Thursday, April 14, 2005

Spellings to invoke executive privilege

They wanted to make right the wrongs. They wanted to get it all out there, let the public know what happened. Isn't that what they said following the Armstrong Williams controversy? (Williams was paid $240,000 by the Dept. of Education to give pro-NCLB commentaries in print and on TV but did not disclose the payments.)

The President and Secretary Spellings promised a full investigation. As if that wasn't enough, the General Accountability Office ( oh, the irony) ordered them to investigate months ago. Yesterday, by a 98-0 vote, the Senate also ordered an investigation. Things were looking good (via the NYT)

Hours before the Senate vote, President Bush, in a question-and-answer session with newspaper editors in Washington, said the government origins of such releases should be made clear. "It's deceptive to the American people if it's not disclosed," Mr. Bush said.


Absolutely. Couldn't agree more. So everything will be disclosed, right?

...In the Williams matter, Mr. Miller, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, said he had been briefed by Jack Higgins, the Education Department inspector general, about the internal investigation into the commentator's promotion of the No Child Left Behind Act.

"It appears that all of the information about what took place here will not be available," Mr. Miller said.


Wha...?

He said that the inspector general had been "denied access" to some current and former White House employees and that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was considering invoking special privileges that would force the investigator to shield parts of his findings from the public.


Special privileges? Is the ghost of Richard Nixon haunting the Education Department? This is ridiculous. What's more, it's pathetic. This is a big deal, but it's not Watergate for God's sake! Their ineptitude and idiocy knows no bounds.

But one thing is for sure: every teacher and principal in America must be held accountable. The Department of Education, on the other hand, does not. It must be nice.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

States' rights or racism? (A closer look at Utah)

Here's an in depth look into the controversy over NCLB in Utah from the alternative news weekly in Salt Lake City. The highlights:

Three years ago, Michael Clara blew the whistle on the Salt Lake City School District for what he calls “warehousing,” rather than educating, Hispanic students. He believes it took the subsequent investigation by the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights to ensure Hispanic students got a shot at an equal education then, and said there is no reason to think the state has improved so much that it no longer needs the watchful eye of the federal government.

Turning off the federal spotlight on the state of education of Hispanic schoolchildren is essentially what Utah education officials would accomplish with a current proposal to replace federal No Child Left Behind guidelines with a new state system, Clara said.

... Clara compares the battle to ensure an education for Utah’s Hispanics to the school desegregation fights of the 1950s and ’60s. Utah lawmakers aren’t yet standing in front of the schoolhouse door to block federal marshals, but to some, opposition to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law looks less like a fight for state’s rights and more like old-fashioned racism.

“We need federal intervention,” said Clara, who said he and other advocates last year raised their concerns with the state superintendent of public instruction and were assured students who spoke Spanish at home would be included in the state’s proposed substitute for No Child Left Behind. State education officials “lied to us,” he said.


This is something we that oppose NCLB must deal with: There are racists in positions of power out there that will write off Blacks and Hispanics if they're allowed to do so. Of course, saying that giving more tests to minority kids will solve their problems is like saying adding up my money will make me rich. Unfortunately, neither is true.

But the point remains, and it's a point I've made consistently in the past: We should not -- if we are to be truly principled people and not just take positions that are convenient to the current situation -- take up the cause of states' rights.

More from the article:

Those concerned about Utah’s proposal say if schools aren’t held responsible for education of minorities, the incentive to improve their education will go away.

State Rep. Duane Bourdeaux, D-Salt Lake City, who is fighting the proposed changes, said the state has a problem when it comes to educating minority students and, at present, there is no plan to rectify that. To Bourdeaux, the proposed changes look like giving up. “There is a perception out there, talking to different people, that these kids are not capable,” he said

Gonzalo Palza, a member of Gov. Jon Huntsman’s Hispanic Advisory Committee, agrees No Child Left Behind’s mechanism for tracking progress of minorities should be retained in Utah, but he said much more is needed to tackle the problem of Hispanic education, which he calls a looming crisis for the state.

Palza notes Hispanics now account for a majority of enrollment growth in Utah’s schools and that, last year, less than half of Hispanic students scored as “proficient” in the Utah tests of math and language arts used to comply with the No Child Left Behind law. Less than 30 percent passed a basic science skills test.

“Whenever 10 percent of any enrolled population is failing at a rate of 50 to 60 percent, the system has a problem, particularly when that portion is the most dynamic demographically,” Palza said. He noted the birth rate among Utah Hispanics is on a rapid curve, even when compared against Utah’s traditionally high birth rate. “The demographic pressures are so powerful that if we’re not looking at this with a strategic eye it’s going to be too late.”

