Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Dumbest Generation?

Every generation thinks its teenagers are the worst.
The old have been wringing their hands about the young's cultural wastelands and ignorance of history at least since admirers of Sophocles and Aeschylus bemoaned the popularity of Aristophanes ("The Frogs," for Zeussakes?!) as leading to the end of (Greek) civilization as they knew it. The Civil War generation was aghast at the lurid dime novels of the late 1800s. Victorian scholars considered Dickens, that plot-loving, sentimental ("A Christmas Carol") favorite, a lightweight compared with other authors of the time. Civilization, and culture high and low, survived it all.
Is today's generation really the dumbest?

A different way of assessing student learning

is rather than by tests by portfolios and performances. Yesterday I attended a conference in Providence, Rhode Island co-sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Education which was mainly put on by the Coalition of Essential Schools, an organization which flows from the work of Theodore Sizer, who was one of the speakers.

I plan to write in depth about what I saw when I have time to organize my thoughts - I did not get home until 1 AM this morning, and I still have my own school responsibilities. I saw some examples of student performances and portfolios, I have where possible tried to use the approach in my own teaching, know there is literature that supports the approach, and mention right now that the state of Rhode Island now includes this as a graduation requirement.

But since I may not post my more detailed report for several days, and there is something of value tomorrow, I wanted to be sure if you are interested in performance assessment, whether as an educator, a parent, a student, a policy maker, or simply a citizen, tomorrow you will have a very special opportunity, and I wanted to give you the heads up now.

Here is the press release that explains what you can experience tomorrow:
To mark the end of this year’s National Exhibition Month, CES will host a unique web event on Friday, May 30th (2:00 p.m. Eastern, 11:00 a.m. Pacific), allowing educators, policy makers, parents and students to see, in action, the power of exhibitions as a means of assessing student learning.

CES will webcast (
an exhibition that occurred earlier in the month in which a student presents her Graduation Exhibition to a panel of evaluators and guests that determines whether she has met proficiency requirements. During the webcast, CES Executive Director Lewis Cohen will be available to answer questions about the exhibition in real time.

Gail Stafford, a senior at Francis W. Parker Essential School in Devens, Massachusetts, is the featured student in the webcast. Her exhibition is the culminating presentation of her year-long senior project that applies Professor Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences to an analysis of modern dance, integrating the theory in an original choreography.

We invite the CES community to view the webcast this Friday!

Date: Friday, May 30th
Time: 2:00 p.m. Eastern, 11:00 a.m. Pacific
Duration: 40 minutes
Log on to:

If you have any interest in a better way of assessing learning beyond the ubiquitous number two pencil and scantron, you might find it worthwhile to clear the time to watch this webcast.


Monday, May 26, 2008

"muscular philanthropy"

Posted, too, at SM:
Muscular philanthropy--that's what Fred Hess calls the kind of Walton-Broad-Gates phalanx that has as one of its goals the charterizing (rhymes with cauterizing) of American public schools, beginning first in the urban schools where voucher efforts have been unsuccessful so far. Bill and Melinda, the darlings of the neoliberal set, are a bit queasy regarding vouchers, having the ongoing history that they do with the education establishment. See, too, "How Many Billionaires Does It Take to Fix a School System," NY Times Magazine, 3/9/08.
Now charter schools are a different matter, particularly as we have elements of the AFT and the head of the SEIU, Andy Stern, on board with Steve Barr, Eli Broad, and the Gates Foundation to craft a corporate-controlled version of public schools for the poor and working classes at a 20 percent savings to the taxpayer (and a 20% cost to teachers). Bill and Melinda, in fact, gave $7.8 million to Green Dot Public Schools, Inc. last July. That's a nifty complement to the $20+ million already dished up by the Broad Foundation for the LAUSD charter takeover.

(Photo: Andy Stern (SEIU) looks on as Steve Barr, CEO of Green Dot Public Schools, Inc. presents Eli Broad a plaque for $10 million given at the first annual Green Dot Ball, November 2007, Los Angeles).

Now I don't know if you would label corporate control of the public schools as social control. I guess some would call it corporate socialism or just plain fascism. For those, however, seeking more evidence of Bill's boyish, if slightly creaky, charm applied to using private billions to buy the public good, here are a few additional links here, here, here. I wish I had time to summarize them for Dr. Anonymous, but I am going the beach in few minutes.

The saddest part of all this is that the corporate media outlets offer ample opportunity for Broad and others of his ilk to pump the KIPP charter chain gangs (Bill and Melinda gave $7.9 million to KIPP in 2004) as the modern day solution to the "negro problem." Ed Week has only a slightly more nuanced approach, as Tmao Essj points out in this blog entry from last June:
The June 13 issued of Education Week published an article on student attrition at KIPP schools, particularly the two in San Francisco and one in Oakland, that didn't bury the lede as much as it pretended it didn't exist. Somewhat surprisingly, all manner of bloggers and commenters performed the same intellectual sleight-of-hand.

