Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Taking it to the wackos

Evolution v. Creationism smackdown in North Virginia:

WASHINGTON - A grass-roots group troubled by recent Republican triumphs and the influence of the Christian right is fighting back in Northern Virginia by defending the teaching of Darwinian evolution, a battleground in the national culture war.

An e-mail last month seeking support from more than 300 local Democratic campaign volunteers and other potential supporters described efforts across the country to challenge evolutionary theory. It warned against "politically infused theological pseudo-science" and said silence risks undermining Virginia schools and weakening the state's economy.

The e-mail was the first shot from an unlikely group led mostly by Vietnam-era protesters who describe their aim as beating Republicans who oppose teaching evolution at their own organizational game. Based in Northern Virginia, the group says its immediate goal is a Fairfax County School Board endorsement of modern Darwinian theory, which faces attacks in many states by Christian groups and education activists.

I think Democrats should use this as a major campaign theme in the suburbs where most moderate Republicans are rightfully scared out of their wits by radical Christian clerics and the hordes that blindly and mindlessly follow them.

The whole article is here.

Dare to discipline?

In a sign that perhaps the Roberts have not read James Dobson's moronic tome (Dare to Discipline), the youngest member of the family was having a great time while the President introduced his Dad.

Is that a break dance move the kid was busting out with?

More on Roberts and education

The incomparable Education Week ran an excellent piece yesterday on Judge Roberts' history with education issues. Most of his history was as assistant solicitor general (under a solicitor general by the name of Ken Starr, by they way) writing position pieces for then President George H. W. Bush. Those positions -- in favor of prayer at graduation ceremonies, ending court-ordered desegregation, and against monetary awards for violations of Title IX funding for women's sports, to name a few -- were staked out for the Administration. According to Roberts' testimony during confirmation for the DC Circuit Court two years ago, those positions were not necessarily his.

Regardless, EdWeek makes some extraordinary claims regarding Roberts, vis a vis education issues. From the article:

If confirmed, he would bring to the high court perhaps the greatest firsthand knowledge of the concerns of district-level educators of anyone since Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., who had served on both the Richmond, Va., school board and the Virginia state board of education before his service on the Supreme Court from 1971 to 1987.

“Among the names that were floated, I think he was the best candidate for schools,” Julie Underwood, the general counsel of the National School Boards Association, said of Judge Roberts. She noted that before he became a federal appeals court judge in Washington in 2003, he had several times spoken or participated at NSBA school law events.

“I believe he is so thoughtful and even-handed,” Ms. Underwood added. “Liberals are slamming him for briefs he wrote representing a conservative [presidential] administration. But I don’t think those briefs necessarily represent his personal views.”
Much is also being made of the soon-to-be-infamous "french fry case" in which Roberts upheld an arrest of a 12 year old girl for eating a single french fry in a Washington DC Metro station. She was not warned. The Edweek article has some info on it. but for a more in-depth version, check out the Heritage Foundation's (yes, them) Overcriminalized website.

Roberts on education

I haven't been able to find anything on Roberts' decisions on education, if there were any at all in his short time on the bench. But if Sen. Schumer has his way we'll know more. The following is a list of questions the Senator plans to ask Judge Roberts specifically about education. For the complete list of questions, click this fair and balanced link.

What is the proper Constitutional role of Government in enacting laws to regulate education?

How far can the Government go under the Constitution to ensure equal treatment for all students?

How far can the Court go to protect speech and/or prohibit violations of the establishment clause in the schools?

For example, do you believe that Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe (2000) was decided correctly?

Does the Constitution guarantee parents the right to choose their children’s education, as established in Meyer v. Nebraska (1923) and Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925)?

It'll be interesting to see if he's able to dodge these questions.

High school survey

In case you missed it, late last week the NYT had a story that stated the obvious, but in a very striking way. According to a National Governors Association survey, the vast majority of high school students aren't satisfied with many key aspects of their education.

  1. More than 2/3 want courses related to a possible career.
  2. 2 out of 3 dropouts say they would be more likely to stay in school if they had more personal attention.
  3. Only 36% say that their school did a good job holding their attention. (I'm surprised it was that high.

