fuller said. “We worry about the capacity of states to report unbiased test score results over time. But even state results generally confirm the more reliable NAEP pattern showing that progress in raising achievement has largely faded since 2002.”

The authors urged Congress to improve the capacity of states to reliably track the performance of their students over time. “The fundamental principles of transparency and simplicity might guide state and congressional leaders,” Fuller said. “The hurdles defining basic and proficient student performance between federal and state assessments should become more consistent.”

Fuller added that “state and NAEP officials could do more to inform the public on how student demographics are changing, and achievement trends should be interpreted in this context.”

The article is based on studies of accountability policies that Fuller directs with grant support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Noyce Foundation.
Editor’s Note: The full text of Fuller’s study, “Gauging Growth: How to Judge No Child Left Behind?” is posted on the AERA Web site: www.aera.net (pdf).

To interview Professor Fuller, call (510) 643-5362 or (415) 595-4320.

To reach AERA Communications, call (202) 238-3200; Helaine Patterson (hpatterson@aera.net) or Lucy Cunningham (lcunningham@aera.net).

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the national interdisciplinary research association for approximately 25,000 scholars who undertake research in education. Founded in 1916, AERA aims to advance knowledge about education, to encourage scholarly inquiry related to education, and to promote the use of research to improve education and serve the public good.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Jim Cummins dismantles NCLB

Comparing the research into instructional methods that work with what actually happens today in the schools, particularly in inner cities, it is "very clear," Cummins said, that the current approach in too many U.S. schools is 90% ideology and 10% science. Research is ignored, misunderstood, misinterpreted and distorted to favor that ideology. . . [read on]

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Community Organizing and Urban Education XII: Locating a Target

[To read the entire series, go here.]

A key term in the neo-Alinsky community organizing toolbox is “target.” Fundamentally, in this model, if you don’t know what (or preferably who) your target is, then you can’t really act in a coherent way.

A target is “the institution or person who can make the change you want.”

Imagine, for example, that you are a leader in a local action group that wants to get sports re-funded in your district. The first thing you need to do is find out who makes that funding decision. And this involves not only figuring out how power works in your district, but also the different ways that sports teams might get funded within that system. For example, the superintendent might have the power to shift some funds to the sports teams. In other districts, the school board might need to decide. And the amount of money involved would be important, too. The smaller the amount of money, the lower on the totem pole the decision will probably be made. And generally you want to go for the weakest link, the target that it will be easiest to influence.

Figuring out the target is crucial, because once you figure out how the decision you want is made, you can start figuring out what might influence the person or institution that makes the decision. To act, you need to understand what motivates your target: its interests, fears, powers, etc.

Another example: About a year ago, a local conservative radio personality made a pretty repugnant statement about latinos in our city. So one or more groups decided to try to get this personality removed. They protested, and picketed in front of the radio station, and (as usual) basically had little or no impact. In this case, they knew in general terms who their target was (the radio station), but they don’t seem to have done much analysis of the internal power structure of the station, or even of its interests and concerns in more general institutional terms.

Around this time, a local organizer came to my class and used this case as an example. He asked the class what a radio station cared the most about, and after some prodding they gave him the answer he was looking for: money (although I thought some of their other answers were good, too). He then informed the class that the largest advertiser for this radio station was a local car dealership. He speculated: what if instead of doing yet another picket line, this group had targeted the car dealership? They could have first met with the owner of the dealership. If the dealership refused to pull its ads, they could have moved to the development of some creative actions. They could have sent fifty people a day to test-drive new cars, or to picket outside the dealership with signs declaring that it supported hate speech, until, hopefully, the owner caved.

In this specific case, this organizer was talking about what is sometimes called a “secondary target.” A secondary target is some powerful group or institution that can influence the target. The car dealership couldn’t make the decision to pull the personality, but had pretty impressive influence over the station’s management.

The point is not that this organizer was right or wrong. What’s important is that his process of analysis fits right within the neo-Alinsky tradition I’m talking about, here.

Another thing about a target is that, in most cases, it is helpful to pick a person rather than a group or institution. In this model, you want to generate some outrage about the actions the target has taken in its public role. And it’s easier to get pissed off at an actual person. It’s hard to get mad at the legislature as a group, for example. It’s too abstract. The speaker of the Assembly who is blocking your plan is easier to be upset at. But sometimes you are stuck attacking an abstraction rather than an actual individual. And sometimes it isn’t better to have an actual person. Every organizing campaign is unique.

The amount of power your group has will affect both the issue you choose to address (see this earlier post) and the target this issue requires you to influence. For example, as I have noted earlier, the organization I work most closely with is based in Milwaukee. We don’t have the power, alone, to really affect the legislature, especially since the key votes we need are Republican, and there aren’t a lot of Republicans we can directly affect. So this really limits our ability to work on school funding issues.

A couple more examples.

First let’s talk about the Iraq war for a moment. I was in Madison some months ago, and I drove by a group of three people waving signs against the Iraq war quite energetically on a streetcorner in the middle of campus. Now, I’m sure they felt much better about themselves after they did this. But I doubt that Madison is a hotbed of Iraq war support. And I doubt that a couple of signs are going to effect anyone that much anyway. Furthermore, the fact is that most of the nation doesn’t support the war anymore already.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against sign waving or big marches etc. And I’m sure they have some effect, especially if you can get a lot of people out in them. And there are many different ways to approach any problem. But it may be helpful to look at the Iraq war problem (e.g., in my opinion, how we can get out of it) from a neo-Alinsky perspective.

There is actually at least one group taking this approach. The group Americans Against Escalation in Iraq is sponsoring an Iraq Summer, in their words, “targeting 31 members of Congress and 10 Senators to bring a safe end to the war in Iraq.” They have tried to figure out which lawmakers are most likely to change their minds about the war, and they have put their $$ into influencing these lawmakers by threatening their interests. They have figured out who can make the change they want, and they are focusing their resources on the individuals who can make it.

