Friday, March 18, 2005

Yet another reason...

... to detest No Child Left Behind:

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, buried in the No Child Left Behind Act, in section 9528, it says schools are required to give military recruiters names, home addresses, and home phone numbers. If they don't do that, they can be penalized by receiving no money from the federal government. So, it's really a stick, a big heavy stick on schools to give out that information. There is a possibility for youngsters to opt out, but nobody tells kids about opting out. And that's what this campaign is really all about. It's to give kids the awareness that they can opt out, give their parents the awareness they can opt out, so that they're not bugged by recruiters.


That's Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott and the campaign he's referring to is a petition drive to convince Congress that parents and teens should know that they do not have to allow the military to have their contact information. Privacy laws protect them, if they want to be protected. But no one knows it. Here's more from the interview on Democracy Now!:

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Congress member Jim McDermott. He's in Seattle now about to get on a plane. If you can explain, though, because I don't think, and maybe this is why you've introduced this, most people understand how it works, that the school automatically hands over students' names, high school students' names to the Pentagon, unless a parent or the student, him or herself, actually proactively says, “Do not hand over that name.” Is that right?

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And the principal can decide whether to send a letter home to inform parents about this so they have the choice, or more often than not, the names are just handed over.

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Yep. The school has no requirement to, or the school board has no requirement to tell parents what's happening to their kids' private information. And in most cases, they are not doing anything. In some places, we had a youngster yesterday at the press conference from New Jersey, where the kids got 90% of the kids in the school to opt out in a New Jersey high school. Now, that’s student activism at its very best.


Indeed it is. For information on how to opt out of military recruitment efforts, click here.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Taking the public out of public schools

Eduwonk links to a Columbia Journalism Review article on NCLB and opposes the notion that "No Child Left Behind reflects Bush’s belief that the private sector is best equipped to carry out public reforms."

As evidence, he writes:

Bush has never really done much for vouchers, particularly in Texas, much to the disappointment of the Christian right, when he really could have.


Uh, no he couldn't have, though he definitely wanted to (if you need evidence, click here for a whole page full of quotes). You see, in Texas, public schools are essentially sacred ground. Any attempt to undermine them is seen as an attack on Texas communities. From the Valley to the Panhandle, for most Texans, public schools are the center of their communities. Thus, voucher programs have been hugely unpopular here. In the current legislative session there is yet another attempt to institute voucher programs. Most likely, it will go nowhere-- not because right wing idealogues (and make no mistake, Bush is a right wing idealogue) don't want them to, but because the people don't want them.

Second, it is undeniable that a part of NCLB is aimed at privatizing "low performing" public schools. Companies like Edison Schools stand to make lots of money on these deals initially, even though there is little evidence that they will succeed in the most intractable schools. The recent education bill that passed out of the Texas House (but will be significantly altered by the Senate) increases the privitization initiative so that any school that lands in the bottom ten percent two years in a row can be taken over by a private company.

Consider this from the Austin Chronicle:

As public education advocates see it, one of the most frightening features of the school finance bill that limped out of the House last week is a provision that could spell the beginning of the end of public schools in Texas. This unraveling process would start by empowering the state education commissioner to turn over control of low-performing schools to private, for-profit companies. If the bill were in effect today, some estimates reflect that as many as 375 school campuses would qualify as candidates for private takeover.

This is just one of the things about House Bill 2 that worries Rep. Mark Strama. The Austin Democrat had at one point considered supporting the bill, if only because of the property-tax relief it would bring to people in his middle-income swing district in northeast Travis Co. But in the end, Strama concluded, "You shouldn't have to hold your nose to vote on the most important issue of the session." Strama had in fact gone back and forth on the bill until an hour before the second-reading vote last Wednesday evening. He had spent the day wearing a look of visible anguish as he moved across the House floor, conferring with one senior colleague or another. Every once in a while he would study a running stream of notes, or add a new entry, like this one: "Takeover of public schools by for-profit corporations ... could affect several Travis County s
chools, including Connally HS, Johnston HS, Lanier HS, Reagan HS, McCallum HS."

This plan was largely conceived by Sandy Kress, a top education adviser to the president.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but it's not hard to connect the dots here. Look at the president's plans -- if you can even call them that -- for social security. Right wingers like Bush have a deep and near religious belief in the power of free markets. It stands to reason that they would like to extend the magical free market system to education.

Accountability for some?

Don't you love how teachers, according to the Bushies, must "be held accountable," but then you read something like this, from Admiral Albert Church's Pentagon press conference following the release of his report on the Abu Ghraib abuses:

Church said the failure to issue the policies and respond forcefully to early warnings of abuse should not be grounds for punishment.

"I don't think you can hold anybody accountable for a situation that maybe if you had done something different, maybe something would have occurred differently," Church told Pentagon reporters Thursday.


