Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Week in Ed Science Links

Rush, Little Baby

How the push for infant academics may actually be a waste of time - or worse.

What works in education: the lessons according to McKinsey

Now, an organization from outside the teaching fold—McKinsey, a consultancy that advises companies and governments—has boldly gone where educationalists have mostly never gone: into policy recommendations based on the PISA findings. Schools, it says*, need to do three things: get the best teachers; get the best out of teachers; and step in when pupils start to lag behind.

Social Decision-Making: Insights from Game Theory and Neuroscience

By combining the models and tasks of Game Theory with modern psychological and neuroscientific methods, the neuroeconomic approach to the study of social decision-making has the potential to extend our knowledge of brain mechanisms involved in social decisions and to advance theoretical models of how we make decisions in a rich, interactive environment.

Lifted from Bookforum.com: The tickle monster needs to lie down now

From Vision, a review of Nurture the Nature: Understanding and Supporting Your Child’s Unique Core Personality by Michael Gurian; Right From Wrong: Instilling a Sense of Integrity in Your Child by Michael Riera and Joseph Di Prisco; Raising Kids with Character: Developing Trust and Personal Integrity in Children by Elizabeth Berger; and Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing by Michele Borba. The power of birth order: Parents insist that how kids turn out depends on when they were born, and more and more, science agrees. The tickle monster needs to lie down now: Why don't parents like to play with their kids? Snooze or Lose: Overstimulated, overscheduled kids are getting at least an hour’s less sleep than they need, a deficiency that, new research reveals, has the power to set their cognitive abilities back years.

Adventures in the wheel of consciousness

Ekai Txapartegi (UC-Berkley): Functionalism and the Qualia Wars. Tan Kock Wah (Sarawak): Heterophenomenology Debunked. A review of Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness by Daniel C. Dennett. A review of Making Up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World by Christopher D. Frith. An interview with Tim Crane on how the mind relates to the body. A review of When the Impossible Happens: Adventures in Non-ordinary Reality by Stanislav Grof. With consciousness, there is no agreement on anything, except it's very difficult. An article on the ethics of erasing a bad memory. A review of The Head Trip: Adventures on The Wheel of Consciousness by Jeff Warren (and more).

Report: Are Private High Schools Better Academically Than Public High Schools?

This study, based on an analysis of the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988-2000, finds that, once family background characteristics are taken into account, low-income students attending public urban high schools generally performed as well academically as students attending private high schools. The study also found that students attending traditional public high schools were as likely to attend college as those attending private high schools. In addition, the report also finds that young adults who had attended any type of private high school were no more likely to enjoy job satisfaction or to be engaged in civic activities at age 26 than those who had attended traditional public high schools.

5 Myths About That Demon Crack

At the peak of the panic over crack cocaine in the mid-1980s, Congress passed a rash of laws requiring longer prison sentences. One such law created a 100-to-1 disparity between crack and cocaine offenses. You have to get caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine -- but only five grams of crack cocaine -- to get a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.

A Sleepless Brain is a Sensitive, Angry Brain

On a poor night's sleep, tiny problems often seem large, and large problems become utterly defeating. That, at least, is how it feels -- and now neuroscientists have imaged the pessimism as it happens.

Ten Principles of Feminist Economics: A Modestly Proposed Antidote

Since such lists represent what are widely proclaimed (by their authors) as universally accepted principles and therefore worthy of teaching to students, we might also wonder about the missing or other perspectives. Despite the inherent dangers of constructing a list that purports to cover the key economic ideas of any perspective, in this paper we yield to temptation and offer a feminist alternative to these standard principles of economics.

The Economic Power -- And Pitfalls -- Of Positive Thinking

In general, people who are optimistic are more likely than others to display prudent financial behaviors, according to new research. In small doses optimism can lead to wise decision making, but extreme optimists "display financial habits and behavior that are generally not considered prudent," according to researchers.

Resistance To Thoughts Of Chocolate Is Futile

Thought suppression can lead people to engage in the very behaviour they are trying to avoid, according to new research. The study also found that men who think about chocolate end up eating more of it than women who have the same thoughts.

Brain Activity Differs For Creative And Noncreative Thinkers

Why do some people solve problems more creatively than others? Are people who think creatively different from those who tend to think in a more methodical fashion? Scientists found a distinct pattern of brain activity, even at rest, in people who tend to solve problems with a sudden creative insight -- an "Aha! Moment" -- compared to people who tend to solve problems more methodically.

Most Parents Can Accurately Evaluate Their Teen's Substance Abuse, Study Says

Addiction research suggests that most parents are aware of and accurately evaluate the extent of their teenager's cigarette smoking, marijuana use, drinking and overall substance use.

'Where Do I Know You From?' Recognition Shows Distinct Memory Processes

New research suggests that the sometimes eerie feeling experienced when recognizing someone, yet failing to remember how or why, reveals important insight into how memory is wired in the human brain.

Let's draw low-income students into college

University of Texas system chancellor Mark Yudof argues that we should give low-income families some clue about their financial aid status before their children's senior year in high school. As he explains, the details are very tough to manage, but it's a smart idea, and it should be part of the breadcrumb trail to college we need to leave for students from low- and moderate-income families.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

4 Million Dollars and 24 New School Nurses: Beyond Pedagogy to Collective Power (Community Organizing and Urban Education)

To read the entire series, go here.


Last week, in the just-passed Wisconsin State budget, a couple of lines give four million dollars (in new state and federal money) to the Milwaukee Public Schools for 24 school nurses.

Sometimes it’s hard to trace the influences behind policy changes. But in this case, I know for certain that these lines in the budget are a direct result of the work done by myself and a small number of leaders in Milwaukee’s MOVE congregational organizing group. It is because of MOVE and our work that thousands of the poorest students in Milwaukee will have health services that they did not have before.


Most of us spend a lot of time working with teachers, or writing articles. Few of us spend any time working to generate power to contest the forces that prevent our ideas and pedagogical advice from leading to significant change.

Some have misread or misheard me as arguing that everyone should do what “I” do, and that anything else is worthless. This isn’t my argument at all. Many of us do very important work, and I’m working, myself, on a book about Dewey and democratic theory. So I’d be a hypocrite if I said everyone should put their pens down and get out of schools and join organizing groups.

The problem is not that everyone needs to change. People have different skills and gifts. Teachers need to learn to teach, and we still need to think about how to teach better.


The problem is that work on schools is almost ALL we do, and it is NOT ENOUGH. Our focus has remained so narrowly on teacher education that we constantly ignore the fact that pedagogical and administrative skills aren’t really the core problems facing inner-city children.