The article is trapped behind a subscription wall, making it unlinkable, but Ed Week correctly reports that fewer than half of the kids that begin the Bay Area KIPP schools as 5th graders in 2003 make it to 8th grade in 2006. In the Oakland incarnation, the attrition rate climbs to 75 percent. The article ignores the fact that these lost students are overwhelmingly African-American males. The three Bay Area KIPPs lost 77, 67, and 71 percent of its Young Black Males (YBMs) during this time period.

That's the story Ed Week. That's the story Eduwonk. That's the story, KIPP PR fixers.

There's more Black males on the KIPP website than in the KIPP. . . .
Admittedly, these attrition rates for KIPP in the Bay Area are not as bad (or good) as they were at the Hampton Institute in 1900 in Virginia (or the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama), when one out of five students who entered those industrial education/teacher training camps earned certificates to permit them to brainwash black children throughout the South in the "dignity of labor," but you have to admit the KIPP numbers are pretty impressive stats. The washouts, of course, have an economic function, too, providing as they do the future customers in the privately-managed prison industrial complex that the technocrats have devised to replace, yet another, civic responsibility.

You can be sure, however, that those black and brown KIPP-sters who make it through the direct instruction gauntlet are no less ready than the Hampton graduates to do, as Booker T. Washington did, the work that is offered by the overseers whose respect must be earned--repeatedly. WORK HARD, BE NICE--indeed.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ed Links (Belated)

These have been piling up. This is part I

Working Memory Has Limited 'Slots'

A new study shows how our very short-term "working memory," which allows the brain to stitch together sensory information, operates. The system retains a limited number of high-resolution images for a few seconds, rather than a wider range of fuzzier impressions. Humans rarely move their eyes smoothly. As our eyes flit from object to object, the visual system briefly shuts off to cut down visual "noise," said one of the psychologists. So the brain gets a series of snapshots of about a quarter-second, separated by brief gaps.

Why We Don't Always Learn From Our Mistakes

If you are struggling to retrieve a word that you are certain is on the tip of your tongue, or trying to perfect a slapshot that will send your puck flying into a hockey net, or if you keep stumbling over the same sequence of notes on the piano, be warned: you might be unconsciously creating a pattern of failure, a new study reveals. Researchers find that practice doesn't always make perfect; sometimes the effort instills a pattern that dooms us to failure.

Overweight Kids Need Less Intensive Exercise For Effective Weight Loss, Study Suggests

Overweight kids are better off doing less intensive exercise if they are to shed the pounds effectively, suggests a study of pubescent boys. The researchers assessed the rate at which fat was burned (fat oxidation) during graded leg cycling exercises in thirty 12 year old boys, 17 of whom were obese. The others were lean and healthy.

Poor Kids Four Times As Likely To Be Seriously Injured On Roads As Rich Kids, UK Study Shows

Rates of serious injury among child pedestrians in poor areas of England are four times as high as those among children in affluent areas, finds new research. The findings are based on an analysis of hospital admission rates for children aged up to 15 between 1999 and 2004. Almost 664,000 children up to the age of 15 were admitted to hospital during this period, of which almost 8,000 were for serious injuries.

Why High School Boys Dodge Gym Class

As obesity and inactivity among North America's youth becomes a growing concern, new research is asking why some high school boys are reluctant to participate in physical education classes. And while much of the research being publicly debated links the inactivity to television and computer use, one professor is examining the relationship between perceived masculinity, body image, and health.

New Research Dispels Myth That Cigarettes Make Teenage Girls Thinner, But Smoking May Stunt Growth Of Teenage Boys

New research shows teenage girls who smoke cigarettes are no more likely to lose weight than girls who don't smoke, dispelling a commonly-held belief. In addition, boys who smoke cigarettes show a decrease in height as well as body mass index (BMI). These findings could have important public health implications, especially since many young girls cite weight control --- or the desire to be runway model thin --- as a reason for taking up smoking.

Boosting Self-esteem Can Backfire In Decision-making

Smart business leaders understand that confidence affects decision-making and ultimately a company's earnings. But giving employees positive feedback in the hopes of promoting better decisions sometimes can backfire, suggests new research. Positive feedback actually can escalate perceived threats to the ego and increase the need to prove that a questionable decision was the right one.