Amazing, isn't it? "Maybe if you had done something different" ?!? You can't hold someone accountable because maybe "something would have occurred differently?" This is unbelievable. The hypocrisy is overwhelming.

And don't tell me it's comparing apples and oranges because it's not. If we're going to have a society where everyone is accountable, which the president talks about ad nauseum, then everyone has to be accountable, even when -- especially when -- it's not convenient or easy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Bush in '08

Jeb's education campaign speeches are getting a lot of polish these days as he seeks to expand the very controversial -- and potentially unconstitutional (the state Supremes are considering a case) -- school voucher programs. Many private schools that accepted voucher money absconded with the money and the state's constitution expressly forbids giving public funds to religious organizations but those are details. The Guvnah's got vision. He's focused on the big picture-- that is, if the big picture is beating Giuliani in the Iowa caucuses.

Memo to Jeb: vouchers won't play well in the heartland. Or anywhere else. Don't run on dismantling public education. Or better yet, go ahead-- try it. It'll be fun watching you crash and burn.

Avoiding the courts

The Texas House attempted to bypass district courts in future school finance cases. This is very significant because the district courts can take testimony and put together Findings of Fact, whereas the Supreme Court cannot. If the Senate doesn't take this part out of its version of the school finance bill, it stands to reason that other states will try to institute a similar end-run around lower courts. For background, see this story (go to bugmenot.com for free registration).

In many states, including Texas, the courts have provided the only hope that schools will ever receive adequate funding. Here's hoping the Senate does the right thing on this.

Welcome to the edusphere

There's a new anti-NCLB blog. It's written by a public school teacher and leans towards the conspiratorial, but so far it's got some good stuff. I've added it to my blogroll.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

More on technology in the classroom

I'm grateful for the comments from Mike and Jonathan last week about technology's potential in schools. Both of them were skeptical.

The Texas House Public Education Committee is considering a technology initiative that will possibly put hundreds of millions into the public schools specifically for technology. Because the House is controlled by Republicans (87-63), it will pass if the leadership wants it to. But there are many ways the bill could be improved.

For instance, it could be written into the bill that a certain percentage must go to training and maintenance, so that not all of the money is spent on hardware and software that teachers don't know how to use and will eventually break down.

I'm looking for other concrete ideas, specifically from people with experience using computers in the classroom.

And if you're interested in the topic, here's a free, online book by Harvard's Larry Cuban. The title: Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom. The $64,000 question (or the several billion dollar question really) is how do we ensure that computers, once in the classroom, are put to good use?

By the way, Ross Perot swung by the Committee's hearings today to lobby for more technology in schools.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Bad legislation

For those of us in Texas, things are bad. Very bad. The Texas House voted today to institute a highly regressive tax merely to keep education funding even with inflation. According to the Legislative Budget Board, everybody making under $100,000 will see a net increase in taxes, everybody over 100K gets a cut.

I've argued time and again that schools need more funding, but to do it on the backs of the poor and the middle class is callous.

Factor in that every single education group in existence was against the bill (and its twin "reform bill") and this is very hard to accept. For analysis, check out this editorial from the Austin Statesman.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Trouble brewing in Colorado

It's still nascent at this point, but the Denver Post suggests that trouble may in fact be brewing in Colorado:

State lawmakers from both parties are fighting No Child Left Behind across the country. Republicans don't like the federal government messing with what should be a state or local matter, while Democrats contend the law does little to help achievement.

In Colorado, lawmakers have been mostly silent, but legislature watchers sense there's change brewing. State Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, is expected to introduce a resolution calling on the federal government to fund its mandates, while another bill would set up a committee to study how other states are meeting the federal mandates.

"Things are ripening across the nation, and in Colorado as well, for some changes," said Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards.

What Colorado needs, and has never sought, is a waiver from some of the accountability standards that actually require the state to lower its own standards.

Colorado has been at the forefront of the standards and accountability movement. Why step backward to meet federal goals?


We're hearing this argument more and more: NLCB actually requires that states scale back their standards to meet the federal mandates. We heard it in Virginia and Utah, and now we're hearing it in Colorado. No doubt, the resolution -- whatever that may look like -- to the Utah situation will greatly impact the course of action for the other increasingly disgruntled states.

Teaching to the test

One out of every four Texas fifth graders failed the reading test last month. According to the state's accountability system, they cannot be promoted to the sixth grade unless they pass. The kids who failed get two more cracks at it.

But they also have to pass a math test next month, for which they are similarly given three tries. My question is this: for those 25% who fail, is there anything else going on academically? If promotion to sixth grade is hanging in the balance, my guess would be that teachers would severely curtail their time in science, social studies, PE, art, or anything else that isn't directly related to passing the test.

The most common -- some would say tired -- argument against high stakes testing is the phenomenon of "teaching to the test." Under the circumstances described in that article, it's hard to imagine a teacher doing anything else.
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