What have we really done to change the reality of inner-city public schools and, more importantly, the success of students coming out of these schools in the last four decades or so? Maybe we’ve kept things from getting worse. Have we made things better on any broad scale? The honest answer would have to be: NO.

For the vast majority of children in inner-city schools, WE HAVE FAILED. I’m not sure how anyone could honestly argue anything else.

Furthermore, in an article I published a couple of years ago, I showed that the field has developed NO effective models for bringing inner-city schools into any significant authentic interaction with impoverished communities. Except in relatively rare (and always tenuous) circumstances, the institution of schooling in America lacks any significant capacity for healthy community engagement. In other words, a focus on schooling as our only task inherently rules out any real collaboration with communities.

Baldly stated, however, without empowered communities, we will not be able to change schools.

Einstein famously defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


Community organizing is one of a number of different strategies for generating community power and consensus in impoverished areas that are increasingly oppressed in America. Elsewhere I have discussed some of these other approaches, but organizing is the one I am most familiar with. So when I talk incessantly about organizing it’s not because it’s the only answer, but because it’s an effective answer that I know something about.

Community organizing is not about winning on individual issues. It is about generating durable POWER for communities that currently lack power.

Winning these 24 new school nurses for MPS schools represents the most significant effect my work has ever had on actual students in schools. Yet this specific win, by itself, is not the goal. The point is that we were able to get the State and the district to pay attention to MOVE. Success in one arena, in the ideal, builds a reputation for effectiveness that can support other efforts in the future. For example, we are moving forward to look at dental services in impoverished urban schools in Wisconsin. I am able to sit at tables with other stakeholders and work together on a campaign to improve dental services not because I am a professor or because I know much about teeth (I don’t) but because I am a representative of MOVE.


Schools of education as institutions should start making community empowerment a part of their core charge, institutionally. It’s not enough for a few individual professors to do this on their own time.

There are all kinds of worries about what can happen when academics get involved in community activities. But the fact is that there is desperate need for more resources of all kinds in impoverished communities if they are going to gain any significant power at all to resist and act. At the least, scholars bring with them the capacity to read scholarship. As Oakes and Rogers and others have shown, this can be an extremely important contribution to community efforts. And there are other ways to participate.

But in the long term, to be helpful without being harmful, we need to bring real expertise about community engagement and action into our faculties—either by gaining that experience ourselves, or hiring people who have it.

And we need to get beyond our focus—our obsession—with teacher and administrator education as sufficient, in itself, as a path towards long-term improvement in the future life success of inner-city kids.

To be honest, I don’t think any of this will really happen on any significant scale.

It is possible, however, that the field of foundations—because of its interdisciplinary nature, its amorphous focus, and its concern with equity more broadly—may be one of the most promising places for change. In fact, as Dan Butin and I argued at AESA, community engagement as a scholarly arena and as a source of enrollment might actually provide one avenue for saving foundations in American education. But that’s for another post.

[P.S.: If we don’t learn more about how POWER works, and about how to influence the powerful, we can’t hope for much impact in the policy arena (NCLB?) either.]

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stereotype Threat, NCLB, and the Half-Way Solution

From Ed Week:

Stanford University psychologist Claude M. Steele made headlines in 1995 with a study that introduced the phrase “stereotype threat” into the national lexicon. Put simply, it’s the idea that people tend to underperform when confronted with situations that might confirm negative stereotypes about their social group.
Could there ever be devised a more consistent, hammering confirmation of stereotype for minority children and parents living economically disadvantaged lives: the more you struggle, the steeper the hill gets over time, and the more likely you are to fail the high stakes tests on which NCLB is built?

It is sadly interesting to note, too, that now as we finally start talking about interventions to address stereotypes and the achievement gap, there is a focus almost entirely on psychological interventions--as if the poverty that drives the achievement gap can be fixed by tinkering inside the heads of students and teachers. While surely the psychological space is critical in terms of shaping learning and education, fixation on the psychological can lead to a debilitating blindness to the equally-strong sociological realities that shape children's lives.

All the tinkering inside the head can only go so far in getting to a full solution to the educational achievement gap, as John Dewey knew over a hundred years ago. Focusing on they psychological, alone, can bring more negative consequences, in fact:
--this educational process has two sides--one psychological and the one sociological--and that neither can be subordianted to the other , or neglected, without evil results following (My Pedagogic Creed, Article I).

Again, from Ed Week, an interesting chunk of the article:

Mr. Steele’s original research involved black college students whose test performance faltered when they were told they were taking an exam that would measure intellectual ability. But the effect has since been documented in more than 200 studies involving all sorts of situations.

Scholars have found evidence of “stereotype threat” occurring, for example, among elementary school girls taking mathematics tests, elderly people given a memory test, and white men being assessed on athletic ability. Even something as subtle as asking students to indicate their race or gender on a test form can trigger the phenomenon, some of those studies have suggested.

Now comes a new line of research aimed at figuring out what to do about the problem. Focusing mostly on middle schools, the second generation of work is starting to point to tools and techniques that show promise in countering stereotype threat in the classroom and improving the academic achievement of students who are most likely to suffer from its effects, such as African-Americans, Latinos, and girls.

The hope is that such interventions might one day narrow persistent achievement gaps between many minority students and their higher-achieving white and Asian American peers, and expand the ranks of young women who pursue high-level studies in mathematics and science.

“You can scare people so much in the lab that you can make existing gaps wider,” said Joshua Aronson, an associate professor of applied psychology at New York University, who is conducting much of that research. “But the real message of this work is that you also can make the gaps narrower.”

. . . .

Mr. Aronson was the co-author, with Mr. Steele, of the study that propelled the “stereotype threat” idea into the national achievement-gap discussion more than a decade ago.

In that experiment, the researchers divided black and white Stanford undergraduates into two groups and gave each group the same test. One group got the message that the test had IQ-like diagnostic properties; the other group was told that the test did not measure intellectual ability.

The African-Americans in the group performed dramatically better in the latter situation, while white students performed equally well under both conditions. Mr. Steele and his colleagues contend the black students tested badly in the first instance because they feared their poor performance would confirm a stereotype that blacks were intellectually inferior.

Few groups, though, seem to be immune from stereotype threat. Mr. Aronson found in a 1999 study, for instance, that he could induce the same sort of effect in white male engineering and math majors with “astronomical” SAT scores simply by telling them that scores from their laboratory tests would be used to study Asian students’ apparent superiority in mathematics.

Faced with the risk of confirming a negative stereotype about themselves, students react in different ways, according to researchers. While some underperform, others redouble their efforts.

Most worrisome, though, is the large number of students from vulnerable groups who, over time, begin to avoid situations that seem potentially threatening. In one of Mr. Aronson’s experiments with middle schoolers, for example, Latino students—but not non-Hispanic white students—chose easier problems when they understood that the test they were taking measured mathematical ability.