Second, let’s talk about NCATE’s decision to drop “social justice” from its list of “dispositions.” I have to admit, I’m not really up on the details of this controversy, but let’s look at it from a neo-Alinsky perspective anyway. To start with, who is the “target”? This isn’t clear to me, but it might be Arthur Wise, the president, or it might be the people (or key persons) on the task force that Jim Horn said was looking at this issue. Or it might be “NCATE” more generally.

You might say, well, it’s not really fair to target individuals on a task force or Arthur Wise. They’re just doing their jobs. And they may be your friends. From a neo-Alinsky perspective, however, this answer is part of the problem. In taking on particular roles, they have inserted themselves into the public space in a particular way and they should be held accountable for their public roles. Part of what organizing does is transform roles people would like to keep somewhat “private” into more public stances. And it’s not personal. Or, at least, it’s not supposed to be. Remember, “no permanent enemies, no permanent friends.” (I’ll speak in more detail about “public” and “private” from this perspective in a later post.)

Once you have chosen a target, you need to think about the specific interests and motivations and fears of the target as you have framed it. For example, one of NCATE’s key interests as an institution is to have universities that are interested in being accredited. What if a number of universities were willing to sign a letter refusing to re-accredit with NCATE unless the disposition were added back? What if a group of powerful professors at key institutions were willing to sign such a letter? Of course, what you can do depends on the particular resources your organization (or potential organization?) has.

You may discover that you just plain don’t have the right set of resources to effectively influence the person or institution you would most like to target. If this is the case, maybe it’s time to face reality. Maybe it’s time to switch your issue and pick another target.

In any case, if you are going to act, it is almost always helpful to figure out who the key targets are (or might be) and what motivates them, regardless of the set of strategies you will eventually end up using.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Testing: an examination of its effects on one school

crossposted from dailykos

Let me start by noting that I am no fan of No Child Left Behind, and have opposed it since before it became law in 2002. I am actively involved in lobbying for major changes in the current efforts to reauthorize the law. As a high school social studies teacher I am not directly impacted by the law, because social studies does not count for Adequate Yearly Progress. I do have to prepare students for tests required for graduation, and I see the impact of NCLB in the lack of preparation in many of the students arriving at our high school. While I can write about my observations and describe what the literature is saying about the effects of NCLB, that probably does not give the full negative impact of the law, which is felt most fully in elementary and middle schools full of lower-income and minority students.

Linda Perlstein has written a book that gives as good a portrayal as I have seen of those negative impacts. In Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade, Perlstein follows one elementary school in Annapolis for a full year as a means of showing us how school life and learning are changed by the need to meet AYP.

Perlstein is a former Washington Post education reporter, whose previous book, Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers enabled readers to understand the perceptions and experiences of middle school students. In that work she closely followed 5 students at Wilde Lake Middle School in Howard County Md. For the current work she was given full access to Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis. She was able to sit in on classes, talk with students, teachers, and administrators, observe faculty meetings and conferences. All of the school and district staff agreed to allow the use of their names, while pseudonyms are used for the students and their families.

The school was an interesting choice. Tyler Heights is the kind of school testing advocates and supporters of NCLB like to cite. The principal, Ernestine (Tina) McKnight had arrived in 2000 to a school in which only 17 per cent of the student performed satisfactorily on the state tests. By 2004-2005, the year before Perlstein spent in the school, the percentage of students scoring at least "proficient" (the euphemism for passing) was up to 85.7 in reading and 79.6 in math. On the surface, this was the kind of school that would seem to demonstrate the effectiveness of a high stakes approach. After all, it was not exactly full of white, middle class kids from stable families:

When Tina arrived at Tyler Heights, three in five of its students were under the poverty level or not far above it - a number that would increase within five years to 70 percent. - p. 34
Nearly one-fifth were children of immigrants, with the Hispanic population having grown from 85 to one-third, with many of these either not speaking English at home or before arriving at Tyler Heights at all. The overwhelming percentage of students were black, but of the classroom teachers one was half black and the ESOL teacher was Hispanic, while the rest were white. There were other blacks on staff, including McKnight.

Maryland has changed its testing program since I first began teaching in a middle school in 1995-96. In those days there was a program called MSPAP, for Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. The testing, which was in selected elementary and middle school grades, did not give individual student scores, and required integration of the four core subjects of English, Math, Science and Social Studies. NCLB required testing in Reading and Math only, but in all grades, 3-8 (and once in high school, for which the High School Assessments in English and Algebra required for graduation also serve as the tests to measure AYP). Schools in which students arrive at school with strong language skills, from upper middle class backgrounds, do not have to worry so much about their scores. In fact, unless they are designated as a Title I school (with a significant number of economically poor students) they have little to fear from the sanctions of failing to make AYP. Title I schools like Tyler Heights face significant sanctions should their students not continue on the eventually impossible task towards all student proficient by 2014. Yet describing the nature of the problem in general does not have the same impact as telling the story of one school and its students and staff: perhaps this is an ironic illustration of Stalin's famous statement that the death of one person is a tragedy, but the death of millions is just a statistic. And in the context of Tyler Heights, by the standards of NCLB the school is a success. What Perlstein is able to show us is that below the surface and behind the test scores, the cost of achieving that "success" is at least disturbing if not horrific.

The school system required the use of certain packaged curricula, Saxon Math and Open Court Reading. The latter has highly scripted lessons that the teachers are supposed to follow. Perlstein succinctly addresses this at the beginning of a chapter entitled "A Bank Teller Could Pick Up the Lesson"
Think about your favorite teachers from your youth: the ones who changed your life. The ones who taught you lessons you carry with you years later. Chances are, these were the teachers with a gift for improvisation, artists of the classroom who brought a spark of life to the most mundane subjects. Chances are, they didn't teach from a script. - p. 50)
This is illustrative of how Perlstein presents the reality of what she saw. She will weave in observations, extracts from research, and combine these with the detailed recording of the experience of those in the school, the staff and students. In the process she brings life to the issue in a way missing in many of the debates over educational policy. Thus in a discussion about how companies are profiting from No Child Left Behind, Perlstein recounts McKnight's experience at attending a presentation at a principals' conference of a vendor who had been brought into her school during the 2005-2006 year using the success of Tyler Heights in its promotion. She was furious because they were implying they were responsible for the success in 2004-2005:
Like these guys had anything to do with third-grade math proficiency jumping 24 points? Fourth-grade reading jumping 49? p. 195
She was too polite to make a public scene, even when the vendors pointed her out to the audience. This anecdote is presented at the end of a section where Perlstein has explored the costs of NCLB in transfers of funds to the private sector, starting with the gross costs in the billions, tracing through the connections of individuals like Neil Bush and people who had helped promote in implement NCLB in the government like Sandy Kress and Gene Hickok to the individual consultants and firms McKnight had had to hire under pressure from the school system. Thus the elements of distortion and possible corruption are placed in a context beyond that of the mere numbers of dollars.