One Bad Experience Linked To Sniffing Out The Danger

Each human nose encounters hundreds of thousands of scents in its daily travels perched front and center on our face. Some of these smells are nearly identical, so how do we learn to tell the critical ones apart? Something bad has to happen. Then the nose becomes a very quick learner. New research shows a single negative experience linked to an odor rapidly teaches us to discriminate that odor from similar ones.

Neurons Hard Wired To Tell Left From Right

It's well-known that the left and right sides of the brain differ in many animal species and this is thought to influence cognitive performance and social behavior. For instance, in humans, the left half of the brain is concerned with language processing whereas the right side is better at comprehending musical melody. Now scientists have pinpointed for the first time, the left/right differences in how brains are wired at the level of individual cells.

Robotic Minds Think Alike?

Most schoolchildren struggle to learn geometry, but they are still able to catch a ball without first calculating its parabola. Why should robots be any different? Researchers have developed an artificial cognitive system that learns from experience and observation rather than relying on predefined rules and models.

Teenage Risk-taking: Teenage Brains Really Are Different From Child Or Adult Brains

Many parents are convinced that the brains of their teenage offspring are different than those of children and adults. New data confirms that this is the case. A new article describes how brain changes in the adolescent brain impact cognition, emotion and behavior.

Preschool Kids Do Better When They Talk To Themselves, Research Shows

Parents should not worry when their pre-schoolers talk to themselves; in fact, they should encourage it, says a new study. The study shows that children do better on motor tasks when they talk to themselves out loud than when they are silent. Researchers also looked for the first time at the ways that autistic children talk to themselves and the effectiveness it has on the way they do things.

Compassion Meditation Changes The Brain

Can we train ourselves to be compassionate? A new study suggests the answer is yes. Cultivating compassion and kindness through meditation affects brain regions that can make a person more empathetic to other peoples' mental states, according to new research.

Brain's 'Sixth Sense' For Calories Discovered

The brain can sense the calories in food, independent of the taste mechanism, researchers have found in studies with mice. Their finding that the brain's reward system is switched on by this "sixth sense" machinery could have implications for understanding the causes of obesity. For example, the findings suggest why high-fructose corn syrup, widely used as a sweetener in foods, might contribute to obesity.

Playing Numerical Board Games Boosts Number Skills Of Low-income Preschoolers

A study conducted with low-income preschoolers attending Head Start found that certain numerical board games increased early math learning. Board games with consecutively numbered, linearly arranged spaces helped children learn about counting, identifying numerals and comparing the sizes of numbers. Children playing an identical game that varied in color rather than number did not improve in these areas. Playing such board games could help lessen discrepancies in early math learning, which predicts later math achievement.

Seeing May Be Believing -- But Is It The Same As Looking?

If you see something, it's because you're looking at it, right? A recent study has established that while people do tend to notice objects within their gaze, it is the assumptions they make about their environment that affects their perceptions. People are biased towards believing that they were looking directly at what they have seen.

Children Who Bully Also Have Problems With Other Relationships

Children who bully were found to have conflict in relationships with their parents and friends, and also to associate with others who bully. Researchers looked at 871 students for seven years, beginning at age 10, and found that most children engage in bullying at some point. The research underscores that bullying is a "relationship problem" that calls for interventions targeting the aggressive behavior, social skills, and problem-solving skills, and also on bullying children's strained relationships.

Youth's Social Problems Contribute To Anxiety And Depression

A longitudinal study found that individuals with social problems in childhood and adolescence were at increased risk for anxiety and depression in young adulthood. Researchers followed 205 8- to 12-year olds for 20 years and conducted detailed interviews to examine how anxiety and depression related to social competence over time. The relationship between decreased social competence and "internalizing problems" remained the same when explanations including intellectual functioning, quality of parenting, social class, were accounted for.

Antisocial Conduct And Decision Making About Aggressive Behavior Influence Each Other In Teens

Antisocial behavior was previously thought to be unchangeable in the teenage years. New findings suggest that social decision making and behavior reciprocally influence each other throughout adolescence. The study of 522 boys and girls in 7th through 12th grades utilized parent questionnaires and self-report measures to examine teenagers' judgments and behavior. The relation between decision-making and aggressive behavior supports the need for interventions that change thinking in antisocial adolescents to prevent aggressive responses in behavior.

'Digital Skills Divide' Emerging

While the "digital divide" may be narrowing in terms of access to the Internet, a significant "digital skills divide" is emerging. Researchers found the higher the socio-economic status, the greater the time spent on the Web and the more sophisticated the search and evaluation skills. Google was the favored search engine by parents in the high socio-economic group.