“I think we need to worry about how students’ vulnerability can lead to real differences in ability,” said Mr. Aronson. “As students shy away from those things that could make them smarter, it becomes sort of a negative spiral.”

“We think middle school is when problems emerge,” he added, “and when you see minority kids start to disengage and girls start to get anxious about math.” . . . .

Conservatives Against Choice? What's Going On?

In this morning's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel comes this report about a new study from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. The full report apparently isn't out yet (later today, I think), but the Sentinel article seems clear enough.

The overall conclusion: Only 10% of MPS parents make school choices by a process that involves considering at least two schools and that brings academic performance data from a school into the choice.

"Given this number, it seems unlikely that MPS schools are feeling the pressure of a genuine educational marketplace," wrote the report's author, researcher David Dodenhoff.

Dodenhoff also concluded that parental involvement in MPS schools is low - he estimated that 34% of MPS parents could be considered "highly involved" in their children's schools. And he said his conclusions were probably on the high side because people tend to give the "right" answers when asked questions such as whether they are involved parents, even when the answers are untrue.

It's important to understand that
the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute [is] a conservative think tank that has supported school choice for almost two decades, when Milwaukee became the nation's premier center for trying the idea. The institute is funded in large part by the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, an advocate of school choice.

"The report you are reading did not yield the results we had hoped to find," George Lightbourn, a senior fellow at the institute, wrote in the paper's first sentence.

This is the same institute that has issued reports attacking choice critics, contesting the widely accepted idea that class size reduction has an effect on academic achievement, etc. An article on the front page of their website honestly argues that the incredible racial disparity in the Wisconsin prison population isn't problematic. (You can go through the reports listed on their website.)

The finding in this new report seems to strike at the heart of the assumptions behind the choice program in the first place, as the scholars apparently admit.

I am not an expert in the choice battles, but I have also heard anecdotally (and the article notes) that some choice proponents have become more realistic about the need for oversight of choice schools, among other things. I also know that there have always been a range of more and less dogmatic points of view behind the choice effort, and that some of the choice proponents in Milwaukee are pretty thoughtful people whether one agrees with them or not.

Even acknowledging this, however, has there been another example of a conservative institute like this, funded by the Bradley Foundation of all places, that has put out such a damning report? If this report is correct, then what, exactly, is left of the argument for choice? If the market doesn't work, then "choice" won't work, right?

(It's important to note that this isn't particularly new information. Less ideologically connected scholars have reported much the same thing in more "reputable" academic venues.)

I wonder what is going on, here? Any thoughts from those more deeply informed about the choice "movement"?

Note: the article states that the report concludes:
"Relying on public school choice and parental involvement to reclaim MPS may be a distraction from the hard work of fixing the district's schools. . . . The question is whether the district, its schools and its supporters in Madison are prepared to embrace reforms more radical than public school choice and parental involvement."
More radical than choice? What does this imply?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

One On One Interviews: Intentional Relationship Building for Organizing (Community Organizing and Urban Education)

Here is another of my introductory lectures to organizing. I just wrote this one this week, so it is very much a first draft (more, even, than most of the lectures). Click here for the text of the complete lecture and here or the complete series.

Community organizing groups are made up of relationships between individuals. Of course, this is not all that holds them together. Long-term groups depend on a loyalty to the organization and its historical relationship to the community. And, as we will discuss later on, the specific issues that a group works on can draw in commitment. But at the base level, at its best, a community organizing group is made up of relationships between individuals.

[I want to emphasize that I’m speaking of the ideal of this model of organizing, here. The fact is that the one-on-one process described below is very time intensive, and in my experience not enough leaders (like myself) really take the time to do them in the numbers recommended by the model. This, of course, raises questions about how effective this model is, since if people don’t actually “do” the one-on-ones, then they aren’t working. But the argument is that stronger organizing groups do. So let’s assume people do complete them, for now.]

“Community” is not something that is given in particular neighborhoods or cities. In the inner-city today, for example, people often do not know their neighbors and may actually fear some of the people who live or congregate on their blocks. Mobility in these neighborhoods is high, often for financial reasons, so it is harder for a coherent sense of geographic identity. And even when people do know each other, studies indicate that in poor communities relational ties generally don’t cross social class lines. In other words, poor people know other poor people, and more well-off people know those with economic situations more like their own.

Angela Davis argues that:

it is extremely important not to assume that there are “communities of color” out there fully formed, conscious of themselves, just waiting for vanguard organizers to mobilize them into action. . . . [W]e have to think about organizing as producing the communities, as generating community, as building communities of struggle. (cited in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, p. 161)

As we have noted, in Alinsky’s day there were many local formal and informal organizations that might be seen as reflecting aspects of a local community. Today, this is less true, not only in poor areas but in suburbs full of relatively isolated families as well. As Robert Putnam, among other scholars, has pointed out, the problem is not that people today don’t belong to any organizations at all, or that they don’t volunteer to help others. Instead, what have been lost are collections of people who see themselves as an ongoing, relatively permanent “we” that can act as collectives. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity or at a local school, participating in a 12-step group for some addiction, etc., don’t necessarily produce the kinds of collectives that organizers are looking for. Again, churches represent one of the few exceptions to this trend.

However, as our reading on gender and organizing pointed out, these older organizations often functioned in a fairly hierarchical and patriarchal manner. While Alinsky might have found what he felt were authentic “native leaders,” the groups these leaders led were often less than participatory in their internal functioning. And even when they were more participatory, members may not have really known each other that well outside of their common participation.

Both of these issues can be as true today of the churches that many organizers work with. Organizers often find that churches fail to recognize the vital functions played by people who are not central leaders. And even though people may recognize each other at church, the fact is that most members probably don’t really know much about the people who sit around them in the pews (or on cushions, or whatever their tradition is).

As our last reading on more recent approaches to congregational organizing noted, today’s organizers don’t simply draw from churches as sources of “people.” They actually try to intervene in them. They try to get pastors, who seem sometimes to treat their parishioners like children, to think more about how they might play a more “empowering” role. They even make theological arguments, trying to convince those who think religion shouldn’t get involved in “dirty” reality that Jesus and Mohammed and others wanted their followers to care for this world, that they should care about their “works” as much as their praying. They try to help religious people understand that many of the key figures of their scriptures (like John, Abraham, etc.) acted very much like organizers. I remember, for example, a tense moment at an organizing training I attended where the facilitator directly challenged a Catholic priest about whether he was really willing to let go of some of his control over his “flock.”