Perlstein is a gifted writer. She also does a solid job of weaving the relevant professional literature into her story. My copy of the book is heavily annotated. Often we find examples of one sentence placing everything in context, and I can offer two examples from one page, 68. After a discussion of a guidance counselor attempting to help a child deal with his stress, Perlstein writes
But it's expecting heroics to ask a child who feels he doesn't matter - who leaks hope even at age seven - to derive enough solace from a tightly gripped tennis ball to change his world
Perlstein immediately follows this by beginning to analyze why some expectations of the reformers who insist on "no excuses" are unrealistic. Before getting to the specifics of the situation at Tyler Heights she notes
To deny what happens outside of school affects what happens inside is to deny reality
The reality is that the students at Tyler Heights do not come from middle class families, with all the support associated with such a setting. Parents may themselves lack literacy and organizing skills. They may not speak or read English, and thus be unable to assist with school work, or to check a school website for assignments. They may have a history of conflict with authority, or be unable to get to school because of work or lack of transportation to meet with teaches. And they may also lack parenting skills, so that their children arrive at school not only without sharpened pencils, but also without control of emotions and impulses, thereby severely complicating the the process of educating them and the other students in the classrooms they disrupt.

When you read this book, you cannot help but begin to grasp how narrow the education has become for the children at Tyler Heights. Until the MSAs are completed in March, their education has been restricted to little more than test prep. When reading instruction (including preparation to write the formulaic brief constructed responses required for the MSA) is expanded to 3+ hours of each school day, all McKnight (herself a former social studies teacher) can do is suggest that some of the reading passages be on science or social studies, since those subjects basically disappear from the school day - after all, they are not part of the testing for AYP. And the approach required in the mandated curriculum makes it even worse. Students learn key phrases and "hundred dollar words" that they are supposed to remember to include in their BCRS (brief constructed responses - about a paragraph). Perlstein is focused on the 3rd graders, the youngest children tested on NCLB. One teacher has them write 5 times "I know this is a poem because it has rhyme, rhythm and stanzas" but only write 3 poems. Again Perlstein is able to place all in the proper context (p. 128):
Even if the students were going to write a paragraph instead of a poem, why couldn't they have been given anything interesting to write, to stretch their minds. One week the Open Court reading passage told the story of a hallucinating cat who burst into verse upon sleeping in catnip and took a strange medicine from a witch - the tale was so kooky Miss Johnson could barely keep a straight face - and all the BCR asked was, "How do you know this is a poem?"
The Open Court Unit was Imagination.

I received the book unsolicited in the mail, accompanied by a note from the director of marketing. When I checked, I was informed although I have never met nor corresponded with Perlstein, she had placed my name on a list of people to whom she wanted the book sent in the hopes that I might write about it. The book is officially published this week. Tyler Heights would be considered a success by proponents of the high stakes testing approach of No Child Left Behind. Certainly under the leadership of Tina McKnight the school has produced test scores that are notable. What Perlstein is able to do is provide the reader with the reality of the cost of those scores. Most parents would probably recoil from having their students in such a restricted learning environment. And for many students they are able to succeed on the tests because of intense focus on test preparation without necessarily learning the underlying skills those tests are supposedly assessing. Given the pressures placed on educators this should not be surprising.

I have been involved with the issues around NCLB since before it became law, having even at the beginning of my career had to deal with earlier testing mandates. I found the time spent reading the book worthwhile, which is why I decided to write about it, although there was no obligation for me to do so. Because the book is new this may be your first encounter with it, and you may question how much reliance you wish to place upon my analysis and judgment. Perhaps the best way I can assure of the effectiveness and utility of the book is to quote the only blurb on the dustcover. It is written by someone with whose writings on educational matters I often have strong disagreements, E. D. Hirsch: that the two of us find ourselves concurring on something should by itself be worthy of note. So let me end by quoting his words:
If you want to know what is going on in our schools in the age of No Child Left Behind, this is the book o read. To the heroism of our overly-blamed teachers and to the cluelessness of our administrators and policymakers, especially those who have imposed unwise test regimens in response to the new law, Linda Perlstein's gripping story is an indispensable guide.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

NCATE’s Professional Dispositions: To be determined.

"To Be Determined"

That, literally, is what is written in the new NCATE standards (to go into effect fall 2008) in the glossary for professional dispositions. I just saw this in searching for some other materials.

It used to read (from the 2006 edition):

Dispositions: The values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence
behaviors toward students, families, colleagues, and communities and affect
student learning, motivation, and development as well as the educator’s own
professional growth. Dispositions are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to
values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social

Does anyone out there know how it is going to be determined? By whom? When? And why this highly (to me at least, if I was a part of NCATE) embarrassing phrasing? Embarrassing, of course, because of the ongoing social justice terminology controversy.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Where is AESA?

In the most recent issue of Rethinking Schools, Kristan Morrison details what occurred in Virginia concerning the possible elimination of social foundations of education. (I wrote about this earlier here.) While Kurt Stemhagen and others were able to keep foundations coursework as a part of the teacher education curriculum, Morrison states that:

According to the American Educational Studies Association, the major foundations organization, the process of eliminating or reorienting foundations courses has begun or has occurred already at teacher education programs in many states, including Connecticut, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, Maine, Missouri, Ohio, California, Tennessee, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, and Georgia.