Adolescents With Chronic Insomnia Report 'Twofold To Fivefold' Increase In Personal Problems

Chronic insomnia is costing adolescents more than sleep. It's been linked to a wide range of physical, psychological and interpersonal problems, according to public health researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, who completed the first prospective study of adolescents with persistent sleep problems. Documenting a "twofold to fivefold" increase in personal problems among adolescents with persistent sleeplessness, public health researchers say they have completed the first prospective study demonstrating the negative impact of chronic insomnia on 11 to 17 year olds. More than one fourth of the youths surveyed had one or more symptoms of insomnia and almost half of these youngsters had chronic conditions.

Language Feature Unique To Human Brain Identified

Researchers have identified a language feature unique to the human brain that is shedding light on how human language evolved. The study marks the first use of diffusion tensor imaging, a noninvasive imaging technique, to compare human brain structures to those of chimpanzees, our closest living relative.

Color Vision System Independent Of Motion Detection in Eye Sight

The vision system used to process color is separate from that used to detect motion, according to a new study. The findings run counter to previous scholarship that suggested motion detection and color contrast may work in tandem.

Childhood Personality Can Predict Important Outcomes In Emerging Adulthood

A new study in the Journal of Personality reveals the extent to which children's personality types can predict the timing of key transitional moments between childhood and adulthood. The 19-year longitudinal study illustrated that childhood personality types were meaningfully associated with the timing of the transitions.

We Help Friends Due To Empathy; Relatives Due To Expectation Of Reciprocity

Empathy is an emotional reaction to the plight of others. Empathy can lead to altruistic behavior, i.e. helping someone with the sole intention of enhancing that person's wellbeing. If we see people in difficulty, for example, we feel the same emotions, and this may prompt us to help them. Yet the relationship between empathy and altruism is still far from clear. One young psychologist has researched the topic and concluded that when we help friends in need, we are prompted by feelings of empathy, and that when we help relatives we do so because we have expectations of reciprocity.

Brains Are Hardwired To Act According To The Golden Rule

Wesley Autrey, a black construction worker, a Navy veteran and 55-year-old father of two, didn't know the young man standing beside him. But when he had a seizure on the subway platform and toppled onto the tracks, Autrey jumped down after him and shielded him with his body as a train bore down on them. Autrey could have died, so why did he put his life on the line -- literally -- to save this complete stranger?

Hyperactive Girls Face Problems As Adults, Study Shows

Young girls who are hyperactive are more likely to get hooked on smoking, under-perform in school or jobs and gravitate towards mentally abusive relationships as adults, according to a new study.

Comprehensive Sex Education Might Reduce Teen Pregnancies, Study Suggests

New research suggests that comprehensive sex education might lead to less teen pregnancy, and there are no indications that it boosts the levels of sexual intercourse or sexually transmitted diseases. "It is not harmful to teach teens about birth control in addition to abstinence," said the study's lead author. Parents and educators have long argued over whether students should get instruction in birth control or simply learn how to say no. At issue is which approach will best postpone sex.

Children With Healthier Diets Do Better In School, Study Suggests

A new study in the Journal of School Health reveals that children with healthy diets perform better in school than children with unhealthy diets. Students with an increased fruit and vegetable intake and less caloric intake from fat were significantly less likely to fail the literacy assessment.

Of the Education Trust and others

After Friday's entry by Jim Horn on Ed Trust's Amy Wilkins, and yesterday's entry by Philip Kovacs, I think I want to put in my two cents' worth on the discussion of philanthropy and education policy. I disagree with Education Trust on a number of policy issues, but I also disagree with Jim and Philip in their interpretation of Ed Trust and inside-the-Beltway institutional allies as illegitimate actors. I think that does not float as a concept, if for no other reason than my democratic assumption that everyone is a legitimate political actor. (Among other reasons to take this stance, there is the simple fact that since many inside-the-Beltway actors attempt to delegitimize teachers unions, it would be hypocritical of me to point out the legitimacy of teachers' perspectives and then try to undermine the right of others to push their POV.)

I think there can and should be some hard-nosed analysis of the major philanthropies currently active, but that's a little different from what I've read in the past few days. I don't agree with Stanley Fish on everything, but when I strongly disagree with something I see in the political sphere, my instinct is to academicize it. At AERA's retrospective on his 1988 book that analyzed 19th and early 20th century foundations, Jim Anderson demurred commentary on today's philanthropies. Leo Casey had the most recent shot at such an analysis a week ago, and that focused on the "seeing like a state" perspective of Ed Trust et al. I am not analyzing the philanthropies today but just pointing out some relevant questions that would be appropriate research topics.