We are not here to argue about whether they are right or wrong about religion. The important thing is to understand how organizers generally think, although I am, of course, open to any questions you might have. There are many religious traditions and cultures that find it difficult or impossible to embody this kind of attitude. In the end, you will need to decide what you will take away with you from our course, what you find convincing and what you don’t, what fits with whatever religious tradition you might hold dear. But even if you don’t “buy” key aspects of this argument, there may be aspects that you find illuminating or that you can appropriate in creative ways to serve your own beliefs and needs. Again, I won’t judge your responses by whether they are “right” or “wrong” in their opinions, although I will be examining whether you understand the perspective we are studying in this class.

One of the key ways organizers try to intervene in and “improve” the associations they recruit into their organizing groups is through the process of one-on-ones.

What Are One-One-Ones?

A one-on one interview is a “public” but “personal” interview with another individual.

The interview is personal in the sense that it often gets into quite intimate stories about someone’s life. Of course, it is always up to the person being interviewed what they are willing to share. But the fact is that people in our society are rarely asked such personal questions by someone who is actually interested in the answers. We seldom are asked to share our stories, and people are often quite willing to do so.

The interview is “public” according to the definition we discussed a few weeks ago in that your goal is not to generate an intimate friendship (although this may also be an eventual result). Instead, your aim is quite pragmatic and instrumental. You are trying to link this person in to a larger group, giving them and the organization more power to make the kinds of changes they would very much like to see in society. You want a “public” not a “private” relationship with this person.

Partly in order to help the people you interview to understand the “public” rather than “private” nature of these interviews, that you are not approaching them to become their “friend,” one-on-one’s are generally set up in a relatively formal manner. You don’t usually just start chatting with someone without warning. Instead, you ask someone to meet you in a particular place at a particular time so that you can talk with them, get to know them, and help them understand your organization. This formality is important because it sets the stage for what is going on. From the beginning the person knows that you are approaching them in the role of a leader or organizer and not as a private individual who just wants to chat. You approach a person in your role as organization member and are trying to recruit them as well

One-on-one interviews have three key goals:

  1. To develop a “relationship” with an individual that you can draw upon later.
  2. To discover a person’s “passion,” which will help you hook this person into particular issues they may be “self-interested” in working on.
  3. To ask this person to do something specific for your organization or group.

This is traditionally the list of aims, but there is actually a fourth goal:

(4.) You want to evaluate whether this person is worth the “trouble” of recruiting and drawing in to your organization. Is this someone who seems reliable? (Is this someone who is likely to be disruptive in meetings or can they disagree and engage without throwing a wrench into the entire process?) Are they passionate about anything enough to keep them engaged over the long-term? Remember that “public” relationships are, in the ideal, driven by self-interest, the need for “respect,” and a willingness to hold others accountable and to be held accountable oneself. A person may be perfectly useful as a participant to call into a mass action, but not someone you want as a leader.

Be careful about making such decisions too quickly, however. It is really impossible to know for certain how someone will act in an organization unless one has worked with this person. Further, characteristics like race and gender can bias our perspectives without us even knowing this. And we have already noted how our society tends to disparage the “leadership” activities of people who work more in the background instead of out front like a familiar patriarchal leader. Sometimes the people who look great turn out to be “terrible,” and the people who look terrible turn out to be great (although often in ways you may not have predicted before).

To read the rest, click here for an MS Word document.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Week in Ed Science Links (and some poli sci)

Lifted from BOOKFORUM.COM: Playing nice and teaching good

From Philosophy Now, an interview with Randall Curren, author of Aristotle on the Necessity of Public Education; playing nice and teaching good: Carolyn Suchy-Dicey considers the dilemma of teaching moral autonomy. A review of An Introduction to Philosophy of Education by Robin Barrow and Ronald Woods. Schools as scapegoats: Our increasing inequality and our competitiveness problems are huge, but they can't be laid at the door of our education system. The flood waters that submerged New Orleans two years ago also sank the local school district. What has happened since the disaster, however, is redefining urban public education. A review of A Class of Their Own: Black Teachers in the Segregated South by Adam Fairclough. More on Tough Liberal by Richard Kahlenberg. Making the grade: How do you grow a bumper crop of math and science teachers? From Discover, one universe, under God: Creationism battles for the hearts and minds of America’s teachers. A review of Doubting Darwin? Creationist Designs on Evolution by Sahotra Sarkar. From Church & State, an article on the Religious Right's new tactics for invading public schools. A review of The Last Freedom: Religion from the Public School to the Public Square by Joseph P. Viteritti.

[Time Waster Extraordinaire:] WHAT IS YOUR FORMULA? YOUR EQUATION?

The walls of Obrist's office were covered with single pages of size A4 paper on which artists, writers, scientists had responded to his question: "What Is Your Formula?" Among the pieces were formulas by quantum physicist David Deutsch, artist and musician Brian Eno, architect Rem Koolhaas, and fractal mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot.

Within minutes we had hatched an Edge-Serpentine collaboration for a "World Question Center" project, to debut on Edge during the annual Serpentine Gallery Experiment Marathon, the weekend of October 13-14. The plan was to further the reach of Obrist's question by asking for responses from the science-minded Edge community, thus complementing the rich array of formulas already assembled by the Serpentine from distinguished artists such as Marina Abramovic, Matthew Barney, Louise Bourgeois, Gilbert & George, and Rosemarie Trockel

Self-Interest in Deliberation

It’s the whole journal but scroll down for Jane Mansbridge’s latest. She’s one of the top political scientists/theorists out there today and just about everything she’s written is relevant to discussions of democracy and education. Other cool stuff in this issue. --AS

g, a Statistical Myth

Attention Conservation Notice: About 11,000 words on the triviality of finding that positively correlated variables are all correlated with a linear combination of each other, and why this becomes no more profound when the variables are scores on intelligence tests. Unlikely to change the opinion of anyone who's read enough about the area to have one, but also unlikely to give enough information about the underlying statistical techniques to clarify them to novices. Includes multiple simulations, exasperation, and lots of unwarranted intellectual arrogance on my part.

Boom Times for Dentists but not for Teeth

Less than 25% of Wisconsin’s poor kids have seen a dentist in the last year. Most poor parents in Milwaukee can’t find a dentist who will take the state insurance their kids have.—AS

Less Athletic Kids Often Lonely, Rejected By Peers

A new study looking at the connections between athletic skill and social acceptance among school children has found that kids place a great deal of value on athletic ability, and youngsters deemed unskilled by their peers often experience sadness, isolation and social rejection at school.

Three-quarters Of Adults WIll Be Overweight In 15-20 Years, Report Predicts

The problem of obesity will take at least 30 years to reverse, according to a recent government report on tackling obesity in the UK over the next 40 years. If current trends continue, at least half the population will be obese by 2032. In less than 15 years, 86 per cent of men will be overweight, and 70 per cent of women will reach the same level of obesity in 20 years time.