Palza said education has risen to the top of the governor’s council’s list of items to be fleshed out for recommendations to Huntsman.

He suggests new incentives for teachers to be trained in teaching English as a second language or to learn Spanish, charter schools that concentrate on the Hispanic population and more programs in which students take classes in both Spanish and English.


Now we're getting somewhere. Tests are fine, but by themselves they won't do anything. Well constructed tests can point to the problems, but they can't fix them. And this is the ultimate weakness of No Child Left Behind: The Bushies have sunk all the extra money (and a lot of the states' money, too) into testing and they've left very little to encourage innovation and improvement of curricular and instructional programs.

Without the investment for that, NCLB will most certainly fail.

Virginia must be un-American, too

Virginia was denied a waiver from testing Kindergarten and 1st Grade non-native English speakers. Frankly, I didn't even know that 5 and 6 year olds were subjected to the mandates of NCLB, but apparently they are.

The denial follows closely on the heels of Secretary Spellings' promise to be good:

Less than a week after promising states leeway on some of the more contentious elements of the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government rejected one of Virginia’s waiver requests.

“This is definitely not what we had hoped for,” said Julie Grimes, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Education. “We had hoped for some flexibility. This is a disappointment.”

Virginia has asked the U.S. Department of Education for about a dozen changes to the way schools are evaluated under the federal education law. Virginia education officials hoped their requests would be accepted, especially because Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced last week that states making progress would receive some freedom from the law’s requirements.

Federal officials this week declined Virginia’s request to relax its testing requirements for students in kindergarten and first grade who are learning to speak English.


This fits perfectly in the pattern of Bush's Department of Education: they say they'll play nice, right before they pull out the hammer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Spellings should apologize

Spellings' inflammatory charge that Connecticut education officials are "un-American" (essentially because they oppose her), has generated little attention-- that is, from anybody outside of Connecticut.

There, Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg has asked for an apology. Accused of harboring "the soft bigotry of low expectations," Sternberg responded by pointing out that Blacks and Hispanics have improved on statewide tests at a higher rate than whites. She added that she had "higher expectations of the Secretary of Education." Well said, Ms. Sternberg. I think we all do.

Calling someone bigoted because they favor testing semi-annually instead of annually is not only offensive, it's downright stupid. Spellings needs to choose her words far more carefully or risk irrelevance. Save your verbal daggers for a good cause, Madame Secretary. This ain't it.

Why hasn't this been picked up by the mainstream media? Meanwhile, if you're interested, you can call the Department of Education and let them know you wish they'd refrain from publicly insulting those who disagree with them. It sets a bad example for the kids.

Monday, April 11, 2005

What? Our government is misinforming us?!

Yes, people, I hate to inform you: your government lies. I know, I know. It's disheartening and you're shocked. But, alas.

Yes, the government has set up a website, www.4parents.gov that, predictably given our current president's disdain for science, distorts the sex ed. debate:

As ... sexual health organizations complain, 4parents.gov delivers a stealth dose of pro-life advocacy. The site defines pregnancy, for instance, as a process "that begins when an egg cell and a sperm cell unite." Actually, not every fertilized egg implants in the wall of the uterus, meaning that a better definition of pregnancy would probably emphasize implantation, not fertilization. The site also refers to a fertilized egg shortly after implantation as an "unborn child," a phrase that appears repeatedly on 4parents.gov.


Sorry, but a merged egg and sperm, implanted or not, does not constitute a child. A life? Maybe. At least I can respect your position. But a child? Please.

In order to make its pro-abstinence case, 4parents.gov also presents selective or distorted information about the effectiveness of condoms, a common tick on the religious right. The site takes every opportunity to downplay condom efficacy, with passages such as the following:

Studies suggest that condoms, when used consistently and correctly, offer significant risk reduction (80-87 percent) for HIV/AIDS. Condoms provide less risk reduction for other sexually transmitted diseases. Research indicates significant risk reduction for HIV to almost none for others (e.g., HPV).

Here, 4parents.gov appears to be relying exclusively on published studies that positively prove condom effectiveness for certain diseases, while conveniently ignoring basic common sense. What the site neglects to tell American parents is the following: According to the National Institutes of Health, condoms "provide a highly effective barrier to transmission of particles of similar size to those of the smallest STD viruses." Because of this characteristic, continues the NIH, there is "a strong probability of condom effectiveness when used correctly" both for diseases spread by discharges (including gonorrhea and chlamydia), and for diseases spread by skin-to-skin contact (including herpes, syphilis, and HPV), so long as the condom covers the infected area.