This list, if accurate, is troubling. Are such (proposed) changes occurring at the state level? Institution by institution? Is anything being done to support foundations scholars and programs that are facing such challenges? Where’s AESA? Where’s CSFE?

What makes this issue double- (and triple-) pressing is that foundations scholars no longer have any policy levers by which to influence such institution-by-institution changes (as I detailed earlier). NCATE’s dropping of “social justice” due to immense pressure signals that foundational issues have little if any weight in educator preparation policy. Interestingly, the same issue of Rethinking Schools has an article by Therese Quinn and Erica Meiners “Do Ask, Do Tell” that details their (failed) attempt to have AERA weigh in on NCATE’s decision to drop such terminology, specifically as it relates to LGBTQ issues. Quinn has provided additional context here in her blog. The connection, for me, is that Quinn and Meiners are advocating for a larger arena in which to influence policy. And, now that I think about, so is the John Dewey Society.

Yet the very first thing I teach my students about foundations, and the one thing I hope and hope they remember from my course, is that one cannot understand individual problems at an individual level; one must look at larger contextual and structural issues that determine and constrain and guide individual actions.

And this is a structural issue. Foundations scholars cannot support themselves as individual programs. Foundations scholars cannot petition NCATE as individuals. And the John Dewey Society cannot, on its own, be heard to the extent necessary to actually accomplish what it wants. There needs to be a larger organization that can serve as a collective voice for the multicultural foundations on each and every single one of these issues.

Where is AESA?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Community Organizing and Urban Education XI: Scholarly Participation in Organizing Campaigns: Research that Makes a Problem “Hit Home”

[To read the entire series, go here.]

[Note: post has been revised for more accuracy]

Given the enormous gulf between the realities of life in the academy—even in relatively marginal research institutions like mine—how might education scholars contribute to organizing campaigns?

First, I think it is important that scholars resist the urge to “help” by trying to turn organizers and leaders into scholarly researchers, into people like us. Organizers generally use research very differently than do scholars. In organizing, research done by participants is almost always deeply intertwined with the day-to-day activity of social action. As I noted in a review of a book by Oakes and Rogers, in social action groups

data collection is [usually] integrated into efforts to build relational power. Survey efforts, for example, become opportunities to engage with and recruit potential members. Leaders and organizers in Alinsky-based groups do not learn to be “scholars” or “researchers” separate from their identities as activists. In fact, in my experience “research” is sometimes pursued as a thinly veiled strategy for engaging people in an issue. And it isn’t unusual for these organizations to simply hire someone to get the data they need to act, allowing them to keep their limited resources focused on activities more directly related to organizing.

Community organizing groups need research to serve very particular purposes. (Exactly what skills a particular group or individual needs (or wants) at any particular time is always an emporical issue, of course.) In any case, at least three key uses of research come to mind: research that brings a problem into stark relief, research that helps define a particular solution, and research that contests assertions made by the opposition.

Here, I want to talk about the first use, making often vague social problems more concrete, making them “gut” issues around which one might recruit participation.

Of course, it would also be wonderful to have more scholars with a strong social action background. But given limited resources this may be more an issue of recruiting particular individuals than a strategy for supporting groups.

In the last few years, the education committee of the organizing group I work with, MOVE, has been focusing on health in schools as an area ripe for intervention. The reasons for this choice of issue are complicated and emerge to some extent from the specifics of our situation in Milwaukee. In the simplest sense, focusing on health allows us to seek out support for schools that is outside the usual funding streams and that, therefore, doesn’t “count” under the caps that currently limit funding in Wisconsin. Further, we believed that it would allow us to seek funding on a city instead of a state level, avoiding the need for power to move the state legislature that, as a city organization, we lacked.

To rally support from our own members and from other groups, we thought we needed some simple document that would lay out the challenges the health problems of poor children and their effects on learning in the starkest terms. We didn’t need a document that went through everything; we didn’t need a research study; we didn’t need a forty page review of the literature; and we didn’t need a document that would meet the requirements of a peer-reviewed journal publication. We needed a brochure.

The fact is that I knew little or nothing about health problems when I started working on the brochure. But I knew how to read through a mass of research documents and pull out key information, and I knew how to locate information that seemed to come from reputable sources.

So I pulled together the documents we’d been collecting through the preparatory interview research we had been doing, and searched on the Internet, and searched on the proprietary databases available at my university, and I searched through the archives of our local newspaper.

What I was looking for was data that would make readers stop in shock. What I needed was information that we could state publicly and not fear being attacked about for its accuracy.

The brochure that I completed, with the input of my committee is pasted in, above. You can see a more readable version here.

The first panel on the inside left is the most important. As I have noted before, it is crucial in organizing to find a “gut” issue that makes people want to stand up and act. An abstract crisis, a need for more “money” in general is not very motivating. But thousands of kids with their teeth rotting in their heads, thousands of kids that can’t see well enough to read easily, that’s motivating on a visceral level.

Importantly, I don’t waffle about the data. I make clear statements about the condition of child health. Only in the footnotes do I record where I got this information and possible limits of the data. For example, two large studies of poor inner-city children in different cities that both showed that 50% of the children had vision problems. In the full text of the brochure I simply state that 50% of poor kids have problems with vision, and then in the footnotes I note my extrapolation. In other cases, I have not bothered to put conditions on my knowledge, even though (as with most research) the data may not be as clear as the specificity of these numbers imply. For example, some of the data comes from statements by the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) superintendent. I think I know where he’s getting this data, and in one case I think it’s from a study that seems somewhat more limited in the population it covers than he indicates. The fact is, this is frequently true of data like this on a district level, often gathered for one purpose and used for other purposes. I don’t go into this in the brochure. It just isn’t important for the reader. The superintendent’s conclusion and the magnitude of his number is quite reasonable given the other research I’ve read, even if I’m not certain about the exact percentage he cites. There is no reason for us to complicate issues by constantly qualifying our statements because of small (possible) differences or uncertainties that, in the big picture, are pretty meaningless. These are the kinds of issues that matter to scholars, but not to policymakers, politicians, and people on the street. Statistics I could not defend in this way I did not include. In any case, the data is as accurate as I could make it, and readers know where to go to pursue it in more detail if they want. As far as I can tell, there is nothing in the brochure that could subject our organization to critiques from reputable research or professional groups (and I passed a draft by a key local stakeholder just to make sure).