Psychiatric Problems In Teens Difficult To Pinpoint

Your teen is moody. He's not doing well in school. He wants to be left alone. Does he have a learning disability? Depression? Or maybe he's just a normal teen? Pinpointing a diagnosis of psychiatric and behavioral problems in teens can be tricky, even for experts in mental health. The human brain is still developing during adolescence, and as any parent of a teen can attest, mood and behavior can fluctuate wildly at this age.

Students Prefer Online Games, Even If They Can Lead To Problems

Online video games with thousands of simultaneous players, such as "World of Warcraft," have become hugely popular in the last two decades and are now a multibillion dollar industry. Scientists have conducted a randomized trial study of college students contrasting the effects of playing online socially interconnected video games with more traditional single-player or arcade-style games.

Early Day Care Attendance May Protect Infants From Asthma Later

Day care attendance early in life seems to protect infants and young children from later developing asthma according to new research. Scientists examined the relationship between the age at which day care attendance begins and the amount of immunoglobulin E (IgE) in a child\'s blood. IgE is an antibody produced by the immune system and an indicator of allergic sensitivity.

Kids' Bike Injuries Are Major Public Health Concern

Researchers concluded that bicycle-related injuries among US children may be a more significant public health concern than first thought. Children and adolescents aged 20 years and younger comprise more than half of the estimated 85 million bicycle riders in the U.S. It has been long-known that bicycle-related injuries result in more emergency department visits for children than any other recreational sport.

Help At Hand For People Frightened By New Technology

A new project has developed ways of teaching people the skills they need to make the most of today's information technology. The researchers found that people who have trouble with IT tend to be poorer, older and less well-educated than average. But their fears about IT were reasonable ones. They did not know how to get help with computers, or how to protect them from viruses. They were alarmed by media stories about the hazards of computer use.

Reducing Class Size May Be More Cost-effective Than Most Medical Interventions

Reducing the number of students per classroom in US primary schools may be more cost-effective than most public health and medical interventions, according to a new study. The study indicates that class-size reductions would generate more quality-adjusted life-year gains per dollar invested than the majority of medical interventions.

Test After Test Turns Students Off Math

The ever-growing strain of examinations, cramming and top-down teaching is turning students off studying maths at university - according to new research. Researchers in the UK says the pressures caused by cramming for up to 12 exams a year leaves too many AS level maths students tired at the thought of studying more at university.

Power Of Altruism Confirmed In Wikipedia Contributions

Dartmouth researchers looked at the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to determine if the anonymous, infrequent contributors, the Good Samaritans, are as reliable as the people who update constantly and have a reputation to maintain.

Mental Disorders Are Disorders Of The Brain

Mental disorders such as anxiety and depressive disorders are disorders of the brain and involve complex patterns of disturbances of cognition (such as perception, attention, memory), affect and emotion (such as depressed mood, panic), somatic functioning (e.g. appetite, heart rate variability) and behaviour. These patterns and disturbances are all associated with disturbances in the transmitter systems of the brain and the central nervous system.

Achen and Bartels on the Democratical Republick

We examine how the notion of popular sovereignty has animated the evolution of American political institutions. We argue that the triumph of democratic rhetoric at the Founding has left Americans with just one remedy in times of governmental failure, namely that reform should move toward greater democratization. More “democratic” institutions have generally emerged (1) when existing institutions have been strained by economic or political crises, (2) when powerful elites have discerned an immediate political advantage in “reform,” and (3) when new institutions could be established with only modest popular involvement. Initially, reform meant extending the franchise and reducing the role of political parties. With time, it has come to mean greater reliance on plebiscitary elements in government. The result has been a gradual ratcheting-up of democratic expectations, and attendant discontents. We illustrate this process in the evolution of the direct primary and the establishment of initiative and referendum procedures in the Progressive Era. We also explore a notable case of resistance to direct democracy: the repeated failure of Minnesota voters to approve a constitutional amendment establishing a statewide initiative and referendum process.

The More the Merrier? Choosing the optimal number of representatives in modern democracies

In representative democracies, the few decide on behalf of the many. But how few?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Education: an expert on assessment offers sage commentary

this is crossposted from dailykos because I felt it was also relevant to a blog on educational policy

The expert is Rick Stiggins, who is the founder of ETS's Assement Training Institute in Portland OR. The sage commentary appears in the current )Oct 17) edition of Education Week, the national weekly indispensable for news on Education (and even if you are not a subscriber you can register for free to read two articles a week). The article to which I refer is entitled Five Assessment Myths and Their Consequences (this link might require you to register before you can use it). Below I will offer all five of the myths, a bit of what Stiggins has to say about each, and as per my custom, offer a few comments of my own.

Stiggins begins his commentary with the following introduction:
America has spent 60 years building layer upon layer of district, state, national, and international assessments at immense cost—and with little evidence that our assessment practices have improved learning. True, testing data have revealed achievement problems. But revealing problems and helping fix them are two entirely different things.

As a member of the measurement community, I find this legacy very discouraging. It causes me to reflect deeply on my role and function. Are we helping students and teachers with our assessment practices, or contributing to their problems?
He then tells the reader that assessments impact on school improvement has been seriously impacted by erroneous myths, five of which he wants to share with us.

Myth 1: The path to school improvement is paved with standardized tests. Stiggins traces the historic growth of standardized testing, then notes how it fails to meet most of the needs of those who contribute most to the effectiveness of schools, teachers and students. He concludes his examination of this myth as follows:
We have almost completely neglected classroom assessment in our obsession with standardized testing. Had we not, our path to school improvement would have been far more productive.

Myth 2: School and community leaders know how to use assessment to improve schools. Stiggins points out that most people have no idea of how to use the information from standardized tests, and that they way they are being used - rewarding and punishing - is demoralizing to the classroom teachers and schools who receive the latter. I note that I have described this approach, which is an essential part of NCLB, as "the beatings will continue until the morale improves."

Myth 3: Teachers are trained to assess productively. Stiggins begins by cutting to the heart of this myth:
Teachers can spend a quarter or more of their professional time involved in assessment-related activities. If they assess accurately and use results effectively, their students can prosper. Administrators, too, use assessment to make crucial curriculum and resource-allocation decisions that can improve school quality.
Of course the problem is most classroom teachers are NOT properly trained either in creating nor applying assessments. Sadly, few administrative personnel other than those formally trained in assessment have sufficient training.