  • What is the long-term strategy of the most active foundations such as Gates and Broad? While most folks focus on the national scene (see the links in Casey's blog entry), both foundations have spent millions trying to influence local school districts, but with somewhat different aims and tools. My impression: Gates uses its money as bait for districts to try the foundation's panacea du jour, from small schools to a certain high school curriculum to ... well, whatever strikes the foundation's key officers next year. On the other hand, Broad's strategy relies on creating a professional network of superintendents it has sponsored in multiple ways, from its chosen professional development to what I have heard is pushing its candidates in specific searches. I have good reason to conclude that the Broad Prize is the end of that process, and a promise to districts that they will be rewarded for picking Broad candidates for leadership.
  • What is the role of inside-the-Beltway organizations in those strategies? As Jim Anderson said this spring, you can't really know how the pieces all fit together unless you have access to the confidential documents (which he did for historical foundations). Yet you can probe around the edges of those roles for Education Trust and others. My impression: Since the DC-centered organizations have their own agendas, even if overlapping with the perspectives of foundation officers, this is less a matter of funding a specific agenda than with a type of philanthropic venture capital: seed a bunch of organizations with operating resources and see what they can do. That gives the funders an important reputational stake in the fortunes of their beneficiaries, but without necessarily a stake in the specific agendas of their beneficiaries. The recipients of aid can give reputational credit back to the funders if the recipients thrive. And even if they don't thrive, well, ...
  • What do the foundations' failures tell us about them? My impression: We can laugh at Ed in '08's ineffectiveness thus far, and at the collapse of the Gates small-schools initiative, but both efforts indicate serious persistence on the part of the sponsoring foundations. These are not necessarily nimble operations, but they have the depth of resources to invest heavily in strategies, even when individual strategies might well fail.
The Education Trust does not have any membership base and does not represent any constituency, but that has not stopped it from becoming an active player in Washington. Education Trust has used the Gates Foundation's support to build its operations, but its inside-the-Beltway legitimacy comes from the political work of Haycock and others and its ability to be at the table when the topic includes issues it cares about. From a stylistic standpoint, Wilkins' sharp comments (at 1:15) fit well with the type of cocksure attitudes on Capitol Hill that I discussed earlier this month on my own blog.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


As Amy Wilkins works for the Education Trust (THE TRUST), I thought a few words on the organization might be apropos. No sniping here...okay...not too much sniping here...if my blogmanship is poor, note so in the comments and I'll work on it!

For starters, THE TRUST is made possible by the generous support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: $5,076,846 according to Gates Foundation Records.

“Established in 1990 by the American Association for Higher Education as a special project to encourage colleges and universities to support K-12 reform efforts,” the Education Trust has matured into “the #1 education advocacy organization of the decade, according to the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center. The Ed Trust was also ranked as a top influential information source in education policy, and [their] president, Kati Haycock, was ranked as one of the most influential people in education.

The two most influential people in education above Mrs. Haycock were Bill Gates and George W. Bush, respectively.

From THE TRUST’s website:
• The Education Trust works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-kindergarten through college, and forever closing the achievement gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from other youth. Our basic tenet is this — All children will learn at high levels when they are taught to high levels.

• The Education Trust provides: advocacy that encourages schools, colleges, and whole communities to mount effective campaigns so that all their students will reach high levels of academic achievement; analysis and expert testimony on policies intended to improve education; and writing and speaking for professional and general audiences about educational patterns and practices — both those that cause and those that close achievement gaps between groups of students; research and wide public dissemination of data identifying achievement patterns among different groups of students; assistance to school districts, colleges, and community-based organizations to help their efforts at raising student achievement, especially among minority and poor students.
This certainly sounds noble, but their methods, their misrepresentations, and their oversimplifications are might even use the word propaganda here...

From Wikipedia:
Propaganda is a type of message aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of people. Often, instead of impartially providing information, propaganda can be deliberately misleading, or using fallacies, which, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid. Propaganda techniques include: patriotic flag-waving, glittering generalities, intentional vagueness, oversimplification of complex issues, rationalization, introducing unrelated red herring issues, using appealing, simple slogans, stereotyping, testimonials from authority figures or celebrities, unstated assumptions, and encouraging readers or viewers to “jump on the bandwagon” of a particular point of view.

To varying degrees, THE TRUST engages in one or more of the above activities in their efforts to influence “the opinions or behavior of people.”

For example, “leave no child behind” and “closing the achievement gap” are “appealing, simple slogans” that few people can disagree with. At the same time the “achievement gap,” as I have shown elsewhere, is an “oversimplification of a complex issue.”

Wilkins is becoming a celebrity (funded by Gates, another celebrity), traveling the country encouraging people to “jump on the bandwagon” that America’s public schools are failing and must be saved via standards-based reforms.

While THE TRUST claims to be “independent,” and “not for profit,” (and therefore above propaganda...) THE TRUST deliberately misleads voters and their representatives with narratives that are “sometimes convincing,” but “not necessarily valid.”