Then, in the next panel, the brochure goes on to lay out the kinds of issues these health problems may raise for learning. And in the final panel I give some key quotes. Some of these are from Milwaukee, and some aren’t. And the picture isn’t of a Milwaukee kid, but it’s a good picture. None of this is really important to the reader.

On the outside of the brochure, I summarize the key limitations of MPS’s approach to solving these health problems. As a committee, we worked to lay these issues out without attacking the school district. And we tried to emphasize the district’s limited funding so that people wouldn’t misread us as saying the district should cut other programs to fund health instead.

Finally, in middle panel on the outside, we lay out our plan for fixing these problems. It may be surprising, but this is probably the least important part of the brochure. The reality of a campaign often necessitates changes in abstract plans stated ahead of time. But at least we make it clear that we’re not just complaining. We have plans to do something about the problems.

I don’t want to overstate my case, here. The brochure isn’t perfect. In retrospect there are some other things I wish I had done. But it's the first time I've tried to put something like this together, and I'm going to cut myself some slack. And I believe that it has been a useful organizing tool for us. It looks fairly professional and gives us credibility among health professionals, administrators, and politicians. It also gives readers the sense that there is organized, coherent, and well structured campaign. (This is true regardless of the "reality." As Alinsky said, what is key is not the power you actually have but the power others think you have.) Participation on our committee increased significantly after we passed it out to MOVE members. And instead of moaning about the fact that life is difficult, it lays out a path for some postitive change. It is empowering to some extent, just to have the brochure.

In fact, we have actually been successful at some important first steps in getting better health care for Milwaukee kids. I’m not going to talk about that right now, however. Our effort is still ongoing, and there are good reasons not to talk too much about it publicly until it is farther along.

Let me conclude this long post by contrasting this example of scholarly contributions to social action with that discussed by Oakes and Rogers in their book. They describe the development of a robust education policy round-table that they put together with a range of different organizations, providing them with research and facilitating dialogue.

Their's seems like a wonderful model. But it clearly requires dedicated funding and a significant commitment of other resources. I don’t have either of these available to me. Mostly it’s just me and my computer and my “enormously messy” office, as my daughter says.

This example shows how a relatively isolated scholar (like most of us, I bet) with access to the basic data available to all professors, some limited facility with Microsoft Word, and a week or so of time (spread over a couple of months) can put together a key “research” document to support what could end up being a major campaign. Perhaps my key skill, here, was in understanding just which data might be reliably leaned on without undermining the credibility of our effort.

It is crucial to emphasize, however, that I could only create this document because I am a long-term member of this organization. In our meetings, other members helped restructure the brochure and change the layout. In fact, it probably helps that I generally don’t emphasize the fact that I’m a scholar in my participation. I understood what this group needed because I’m a part of this group, and the group didn’t have any trouble working with me, or trusting me to put this together, because I’ve been there for a long time. Without this kind of embodied knowledge, I probably would have ended up creating yet another “lit review” that wouldn’t have really helped them that much.

Of course, the reverse could be true as well. This familiarity may have also made me less self-critical about what I was doing. Others may want to respond with their own opinion.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

YEARLYKOS: Education Uprising / Educating for Democracy - the "plan"

note: I am crossposting here a diary from dailykos today. As you read it, you will note that two of the key players in creating that diary, and in the underlying work effort, are members of this blog, which I why I am sharing it

Friday August 3, 1 PM:

The design of American education is obsolete, not meeting the needs of our students and our society, and ignores most of what we have learned about education and learning in the past century. This panel will explore a new paradigm, including some specific examples, of how education in America can be reshaped in more productive and democratic fashions.
This diary will present that new paradigm. It is the work of a group of kossacks who have circulated draft diaries to one another, commented back and forth, posted diaries, and absorbed the reactions. A complete list of all the related diaries will be found at the end of the diary.

The points of the plan were first outlined by Reino, then drafted into essay form by teacherken, with the version crafted by SDorn. I post it as the person with overall responsibility for the endeavor.

We invite you to read through the plan below the fold, perhaps referring to the diaries that got us to this point. We encourage your comments, which we will read and to which we may respond directly. Most of all, we encourage you to attend the panel, with SDorn, Mi Corazon, Marion Brady, and moderated by teacherken. Hope we see you in Chicago

Education Uprising – Education for Democracy

Historically, one of our society’s central problem in improving public schools has been our disagreement over the purposes of public schools. We believe in three central purposes: preparing students to participate in our democratic society, empowering students to learn on their own, and encouraging them to explore their dreams.

A free and adequate public education is a right of every child. Not all children attend public schools, but all Americans must support public education that both fosters democracy and is treated as a right. Public education is a public good. It is a part of the commons for which we are all responsible. We start this brief essay by discussing the nature of education as a public good before we delve into meeting the individual needs of students, the curriculum, instruction, teachers, and accountability.

Education as a Public Good

There are two parts of education as a public good. One is the role of education in developing citizenship—not reflexive obedience but a deliberative and engaged public. If adults need the skills and confidence to debate public policy and act wisely, students need to learn those skills. The other part of public education is the obligation to operate democratically—to provide equal educational opportunities and to operate transparently and accountably.

Fostering Democracy

Using public education to foster democracy is largely consistent with using public education for individual goals. Public schools should empower all students to follow their dreams and encourage them to have dreams worth having. “Proficiency” in math, science, and reading is not sufficient. There are two reasons for emphasizing breadth today. First, we need a counterweight to the current obsession about a narrow range of tested skills. If graduates can calculate but not understand misleading statistics, have we gained anything? If graduates can write a formulaic essay but will not read and do not know what they could be reading, we have lost some measure of citizenship. Beyond the limits of our narrowed curriculum today, education is a foundation for citizenship in an unpredictable future, not a factory that produces an easily-described workforce. We cannot predict the needs of our society, even if we were talking about the narrow confines of paid work. Nor can we ethically limit the dreams of our students by the social class of their parents.