Myth 4: Adult decisions drive school effectiveness. Stiggins points out this totally ignores the role of students and the decisions they make, which can be strongly influenced by whether or not they believe they can succeed, because if they don't, they give up. As he rightly notes:
The most valid and reliable “high stakes” test, if it causes students to give up in hopelessness, cannot be regarded as productive. It does more harm than good.

Myth 5: Grades and test scores maximize student motivation and learning. The heart of this myth can be seen in a short snippet of what Stiggins offers here:
Schools operated on the belief that if I fail you or threaten to do so, it will cause you to try harder. This was only true for those who felt in control of the success contingencies. For the others, chronic failure resulted, and the intimidation minimized their learning. True hopelessness always trumps pressure to learn.
Stiggins points out that if our goal is that all children succeed (aka "No Child Left Behind") we must provide a model where success is frequent and failure infrequent. This provides a framework of optimism, in which the student believes s/he can succeed. I will return to this point anon.

Stiggins argues that we have learned that we need to asses for learning rather than do what we have been doing, which is assessment of learning. He points out there is a well-established research base to prefer the former over the latter.

He also argues that our approach to assessment now, which is isolated, even if it includes benchmarks and interims as well as annual assessments, needs to be replaced with a system that includes ongoing in-class assessment. For this people at all levels of the educational system need to be properly trained. Stiggins also points out that policy makers - often themselves NOT educators - also need appropriate training in and understanding of assessment. I will return to these points as well.

Before I offer a few more comments of my own, I want to offer the close from Stiggins, because I think it is crucial in understanding the nature of the issue of proper use of assessment:
Of greatest importance, however, is that we acknowledge the key role of the learner in the assessment-learning connection. We must begin to use classroom assessment to help all students experience continuous success and come to believe in themselves as learners.

Let me begin with that last quote. I am a firm believer that one important - and often ignored - purpose of our schools should be to empower all of our students to be life-long learners. That will not happen unless they experience success in the controlled learning environment of school. How we use assessment can help or hinder that learning process. As a classroom teacher, my experience is that if students can learn from their mistakes and self-correct, if they do not see assessment as something punitive, but rather as supportive, they have less fear of being assessed. They become more confident, and as a result perform better, even on assessments that are quite difficult. Our current approach to testing and to test preparation seems totally contrary to my experience.

Far too many involved with education do not properly understand assessment. It is a minor part of teacher preparation programs, and is not always part of administration and leadership programs. Increasingly teachers are pressured to use pre-prepared testing material provided by textbook vendors. That does not mean that one is necessarily using canned tests, although that happens far too often. Instead there are item pools, groups of questions from which one can select. In theory these items have been vetted to ensure that they are not biased or poorly constructed, but the reality is far different.

Often in courses with high stakes end of course tests one is inclined to construct tests from released items from former tests. Of course, that presumes that such items were themselves properly constructed, which from my experience in Maryland I will assure is NOT always the case. I will let my students go through such items to familiarize themselves with test construction, and the kinds of items they will encounter. I generally will not use such items for an actual graded test, but that is my idiosyncratic approach: I want my students able to provide their own answer to a question, not merely pick which among four or five choices stinks the least.

If I were to focus on only three points from Stiggins, it would be these:

(1) we need far better understanding of the proper uses of assessment at all levels of the educational process, from the highest level of policy maker to the individual classroom teaching

(2) Most assessment will continue to be done at the classroom level: teachers and students need the more immediate feedback classroom level assessment provides. It seems to me that our assessment for accountability purposes should not be in isolation from or in ontradiction to in class and in school assessment, but instead should use these as basic building blocks. This requires rethinking how we do assessment, but we are not on totally new ground. Here I strongly recommend those interested in this subject explore what Nebraska has been doing. One can look at the website for STARS, which is the state's "School-based Teacher-led Assessment Reporting System." I also suggest looking at the webpage of Doug Christensen, who is Nebraska's Commissioner of Education (and who served as a panelist at Yearlykos 2007).

(3) If our goal is truly to leave no child behind, perhaps rather than insisting that the child be squeezed into a standardized model of assessment that is not fair to all children we think about ensuring that we provide assessments upon which the child can build, that is, experience success, have some understanding of her own learning, and thus gain some control over his own success.

I do not believe we will totally do away with mass-produced tests, largely prepared by for-profit entities (and even the ostensibly no-profit ETS acts more and more like a for profit entity). Such tests are one form of assessment. They should not be the only form, nor should they be the primary method of how we assess learning. Assessment should be much more geared towards being formative, towards helping the learner and the instructor - helping both in enabling the learner to improve her learning. Unfortunately our approach has been increasingly summative, measuring at the end when it is too late for that measurement to provide meaning for the student, or information to improve instruction for the cohort of students being tested. And then we use the performance on such summative measure to punish and praise, to rank and compare. That seems inimical to the idea of leaving no child behind, if the result is to say too bad, you don't graduate or your school is no good. ha ha. Too bad you wasted a year or more.

I am not an assessment expert. Stiggins is, and those who would like to know more about his ideas can go to the website for the Assessment Training Institute, or perhaps peruse the links at this google search.

Maryland schools were closed today. I was catching up on things, including dental appointments and back reading. I did not get to the Stiggins commentary until mid-afternoon. I hope this diary gets some visibility, because I think the ideas are important, but I am not going to obsess over it.

Do with it what you will.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hillary on Education -some promise but overall incomplete and somewhat disappointing

this is a continuation of my crossposting diaries from dailykos on the educational plans of the Democratic candidates for president. To read the original version of this diary on Clinton with all the comments, use this link. This is posted without changing the original date references

Yesterday the American Federation of Teachers, with over 1.4 million members endorsed Hillary Clinton for President. Thus it seems an appropriate time to examine what Hillary has to offer about education on her website. When one goes to her issues page, there is no specific link to education, but if one goes to the link entitled SUPPORTING PARENTS AND CARING FOR CHILDREN one finds a number of items pertaining to education. In addition, one find a number o educational items on the various INITIATIVES AND FACT SHEETS which are available as links under the list of HILLARY ON THE ISSUES.

Let’s examine the items listed (only as bullet points) that appear after the lead-in of “Among the issues she has fought for and will make a priority as president are:”

In the block quote below I have included the full text of the five (out of a total of ten) items that can in any way be considered part of an education program. These are

• Attracting and supporting more outstanding teachers and principals, and paying them like the professionals they are.
• Reforming the No Child Left Behind Act. This law represented a promise -- more resources for schools in exchange for more accountability -- and that promise has not been kept.
• Increasing access to high-quality early education and helping to create Early Head Start.
• Promoting programs, like Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, that provide new parents with support and guidance in caring for their children. As First Lady of Arkansas, she helped bring HIPPY to the U.S.
• Protecting children against violence and sexual content in the media and studying the impact of electronic media on children's cognitive, social, and physical development.