This process of convincing takes place through a process that Chris Mooney calls “political science abuse.” (If you want to read more on the topic Susan Jacoby discusses the concept at length.)

As explained by Mooney, political science abuse is “any attempt to inappropriately undermine, alter, or otherwise interfere with the scientific process, or scientific conclusions, for political or ideological reasons.”

While Mooney does not extend his analysis of political science abuse to education specifically, his framework extends to the field. I employ one piece of Mooney’s terminology in an effort to detail how THE TRUST generates support for standards-based reform...reform, correct me if I’m wrong, that doesn’t have a shred of “empirical” evidence supporting it. (For those interested, you can read more on neoliberal/neoconservative political science abuse here.)

Perhaps the most egregious way THE TRUST abuses science is by “hiding errors and misrepresentations.” While Mooney defines this as making false claims or distorting data, it also involves deliberately misleading individuals, using fallacies, and the oversimplification of complex issues—three hallmarks of propaganda as defined above.

Three TRUST claims that are misleading, contradictory, oversimplifications, or flat out lies:

• Other countries are out performing America, endangering its place in the global economy
• The jobs of the future require a highly skilled workforce
• NCLB is working

"We are falling behind other countries..."

The argument that America’s students are felling behind their international peers has been forwarded since at least 1957, when conservative educational reformers blamed poor schooling for Sputnik. In 1984 A Nation at Risk revived the meme, and today members of both political parties return to this fallacy when discussing educational reform.

In an interview with NPR, Amy Wilkins made the claim that America’s “most affluent kids are getting their lunches eaten by kids in other countries.” The end result, according to THE TRUST: we are in danger of losing our place atop the global food pyramid. As I noted yesterday, Gerald Bracey dismisses Wilkins' misrepresentation here.

“The jobs of today and tomorrow require a highly skilled workforce…”

THE TRUST argues that students must receive specific training in order to prepare them for highly skilled jobs. Writing in Thinking K-16, a journal published by THE TRUST, Patte Barth, argues that “The Information Age set off a rush to find skilled workers in many occupations and simultaneously reduced the proportion of unskilled jobs.”

She warns ominously, “The future holds grim prospects for young people who lack sufficient skills, for they are increasingly shut out of good, middle-income jobs. The occupations experiencing the largest growth are those that demand well-developed cognitive skills and postsecondary credentials.”

I have shown this claim to be both a misrepresentation and a fallacy here.

“NCLB is working.”

When Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, addressed the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, she told them that “despite the shortfalls in funding and the anxiety about AYP, [NCLB] is having a dramatically positive impact on American education.”

And while Haycock noted that “nobody thinks the law is perfect,” she informed the committee that “educators in every part of this country have told [her] that this law strengthens the hands of those who are working to improve overall achievement and close the achievement gaps….”

(Ignoring the few thousand educators who have publicly said otherwise...)

Haycock’s conclusion: “Because of NCLB, achievement gaps are no longer simply tolerated; a culture of achievement is taking hold in our schools, and we are better poised to confront the new challenges.”

Is the “achievement gap” closing?

According to many researchers the answer is a resounding “NO.” Gary Orfield, writing for the Harvard Civil Rights Project, argues “that neither a significant rise in achievement, nor closure of the racial achievement gaps is being achieved.”

Other individuals showing that high-stakes testing has or will ultimately increase the “achievement gap” by reducing opportunities for genuine student development and growth include esteemed researchers and scholars such as David Berliner, Sharon Nichols, Deborah Meier, Bruce Fuller, Monty Neill, Lisa Gusibond, Bob Schaeffer, Derek Neal, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Linda McNeil, and Linda Perlstein, to name a few.

And then of course there is Reading Fi(r)st, an undeniable failure, and an undeniable money maker for those invested in the standardization of education. Reading Fist is not closing any achievement gap...But again...the achievement gap is an oversimplification of a complex efficient tool for propagandists such as those employed by THE TRUST.

Three strikes...THE TRUST is out.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Watch Amy Wilkins Change the Subject

Post, too, at SM.

Dan Brown asks a great question that does not get answered, even as Amy launches into an attack on the questioner. Wonder how come.

From Huffington Post:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Older People Really are Wiser

Fascinating article about aging and memory at
“These findings are all very consistent with the context we’re building for what wisdom is,” she said. “If older people are taking in more information from a situation, and they’re then able to combine it with their comparatively greater store of general knowledge, they’re going to have a nice advantage.”

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Interesting juxtaposition of Ed Week articles this week—a commentary from James Starkey, 40-year classroom veteran from Colorado, Please Don’t Do Me Any Favors, and an article in the news section, Principals’ Group Seeks Influence on Incentive Pay. Subtext question in both pieces: What motivates people to improve their performance?