Being Treated as a Right

We disagree with the president and with some Democrats in Congress on how to treat education as a right, providing equality of educational opportunities. The Federal government cannot impose its will without significant costs. It can and should help communities maintain equity, and it is in the area of equity where the federal government has the greatest obligation, where the inevitable costs of federal involvement are justified by the moral obligations of democracy. In addition, the federal government can and should support research in a range of approaches to learning and teaching. But the federal government is too far removed from the reality of individual communities and individual students to micromanage teaching. It is our job to craft a better balance.

Today, national educational policy uses the carrot of additional funds to effect change. Together with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and several court opinions, Title I funding pushed Southern schools to begin substantial desegregation in the late 1960s. The lure of funding in the 1970s provided an incentive for states to accept federal guidelines on special education. But the power of the purse is a tempting power, and one that we have seen misused in the last 6 years. Both state and national policy must recognize that not all students learn the same way and that not every parent nor every community will want an identical education for their children. Yet there is a role for central governments, to guarantee equality; if we do not address questions of inequity, we will perpetuate many of the problems that have troubled our schools over recent decades.

Guaranteeing Equality

The obligation to guarantee equality covers inequality within schools and some aspects of inequality outside schools as well. First, schools need to be fairly and sufficiently funded. In many states, such as here in Illinois, there are still vast differences in funding levels between poor and wealthy communities. Even in states that equalize spending to some degree, it is highly imperfect. A major role of state and federal governments in education should be to make sure that there are enough funds to meet the needs of students, especially in areas with weak tax bases. Neither the No Child Left Behind Act nor the federal special-education law has been fully funded, and both must be. Even the buildings are a matter of equity and adequacy. The American Federation of Teachers has begun to document the extent of leaking roofs, rodent infestation, broken furniture, and moldy “sick” buildings, many of which will not be fixed without pressure and funding. Finally, states and the federal government can make sure that geographic location does not hinder opportunities. To provide broad access to alternative approaches, states can facilitate the ability of students to attend in neighboring districts and to use technology to give access to courses or different approaches not available in the home school or home community. While arguments rage about the effectiveness of online learning, there is no doubt that having virtual classes in unusual courses provides opportunities that many students would otherwise not have access to.

In addition to providing sufficient resources inside schools, governments have an obligation to dampen the inequities that children face when they are off campus. The inequalities in wealth, housing, environmental quality, and health care are far greater than the inequalities in school funding. While most of those topics deserve their own sessions at YearlyKos (and many have them!), a few issues are directly related to schools. Too many students do not have access to adult support, computers, books, and other opportunities outside of the school day that many middle-class children take for granted. Many lack a safe and quiet space in which to do school work, or to interact with peers. Before and after school programs can address these issues at least partially. Children’s physical needs can also be partially met on school grounds. Vision and hearing screening should be an essential part of school, and students with identified problems should have access to glasses and hearing aids where appropriate. The same need for access to care is also true of psychological and psychiatric needs.

The “Stuff” of Education

The above issues fall into those areas which central governments can feasibly address, in supporting schools and in safeguarding the equal opportunity all should have. But in most of the day-to-day operations of schools, redesigning education is a state and local matter.

Building Relationships

One issue that can only be addressed at the local level is the student perspective. Schooling to foster democracy is consistent with redesigning schools to accommodate student perspectives and needs. Fundamentally, we need to structure schools to encourage personal relationships. Students tend to do better in an environment where they feel trust, which in turn develops when students have relationships with adults who know them as individuals, more than their performance in one class. Schools are an essential opportunity for building relationships between adults and children, what sociologists call social capital. Schools should be structured so that meaningful relationships are easily formed. Meaningful contact between adults and children will also improve peer-to-peer relationships. Students do not learn as well if they are either afraid physically or emotionally, or if they feel as if they are being treated as inmates.

Experimenting with Curricula

A second issue that must be addressed at the local level is the curriculum. Despite the various arguments about whether we need a centralized curriculum, we have one. It is determined by the cultural script of what a “real school” is, and it is reinforced by the textbook purchasing practices in the largest states. McGraw-Hill and other publishing companies tell teachers in Wisconsin and Indiana what math they teach, a math curriculum that is remarkably similar to the math taught in California, Texas, and New York. While the current structure may work for some students and satisfy the desires of some parents and communities, we should be exploring alternative approaches. There is wealth of material that has been put out, some well examined, from modified traditional to Montesorri, Orff schools, Waldorf, and the radical but comprehensive approaches of panel member Marion Brady.

We need a diversity of approaches—in instruction, in organizing the curriculum, in assessment—because our children have different interests and needs and our parents and communities want different things for their children. Public education must be structured in a fashion that not only allows but encourages a diversity of approaches while ensuring some minimum commonality of education: common skills in math, scientific understanding, history and government, and the use of language. But that commonality should not define a good education. Students need more. Note: Curriculum is one of those areas which Education Uprising diarists debated vigorously, and this is a majority rather than a consensus statement.

Supporting Teachers

We need to change how we select, train, support and retain our instructional staff. This will have to include reexamining issues of compensation, workload, responsibility and flexibility in delivering instruction and mentoring. Teachers need to be flexible to meet the needs of students, but they also need to have a better education in the repertoire of skills necessary to adjust and individualize instruction. They should have a greater voice in designing curriculum and assessment, and they need sufficient time to consult with one another, reflect on what has happened in their classrooms, and use all sources of information to modify instruction and classroom environment for a more productive learning environment for their students. A scripted and so-called “teacher-proof” curriculum may succeed in raising test scores in the short term, but it is not conducive to long-term learning nor for modeling how adults think and work.

Because teachers have great responsibility for and influence on the successful development of our young people, they should have more support and feedback in learning how to be effective. Teachers should gradually transition from learning about teaching to taking full responsibility for classes, with a period of gradually decreasing supervision from experienced teachers who can mentor them. Those who mentor need to be appropriately educated for the task and given sufficient compensation and time away from teaching responsibilities to do the job properly.