I recognize that the final point is not strictly education, but as cognitive, social and physical development are areas of concerns for children’s ability to succeed in school, they are as relevant to an education plan as are Edwards’ proposals about vision and hearing testing, for example.

All of the points listed are good, but I see no comprehensive vision that ties them together. For example, I would like to know what specific proposals for reforming NCLB she would be willing to support. Given that she sits on the Senate Committee (HELP) with responsibility for the reauthorization, I find the lack of such detail somewhat bothersome, especially given her long track record in dealing with issues of education, a record that was quite extensive in her role of FIrst Lady of Arkansas.

There are six items listed under INITIATIVES AND FACT SHEETS:
• A Modern Progressive Vision
• Agenda to Lower Health Care Costs
• Universal Pre-K
• Hillary's Housing Initiatives
• Youth Opportunity Agenda
• Protecting Against Elder Abuse

One would not expect the first, fourth and sixth of these to be related to education, and a quick examination confirms such to be the case. But what about the others?

The Modern Progressive Vision begins with a detailed list of items that are wrong in America. It is interesting that the final level of the URL for this fact sheet is “inequality” which is the issue the vision is supposed to address. Clinton lists 9 principles/policies that together are presented as addressing the issue of inequality. Of these, only two address educational matters:
5. Give every young person an opportunity to attend college, and ensure that education starts early in life and continues into adulthood.College should be made more affordable so that students of all backgrounds can attend. Also, every child should have ready access to high quality pre-K.
6. More support for community colleges and lifelong learning. We should expand regional skills alliances and other job training programs to ensure workers have the valuable skills they need.

Neither of these addresses the issue of K-12 education which has been being destroyed by NCLB.

The fact sheet on Universal Pre-K is quite detailed. One finds citations to support the case for universal pre-K, similar to the kinds of citations in Edwards’ educational plan. Like Edwards, there is a requirement for a bachelor’s degree for providers, and there are some good points about sustaining current community-provided pre-K centers and working through governors to make the application of federal funds more locally effective.

Most of the detailed information related to education is found in the section on the Youth Opportunity Agenda. There is material that is repeated from other sections - thus one finds again the details of the plan for universal pre-K, including a funding level of $10 Billion (no time period is specified for that amount).

One finds some overlap with the plans offered by other candidates. Thus Clinton proposed $100 Million for “a New Public/Private Summer Internship Program” intended to address the the loss of learning that at-risk children experience during the summer. I have previously noted that Obama, perhaps given his experience as a community organizer, made addressing the summer learning gap a major part of his educational proposal. Thus while I am glad to see this proposal, I have to point out that the amount proposed is laughably small given the number of children we would need to reach. Universal Pre-K is given 100 times this amount to cover a period of one year: for four-year olds. If one considers pre-school to cover 10 months compared to the 2 months of summer, the funding disparity is at a rate of 20-1. But the summer would in theory be covering every year after K, or a total of 12 years, after K through after 11. Even if we are are not staffing at the same level we need to use for pre-K, it seems to me that this provision does not even represent a bandage on the hemorrhaging of learning that is occurring during the summer months.

There are several other provisions in this initiative that are educationally related. There is a section entitled “Expand Early-Intervention Mentoring Programs to Help One Million At-Risk Youth Aspire for College and Job Success.” Perhaps because this is based on some preexisting programs, Clinton intends this to fulfill some of the need that I would have expected to be addressed in the summer program. The two are related, and do appear consecutively, under the title “PROVIDE EARLY MENTORING AND SUPPORT TO KEEP AT-RISK YOUTH ON TRACK”.

There are also two items listed under the heading “SUPPORT COMPREHENSIVE, COMMUNITY-BASED APPROACHES TO REENGAGING DISCONNECTED YOUTH”. The first of these is somewhat less purely educational: “Provide Opportunity for 1.5 Million Disconnected Youth in Job Programs Linked to High-Growth Economic Sectors”. It is dealing with those who are no longer in school. The first sentence after the title is as follows:
Hillary understands that young people who are out of work and out of school need more than a minimum-wage job -- they need skills, self-confidence, a supportive community, and relevant academic and skills training that can put them back on the path to education or a high-paying job in their own community.
It does relate to education, because sometimes students can be reconnected to education through recognizing the relationship between the opportunity for a particular kind of work and specific related education. Clinton proposes to build this upon a number of extant and successful federal programs which currently serve only about 200,000 students.

The second area in this section is entitled “Support City and Community Plans to Track Drop-Outs and Take Responsibility for Disconnected Youth”. The first sentence makes clear the origins of her thinking on this:
Hillary believes it will truly "take a village" to address the overlapping educational, economic and social challenges facing disconnected youth.
Clinton proposed making this community based, and is willing to send $250 million ANNUALLY (the only time I found a time period specified) on a “competitive grants” basis to “lower-income cities and communities. “ I have several problems with this. The dropout problem does not only exist in lower income communities, the approach implies pitting communities against one another, and the funding amounts again seems quite meager given the scope of the known problem.

I have covered EVERYTHING I could find related to education policy. Let me now offer some more analysis and summary of my own.

I do not know the timing of when Clinton developed and posted her ideas versus when Edwards or Obama did. Thus I am not going to engage in accusing anyone of borrowing from or playing off of the previous efforts of a competitor. In fact, there are few new ideas in education, and most of the good ideas have been out there for quite some time. We know the issues confronting our communities, our schools, our teachers, and our students.

I note detailed efforts at the front end: pre-K. I note serious efforts to address those who are dropping out, although as noted I find these not funded at a level that I think will truly make a difference. Similarly, I do note some attempts to address the issues of at-risk students during the summer. And here I acknowledge that when LBJ began large-scale federal assistance to schools through Title I it was intended to address issues of inequity facing so many at-risk students. Thus I do not object to a focus on that.

What bothers me is the complete lack of detail to so much of what is at the heart of our educational crisis. I see no detail on addressing the problems of No Child Left Behind, not even a statement about moving to measuring individual student growth instead of comparing unlike cohorts - and this is an issue on which there is widespread agreement, even from the leadership of the Department of Education. I see nothing about using different measures of accountability rather than single measure tests. And even when some issues are mentioned, I find a lack of specificity and completeness that concerns me.

For example, let’s return to the first point mentioned, which I will again quote:
Attracting and supporting more outstanding teachers and principals, and paying them like the professionals they are

I see nothing on retention, on professional development, on TREATING them like professionals - and that is an issue of which low pay is only one part of the problem. How does Clinton propose to pay teachers more? What will she require in return? Edwards is willing to pay additional to National Board Certified Teachers willing to mentor others, to serve in high needs schools, and so on. What about working conditions, for example overcrowded classrooms?