Starkey’s observations about hard-working and undervalued teachers rang true for me. Like Starkey and his wife, I have been prejudged and patronized dozens of times by those who pigeonhole teachers as noble, but benevolent and underpaid missionaries to the unschooled young. His points about the recurring churn in K-12 standards development, and the insulting assumption that mere teachers would have no idea what critical content and solid achievement markers look like in their subject disciplines, are spot-on. But then he says,

“ProComp [Denver’s performance pay plan] and similar programs arise from the assumption that teachers could work harder, and I simply reject that notion.”

Meanwhile, over at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Executive Director Gerald Tirozzi declares that the NASSP doesn’t endorse performance pay for school administrators, then disingenuously offers a carefully constructed template for how to pay principals for their, umm, performance. Tirozzi does note, correctly, that it’s wise, when an issue is politically hot, for an organization to get out ahead of the rolling train and develop some policy recommendations of its own. I have no idea if the list of administrative performance indicators that the NASSP offers is complete and/or valid, but it’s certainly a good starting point for discussion:

The organization suggests looking at other variables, such as graduation rates and promotion rates, student enrollment in rigorous coursework like that developed by the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs, college-attendance rates, school climate data, parent-participation data, and teacher-retention and -transfer rates.

It’s really too bad that the term “merit pay” has been so thoroughly co-opted by the aggressive conglomerate of those who believe that testing and punishment are the only effective policy levers for improving schools. It’s impossible to start a discussion on how we pay educators in America without two knee-jerk notions popping up: a) merit pay means paying teachers or principals more for raising test scores and b) educators should be offended by the idea that increasing compensation will lead to better results. Indeed—the first on-line commenter on the NASSP article says she’s insulted by the implication that she could work any harder than she does.

Directly linking standardized test scores to compensation bonuses is an intellectually dishonest, even dangerous, idea with fairly predictable “unintended” consequences—some teachers will behave just as B.F. Skinner might predict, conditioned by rewards, and others will struggle with their personal moral compass around what it means be a measurably good teacher. Meritorious teaching is a real thing, however—most parents could give you a quick sketch of its characteristics and benchmarks, without needing a standard deviation or statistic. And meritorious teaching should be recognized, deconstructed, modeled, emulated, studied, nurtured—and rewarded. The same goes for exemplary school leadership.

I understand and appreciate the origins of the single-salary schedule for teachers, a half-century ago: equal pay for equivalent work, providing strong incentives for teachers to complete academic degrees and strengthen their professional educational attainment. And I don’t buy the specious argument that educational institutions should follow a “business model” and pay teachers based on productivity. Teaching is not piece work, and there is also very little evidence that the highest-paid employees in most businesses are necessarily the most efficient or resourceful. Businesses don’t have the compensation-incentive problem knocked, either.

The difficulty here is that lockstep teacher pay is no longer moving us toward best use of available resources to reach our educational goals. The single salary schedule penalizes exceptional talent, innovation and effort, and rewards staying put and accruing credits.

There is nothing morally wrong with figuring out what meritorious teaching looks like, then actively pursuing and rewarding it. I would respectfully suggest that James Starkey has the causal direction of pay for performance backwards. We should not offer performance pay to teachers under the assumption that they will work harder for more money. We should offer performance pay to outstanding teachers and educational leaders because they deserve it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Corporate Vouchers Victorious in Florida

When state legislators in Florida offer children and parents either a rundown, under-funded, segregated testing factory or a tax-supported corporate voucher to a Christian school, the school choice has already been made--and it hasn't been made by the parent or the child.

Nevertheless, a growing number of legislators in Florida have seen the light at the bottom of their vortex. They have convinced themselves that they are not voting for vouchers--they are voting for scholarships. They are not giving up their civic commitment to provide for citizens in order that corporations may be relieved of their tax burden--they are saving children, even if it is from their own legislative and moral failure to provide for those children.

The amount of democracy within a society is directly proportionate to the amount of civic space remaining there. Oh, well.

Clips from St. Petersburg Times:
In 2001, Democrats in the Legislature pounded Republican plans to start a private school voucher program for poor and predominantly minority kids. They said it was unconstitutional, a drain on public schools, even un-American. In the end, all but one Democrat voted against it.

Times have changed. This year, a bill to vastly expand the same program passed by large margins.

And this time, a third of the Democratic caucus was on board.

"I'm a strong advocate for public school education, and I'm not necessarily a strong advocate for vouchers," said Rep. Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg, one of four Tampa Bay-area Democrats to vote yes. But "the bottom line has to be the child. If good things are happening for the child, then you can justify it."

. . . .

The legislation increases the amount of each scholarship to $3,950, up $200 from this year. The average cost per student in public school is about $7,000.