Using Assessment

While there is a separate roundtable on assessment and accountability, we have discussed it extensively online, and it is one of the areas of greatest divergence among Education Uprising diary writers. On the other hand, we all agree that assessment needs to improve instruction as much as evaluate overall performance. In the language of evaluation, we need formative as well as summative uses of assessment. Those who wrote the diaries have different views of standardized testing, but we all agree it should not be the sole method of assessment nor have high stakes consequences assigned as the result of a single test.

For more discussion of assessment and accountability, come to the Assessment and Accountability roundtable August 4 at 10:30.

Our work began back in October, when teacherken posted YEARLYKOS 2007 - Educate America - what do you think?. This diary solicited ideas to be considered for a new plan for education.

Next came Educate America - Yearlykos 2007 - doing the impossible?. This laid out the scope of the task, and readers were warned:
The task before us is realistically undoable. So was electing Jim Webb and Jon Tester. So I invite you to continue reading. I warn you, this is a long diary.

In early December we offered Yearlykos2007 - the education panel - an update. In this we presented the 11 categories which we were proposing to address in our efforts. These categories came from the many comments to the two diaries above, and one previous diary of teacherken entitled I think we have lost our way. The ideas from these three diaries circulated for group consideration, were put into these divisions by DeweyCounts.

On December 30 we reported back to the community again in Ed/Up Education UpRising - Educating for Democracy (Yearlykos). Among other things this diary introduced the members of the education working group at that time. Others have joined, some dropped out, but it gave an idea of the scope of effort involved.

Near the beginning of the year, our resident educational historian took over. SDorn first posted a diary entitled History diaries starting Saturday for Education UpRising (Yearlykos) notifying the dailykos community of what was to come. This was followed by the first of his four diaries reviewing some of the key issues in American educational history, The purposes of public education (YearlyKos). That was followed A thumbnail history of school bureaucracy (Ykos), then The history of teaching (YKos), and finally (In)equality of educational opportunity (Ykos), four significant diaries over a period of 5 Saturdays.

Next Marion Brady offered a new view of curriculum, first by notifying us on a Friday of what was to come, then the following day, Saturday as is our practice offering Education Reform: The Curriculum, in which he analyzed the weaknesses of our current approach to curriculum and offered his own unique perspective, the product of a lifetime of thinking about the subject.

Reino followed two weeks later with [YKos Ed/Up] Serving Students Better Through School Reform in which he presented a series of recommendations to better serve students.

Mi Corazon took over. First he offered an annotated list of diaries to date. He followed that with two more diaries on teachers and teaching, entitled respectively It's the teachers, stupid! Ed/Up:Ykos, and then, as might be expected, It's the Teaching, Stupid! YKos, Ed/Up

DeweyCounts then took over for two Saturdays, addressing the issue of educating for democracy, in Yearly Kos: Education for Democracy followed by A Democratic Education Pt 2 (YKos Ed/Up). He offered five basic tenets of a democratic education.

plf515 offered an example of a specific program that makes a difference, the Math Circles of Bob and Ellen Kaplan, in his wonderful diary The joy of participatory learning Ed/Up.

In April, va dare offered us an examination of how NCLB is limiting some of the good things that were happening in our schools in her diary Like Oil and Water - TAH, NCLB, and the decline of K-12 Education in Democracy.

Finally, Mi Corazon added on additional diary in June, Ed/Up-YKos: 2.4 Million Ways To Reform Public Schools, in which he argued that the best single way of improving education is to change how we bring new teachers into our schools and classrooms.

As you can see, a lot of people did a lot of work in preparing for the panel, and the list of diariests does not represent all who contributed. Some offered suggestions on diaries, and many members of the community not part of our group contributed through their participation in the discussions.

We hope as many of you as possible will come to the see the results, not only at the Education Panel on Friday August 3, 1-:215, but also to the separate Roundtable Discussion on Assessment and Accountability, Rethinking Educational Accountability, Saturday August 4rd, 10:30-11:3o.

Hope we see you in Chicago!


The Special Needs of Georgia's Voucher Advocates

"Private schools are private schools, they are not obligated to take all these students. There's nothing in the law that requires them to do that." --Jeff Gagne, Overseer of the new Georgia voucher program

A significant cluster of all those children that conservatives do not want to leave behind is comprised of individuals with special needs. Since NCLB became law, these children, not to be left behind, have been forced to take tests that were not made for students with special needs and that, furthermore, do not assess learning that was supposed to accrue from these students' individual educational plans (IEPs). And because no NCLB subgroup's failing scores can be left behind, hundreds, if not thousands, of schools have been added to the federal failure lists because of entirely-predictable shortcomings of special needs students to score high enough to make AYP.

Enter, stage Right, parents and their legal advisors from the conservative think tanks to argue that public schools are not meeting the needs of their special needs students, and that, therefore, the parents of these children should be given vouchers to enroll their children where they can get the special attention they deserve. Remember the tests?

That was January, and now it is July, and Georgia has a brand new law that allows parents to receive a school voucher for their special needs child that is redeemable at any approved private or public school, religious or otherwise. Over a hundred private schools (50 of them religious) have already been approved by the state, and conservatives are high as a kite. In order to not get in the way of the sacred, invisible hand of the marketplace or God, as the case may be, the State has not intruded with bureaucratic requirements for these approved schools, such as certification requirements for teachers, the presence of programs for children with special needs, or regional accreditation (as required by public schools). Most importantly, however, these children now placed in private and religious schools no longer need to take the tests, remember the tests?, because the private schools, by virtue of being private, are not required to be accountable. The invisible hand, or the not so invisible one reaching into the taxpayers' pockets, will take care of all that accountability business.

Coming on the heels of the resegregation decision by SCOTUS, Georgia's voucher advocates have had most their special needs met now. Wealthier parents will be able to have their children classified special ed, declare they are not being served, and head off to the local Baptist academy with a fresh voucher. Poorer parents will have their children, who have been dragging down their schools' test scores, classifed for them and given the choice of a segregated religious school or a segregated secular private school. And that's the kind of choice that the choice advocates are shouting hallelujahs for. From Jim Wooten in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

. . . .The truly significant lesson from the week’s education news is that the marketplace has shown a willingness to embrace concepts that educrats think radical and that their interest groups and unions have resisted forever.