In short, even though the effectiveness of condoms may not have been proven in rigorous studies for all conditions, we nevertheless know that condoms provide a strong barrier against STD transmission.


Yes, condoms do work. Do they work as well as abstinence? Hell no. Absolutely not, no way, no how, not ever. That's why we should teach abstinence first. But after that it's irresponsible and yes, immoral, to not teach about preventing STD's and unwanted pregnancies through condom use.

Chris Mooney, the author of the article, finishes his otherwise excellent article, with this curious conclusion:

It is a sad day, but we can no longer doubt that it has arrived. At least in the area of sexual health, Americans can no longer rely on their own government for balanced, objective information.


Uh, Chris, when and about what did you previously depend on your government for balanced information? Word to the wise: Stop-- at least for the next three and a half years.

The Hill reports Buck McKeon (R-CA) will become new Education Committee Chairman

Rep. Castle (R-DE) will consider mounting a challenge, but it would be probably be quixotic because of McKeon's seniority and fundraising prowess. Rep. McKeon would take over from Rep. Boehner (R-OH) when house rules require him to step down after his third term as chair.

The article is here. For some of McKeon's views, see his issue page here.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Don't like NCLB? You're Un-American

That's according to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Yes, she called Connecticut education officials un-American. Why? Because they favor testing every other year instead of every year. Those goddamned Commie bastards! Why don't they just go back to Russia or whatever hole they climbed out from?

Former Secretary Paige called teachers' union representatives terrorists and Spellings calls Connecticut education officials un-American. I'm starting to see why these people pay millions of dollars to PR firms: they need it.

There hasn't been much hubbub over this yet, but there should be. So that I'm not accused of taking Spellings' comments out of context, here they are-- in context:

RAY SUAREZ: Well, GAO notwithstanding, Connecticut I think is getting ready to test just that proposition. They want to take your Department to court and are talking about having other states join them. And they gave as an example the fact that you've laid on them about $112 million worth of requirements for which you funded about $70 million. Is that a fair description of what's happened?

MARGARET SPELLINGS: No. I think not.

In Connecticut, my understanding, although I haven't seen the actual litigation, is that they want to measure every other year and not provide annual assessment as is required in the statute.

And that law passed more than three years ago, we have been sending them resources to implement those annual assessment provisions since, and here they are on the eve of implementation telling us that they can't do it. I think it's regrettable, frankly, when the achievement gap between African-American and Anglo kids in Connecticut is quite large. And I think it's unfortunate for those families and those students that they are trying to find a loophole to get out of the law as opposed to attending to the needs of those kids.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, there are gaps, and since we're on Connecticut, I guess we can use it as an example, but there's also very high degrees of residential segregation, places where the schools are 100 percent white and 100 percent black, very high concentrations in certain places of great wealth, very high concentrations of other places of poverty. What are the tests really tell you that you didn't already know about a place like Connecticut?

MARGARET SPELLINGS: They tell us who needs help, they tell us who has been left behind, they tell us precisely and specifically in a good assessment system what kind of help is needed. They tell us what kind of teachers and what kind of teacher training is needed. And you know, I think it's un-American -- I would call it -- for us to take the attitude that African-American children in Connecticut living in inner cities are not going to be able to compete, are not going to be prepared to compete in this world and are not going to be educated to high levels. That's the notion, the soft bigotry of low expectations, as the president calls it, that No Child Left Behind rejects.


Here, again, is a clear example of where Spellings, the Bushies, and the Democrats who support NCLB simply miss the point. The problem is not test scores. The problem is poverty. The bigotry is that we don't try to solve that problem.

States are struggling to equalize funding, mainly because courts have ordered them to do so. But because the Bush administration has underfunded NCLB, the states have had to spend scarce education dollars on tests.

Tests measure. Tests do not teach. Testing is valuable when it's done strategically, but testing without significant new investments in the infrastructure of public schooling, will do little -- if anything -- to improve teaching and learning.

To my knowledge, Connecticut education officials did not say that African-Americans can't compete or be educated, as the Secretary said. They said testing every two years is sufficient. Is that really un-American?

The third Advocate Weekly

I seriously need to get to work updating links on the blogroll. There are a lot of excellent new edublogs out there. I'll get to that later this week (I hope) but for the meantime check out Shari's roundup; she was filling in for Joe Thomas this week.

Thanks Shari for your excellent work on that. And Joe, I'd be happy to host it next week if you need some help.
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