Some Democratic supporters say they back the program because unlike Opportunity Scholarships, the state's first voucher program — which the Florida Supreme Court struck down in 2006 — the money for tax-credit scholarships doesn't come directly out of state coffers. Some offered what critics call a semantic defense.

"I don't think I'm voting for a voucher," said Rep. Betty Reed, a Tampa Democrat who has 13 private schools in her district that accept tax-credit scholarships. "It's a scholarship." . . . .

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Education Policy Blog Nominated for Blog of the Year Award

The Education Policy Blog has been nominated for the ED in '08 Blog of the Year Award.

Voting will run from now until May 14th and the winner will be announced at the 2008 Blogger Summit on May 15th in Washington, DC. (Our own Kenneth Bernstein will be a panelist at the summit.)

Readers can vote at

Now, some of us have been thinking we shouldn't necessarily support the Ed in '08 agenda. Does that mean we should eschew the voting, and perhaps not even mention our nomination? Is this very message a sign that we have been co-opted? Should we delete this message?

Please leave your opinions/comments here!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Conservative Flight From Vouchers

A fascinating article on why conservatives have abandoned vouchers:
In recent months, almost unnoticed by the mainstream media, the school voucher movement has abruptly stalled. Some stalwart advocates of vouchers have either repudiated the idea entirely or considerably tempered their enthusiasm for it. Exhibit A is "School Choice Isn't Enough," an article in the winter 2008 City Journal (the quarterly published by the conservative Manhattan Institute) written by the former voucher proponent Sol Stern. Acknowledging that voucher programs for poor children had "hit a wall," Stern concluded: "Education reformers ought to resist unreflective support for elegant-sounding theories, derived from the study of economic activity, that don't produce verifiable results in the classroom." His conversion has triggered an intense debate in conservative circles. The center-right education scholar Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and a longtime critic of public school bureaucracies and teachers unions, told the New York Sun that he was sympathetic to Stern's argument. In his newly published memoirs, Finn also writes of his increasing skepticism that "the market's invisible hand" produces improved performance on its own. Howard Fuller, an African American who was the superintendent of schools in Milwaukee when the voucher program was launched there, and who received substantial support from the Bradley Foundation and other conservative institutions over the years, has conceded, "It hasn't worked like we thought it would in theory."

Friday, May 02, 2008

"Reading First" a failure

I think everyone here knows that the “Reading First” program is just another Bush patronage scam, using NCLB rules to funnel money to campaign supporters and loyalists. Now the Institute of Education Sciences – the unit that says all policy must be based on rigorous scientific evidence – concludes that Reading First is a lousy program. Okay, now there’s scientific evidence: so what’s the response?

The Bush Administration has been using the Reading First program to reward political cronies and ideological allies, ignoring a legal mandate to make funding decisions that reflect "scientifically based research," according to federal investigators. These and other findings are detailed in a report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education, released on 22 September 2006. . . .

The latest:
A $1 billion-a-year reading program that has been a pillar of the Bush administration's education plan doesn't have much impact on the reading skills of the young students it's supposed to help, a long-awaited federal study shows. . . .

While critics will likely say the data portray Reading First as an expensive failure, [IES head Grover] Whitehurst speculates that the study may simply suggest that schools need to spend even more time on phonics and the like.

But he also notes that states that got Reading First money earlier in the program's history actually got worse results than those that more recently got their federal funding. The difference may be unrelated to years spent in the program, Whitehurst says . . .

Education analyst Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank that supports Reading First, says the study was poorly designed and "certainly not the last word on Reading First's effectiveness." . . .

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings had no immediate comment, but in a statement, Amanda Farris, the deputy assistant secretary who oversees Reading First, said Spellings consistently hears from educators and administrators "about the effectiveness of the Reading First program in their schools” . . .

[NB: So, there you have it. The Bush Education Dept condemns policies based on anecdotal evidence – except when their favored program is challenged.]

Kevin Drum comments:
Now, who knows? Maybe RF was poorly implemented. Maybe it just happened to be a bad idea. But it's astonishing how many efforts to improve K-12 instruction turn out not to work. Even the ones that do seem to work usually turn out to fail if you just wait a few years or try to scale them up beyond pilot size.

This is one of the reasons I don't blog much about education policy even though it's an interesting subject. For all the sturm and drang, in the end nothing really seems to matter. After a hundred years of more-or-less rigorous pedagogical research, we still don't know how to teach kids any better than we used to. Early childhood interventions, if they're really early and really long lasting, seem to have some effect, but beyond that the only thing that works consistently is getting poor kids out of schools that are 90% poor. Unfortunately, the former is really expensive and the latter is well nigh impossible in most places.

It must be a discouraging field to work in.