A successful introduction is not, however, success. Johnson [Georgia Senate sponsor of the Bill] and other supporters managed to resist attempts to saddle potential competitors with all the rules and regulations that cover traditional public schools. Critics note, for example, that private schools aren’t required to have curriculums tailored to special-needs children, or to hire certified teachers or those trained in special education. True enough.

They note, too, that competitiors are free to accept or reject applicants. True enough.

And hallelujah.

What’s happening here is that the locus of authority is tranferring from government to parents. For the first time in well over a century, the earth is moving in a direction that empowers parents — all parents, not just those with money.

For choice to be real, providers of education services should never, ever, be required to take every applicant. If they can’t serve a child’s particular needs — either because he’s disruptive, not up to grade, or deemed to have problems the school’s not equipped to address — they should be free to reject him.

When enough like-needs children exist, creative educators and entrepreneurs in the free market will create new schools. . . .

The freedom to "accept or reject applications" does not just apply to the white Georgia country clubs of a bygone era.

Cross-posted at Schools Matter.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A higher education mess

Since I'm here in my office anyway, on a Saturday, I thought I'd take a brief break and describe some of the politics of Florida higher education... by video. Yes, Education Policy Blog is now including vlogging! I'm curious whether the video panel below will show up on RSS aggregators...

New Bush Version of NCLB: Privatization 2.0

From an earlier post at SM:
. . . .when it became apparent in 2001 that a school voucher provision would not be included in NCLB, the White House’s inside man in the Senate, Sen. Judd Gregg, rallied support among disappointed Republicans. In doing so, he offered this glimpse into the Rovian education strategy to bring down public schools and, in the process, dump billions into the laps of tutoring concerns run by corporate and fundamentalist supporters:
“Well, the supplemental services [tutoring] are a foot under the door for vouchers. They’re going to show that these schools aren’t working properly, and we’ll finally be able to show that the schools aren’t doing well. The assessments are going to prove the same thing” (Debray, 2006, p. 96).
And, of course, this strategy is working. More and more schools, teachers, and children are being labeled as failures each year as we move inexorably toward impossible test targets that were cynically crafted to produce failure, rather than success. . . .
Well, the dependable water carrier, Senator Gregg, is back with the Administration's version of NCLB 2.0. It comes with all the previous privatization features intact, but the strategies have been fine-tuned and intensified. Despite the allowance for "growth models" in all fifty states, which the media will no doubt portray as a good, flexible compromise, the demand for steady test score increases toward the impossible 100% proficiency test target by 2014 remains unchanged. The unyielding and unreachable proficiency target by 2014 makes growth models irrelevant to the continuing and expanded list of sanctions that are included in 2.0 in order to hasten the privatization goals. From Education Week:

. . . . The Senate bill was introduced July 12 by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., a former Senate education committee chairman and another architect of the NCLB law.

The measure, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., would echo some of Rep. Miller’s ideas by introducing more flexibility into the accountability system at the center of the law.

It would permit all 50 states to participate in the Department of Education’s growth-model pilot.

. . . .

The bill would retain the deadline of the 2013-14 school year for bringing all students to proficiency. . . .

In the new and improved privatization plan, the menu of sanctions for failure to meet AYP (replacing staff, private management, charter conversion, state takeover) remains in place, but two more options have have been added that will make privatization through outsourcing much simpler, administratively: school closure and mayoral takeover. Gone from NCLB 2.0 is the "Other" restructuring menu item, which most systems with below-the-cut-score-schools have thus far opted for as they try to survive.

Call and write Congress to insist they say NO! to reauthorization and YES to helping us save public education and make it better. Ask your Senator or Representative if schools in Chicago can honestly be held accountable for the same world-class standards as schools in Grosse Point, MI, given the kind of Third World realities of our cities, brought to light here by Bob Herbert's latest column:

The colorful playground outside Frederick Funston Elementary School has swings and sliding boards and a heartbreaking makeshift memorial for the 13-year-old girl who was shot to death in the playground a few weeks ago.

“It’s difficult out here,” said a woman who sat on a bench, watching her two small boys scampering around the playground.

What she meant was that there was nothing particularly unusual about schoolchildren getting blown away in Chicago’s black and Latino neighborhoods. Since September, when the last school year started, dozens of this city’s public school students have been murdered, most of them shot to death. As of last week, the toll of public schoolchildren slain in Chicago since the opening of the school year had reached 34, including two killed since the schools closed for summer vacation.

“That’s more than a kid every two weeks,” said Arne Duncan, the chief executive of the city’s school system. “Think about that.”

The girl killed in the playground was Schanna Gayden, who, according to the police, was shot in the head by a gang member who was aiming at someone else. Blair Holt, a high school junior, was shot to death on a city bus. Another teenager was killed as he walked home from a library.

Lazarus Jones, a 13-year-old computer-lover who was looking forward to beginning high school in the fall, was jumped by several members of a gang and beaten to death. Twelve-year-old Laura Joslin was stabbed to death, police said, by an 18-year-old girl on Thanksgiving Day. Victor Casillas, 15, was killed in a drive-by shooting.

And so on.

This should be a major national story, of course, and it would be if the slain children had come from more privileged backgrounds. But these are the kids that most of America cares nothing about — black, Latin and poor.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper covered the story. He said of the kids, poignantly: “Their names should be known. Their lives should be honored. Their deaths should be remembered.”

But that was an exception. Outside of Chicago, very little reporting has been done on this horrifying wave of murders. The truth, of course, is that Chicago is not alone. It may be jolting, even in our blood-drenched society, to have so many students from one school system killed over the course of a single school year. But most people know (and take for granted) that boys and girls growing up in America’s inner cities often have to deal with conditions that can fairly be compared to combat. . . .

Ask your Congressperson if these realites are enough to justify turning these urban children's struggling schools into privately-managed prison camps with no public oversight. Ask them.

Cross posted at Schools Matter.