One critical issue for AFT is the decrepit condition of America’s school buildings. One reason I know is that I was asked if I would be willing to write about the report AFT did on the subject. You may remember my highly recommended diary entitled Raw sewage, mold, and mice droppings. I see nothing in Clinton’s plan that addresses this critical issue. I am going to exercise privilege and quote two and a fraction paragraphs of what I wrote in that diary almost two years ago:
I am in my 12th year of public school teaching. I have taught in 3 buildings, student taught in two more, and during my training and teaching had occasion to be inside several dozen additional school buildings in multiple cities and districts. I have encountered, either personally or by observation, situations of exposed wires, puddles on floors, buckets in hallways to catch the leaks from the roof when it rains, mouse droppings, room temperatures not under the control of teachers ranging from 45 degrees in winter to 90 degrees on other occasions. I have been in rooms with no natural light when the power went out and the only thing preventing total darkness was a screen saver on a computer. I have seen student bathrooms with no doors on the stalls and hence no privacy. I know of school buildings in which a series of teachers on the same corridor all became seriously ill. I have encountered science labs that lacked proper ventilation. There have been classrooms with more students than desks (fortunately I have avoided this in my own career), and desks and chairs that were too small, or broken. There would be water fountains that didn’t work, and worse.

Students are often far more perceptive than adults realize. They see the conditions in which they attend school and quickly draw the conclusion that their learning is really not important, otherwise they would not be subjected to such indignities. As adults we would be quite upset to be confined by force of law to such an environment and then be expected to perform to a set of standards that were already in many cases unreasonable. Were we describing such conditions in a manufacturing environment we might rightly attached the pejorative label of sweatshop, and we would expect that the authorities would intervene on the grounds of public health and safety. And yet for far too long we have tolerated such conditions in our public schools.

If we are truly going to insist on educational equity, as is the underlying principle of NCLB, then such equity must include the conditions under which we attempt to have our children learn.

Clinton has a track record, going back to her service as First Lady of Arkansas, which shows a deep commitment to education, especially of those who are at-risk. She know the benefits of a good public education, having herself attended superb schools in suburban Chicago. She now has almost 7 years service on the Senate Committee which addresses education. Given all that I have to say that I am disappointed by what I DON'T see about education on her campaign website. What she has is pointed in the right direction, but it is in my opinion quite incomplete. I do not see how the pieces totally tie together, perhaps because of what I don’t find, such as the missing specifics I have already addressed.

I have little doubt that a Hillary Clinton administration would be far friendlier to and more supportive of public education and teachers than is the Bush administration. But that is not enough for me. I look back to some of the educational policies of her husband both as governor and as president and see the seeds that led almost inevitably to NCLB. Remember, Bill Clinton was responsible for Goals2000, which set an unreachable goal - to be first in the world in math and science by 2000. That is the obvious precursor to the impossibility of 100% proficiency by 2014 that means that the Adequate Yearly Progress feature of NCLB will inevitably lead to well over 95% of American schools being labeled as ‘failures” well before that magic year hits.

I hope that Clinton will be willing to flesh out her educational plan with more detail as the campaign progresses. I wish she would be more of a leader on things like the rewrite of NCLB.

Were I deciding on a candidate to support at this point, and only looking at what they present on education, both Obama and Edwards would be far ahead of Clinton based on what I can read on their websites. I am not deciding now. Nor will I decide solely on education.

My students just got interim progress reports for the 1st quarter. That lets them know how they are doing, and what changes are necessary for them to be successful. For Mrs. Clinton, I would, besides any letter grade i would award, add the appropriate comments to the effect that she has an interest in the subject, but does not seem yet to completely follow through on her work. She shows some promise, but the jury is still out. Or as I said in the title of this diary, “some promise but overall incomplete and somewhat disappointing.”

That is, disappointing so far. This would be like the student who the teacher knows is capable of so much more. A good teacher affirms what is good, but challenges the student to live up to her potential. So I hope that Mrs. Clinton will pleasantly surprise me with improvement the next time I check her work on education.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Questions for the AESA Executive Committee

Questions for the AESA Executive Committee

The American Educational Studies Association (AESA) is meeting next week in Cleveland. AESA is, according to its website, “a society primarily comprised of college and university professors who teach and research in the field of education utilizing one or more of the liberal arts disciplines of philosophy, history, politics, sociology, anthropology, or economics as well as comparative/international and cultural studies. The purpose of social foundations study is to bring intellectual resources derived from these areas to bear in developing interpretive, normative, and critical perspectives on education, both inside of and outside of schools.” I think about the social foundations – and more broadly multicultural foundations (i.e., educational policy, foundations, and multicultural education) – as one of the few spaces within educator preparation where students are able to grapple with big picture, counter-intuitive, and complex and controversial issues. It is also a discipline, I have argued, that is highly marginalized. Yet given this, I have seen very little activity from AESA that would suggest that there is trouble in the field. I speak only as a single member of AESA. But any and every member should be kept abreast of what AESA does. I have seen little. I would assume that it is the executive committee of AESA that is to be held accountable. According to the AESA bylaws they are the “principal policy-making body” of AESA.

So here are some questions I wish they would answer:

1. Who is a member of AESA? Are they primarily graduate students or tenured faculty? Are they historians? Sociologists? Educators? No comprehensive survey of the field has been done since the mid-1980s. AESA, in other words, doesn’t really know who its constituents are, what they need out of AESA, or how they can best be supported.
2. Who is not a member of AESA but should be? The AESA membership list consists of about 500 individuals. Yet there are about 1,400 teacher education programs. Assuming that every program has a required introduction or foundation course; assuming that 25% require a multicultural education course (see my data in the article cited above); assuming 2 sections per program (a conservative estimate): that means that there are a minimum of 3,000 sections taught every semester. And that’s not even counting specialized courses such as anthropology of education, etc. Put otherwise, there are a huge number (literally thousands) of potential faculty who seemingly should be a part of AESA but aren’t.
3. How is AESA working to support the field and its constituents? AESA or its representatives no longer have any interaction with the two major accrediting institutions –NCATE and TEAC – that have oversight into what schools of education should teach and how. AESA has no formal linkages to AACTE, the main umbrella organization for schools of education. How else can AESA support the creation or sustainability of foundations positions, foundations perspectives, and tenure-track lines?
4. How can I learn more? AESA created a listserv back in July to foster dialogue. Yet after a flurry of immediate activity (sparked by, it just so happened, my question of what constituted allowable speech on such a listserv), it has been almost completely silent.

Am I being unreasonable? Asking for too much? Perhaps. But in the face of such seemingly major problems and issues I would hope for more.