More electives, more college courses, more practical skills and job training, more internships -- these are the things that are needed. We don't, as some adamantly believe, need to extend mandatory NCLB-type testing into high school. That does nothing to address the crucial problems in American high schools.

We need more innovative curricula, more targeted programs that interest and excite students.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Stepping Stone

Here's a blog that's new to me: Stepping Stone. Very thoughtful, insightful commentary on the life of a teacher. Check it out.

In-Clement decisions

The buzz in Washington is that 5th Circuit Judge Edith Brown Clement will be nominated to the Supreme Court tonight when President Bush takes to the airwaves at 9 p.m. EST. Most believe herenomination will sail through because she isn't particularly controversial. Some of the far right will oppose her because she doesn't have conservative bonafides like the other Edith (Jones, also of the 5th Circuit), and some on the far left will likewise oppose her because she doesn't have moderate bonafides like Albert Gonzalez.

But Clement is expected to get a near unanimous nod from the Senate anyway.

There's not much out there on her, related to education or anything else (which is one reason why she's a smart choice for Bush vis a vis the confirmation, but a dangerous one in the long run, e.g., David Souter), but I did find this dissent in a case involving the firing of a teacher in Texas without a due process hearing. From People for the American Way:

Coggin v. Longview Independent School District, 337 F.3d 459 (5th Cir. 2003) (en banc), cert. Denied, 124 S. Ct. 579 (2003): constitutionality of firing a public school teacher without a hearing

Clement was one of six dissenting judges in the court’s 8-6 en banc affirmance of the district court’s ruling that the defendant school board was liable for the due process violation that resulted when it terminated the plaintiff-teacher’s employment without a hearing. Under Texas law, the state Commissioner of Education was, upon the teacher’s timely request, required to assign a hearing examiner to conduct a hearing into the board’s proposed termination of the teacher’s contract. The Commissioner refused to assign an examiner, erroneously thinking that the teacher had failed to request a hearing in a timely manner. The board then went ahead and terminated the teacher’s contract without a hearing, although the board had “actual knowledge” that the teacher had timely requested a hearing.

The district court, the panel majority, and the en banc majority all heldthat the teacher’s due process rights had been violated, and that the board was responsible, since it had terminated his contract without giving him the hearing to which he was entitled. The dissenters disagreed, and would have held that the teacher should have been required to bring a case in state court challenging the Commissioner’s refusal to appoint a hearing examiner. The majority opined that such right to appeal had been mooted by the board’s summary termination of the teacher’s employment. Three separate dissents were written (by Judges Jolly, Jones, and Garza) and Clement joined each of them. Had the view of the dissenters, including Clement, prevailed, the teacher would not have been given relief from the unlawful termination of his contract.

I wouldn't say this constitutes grounds for taking to the streets if Clement is in fact Bush's pick, but it's mildly interesting nonetheless.

Anyone know of any voucher cases that made it to the 5th Circuit?

Spellings and Hillary at NCLR

Margaret Spellings, the self proclaimed "earth mother Republican" (if that doesn't cause some cognitive dissonance, I don't know what will) has been rather busy lately.

She did an interview in this week's issue of Time magazine and another one for today's Dallas Morning News. Nothing particularly noteworthy except that she takes full credit for moderate gains in test scores for 9 year olds (there was hardly any improvement for 13 year olds and zilch for 17 year olds) even though the data is probably more reflective of education reform that happened long before she came to Washington.

But much more interestingly, Spellings spoke to National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic organization to tout those same results. Right after she spoke, Hillary (like Prince and Bono, she only needs one name now) delivered a speech to the same group saying the government is not doing enough for Hispanic youth. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Spellings, Clinton Disagree on Hispanics
- By ERIN TEXEIRA, AP National Writer
Monday, July 18, 2005

(07-18) 17:58 PDT PHILADELPHIA (AP) --

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Monday the "achievement gap is beginning to close" between Hispanic and white students, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton countered that she's not convinced the federal government is doing enough to help Hispanic youth get through school.

Spellings and Clinton each spoke at the convention of the National Council of La Raza, a four-day event that ends Tuesday.

The two did not dispute statistics that show Latino students have the nation's highest high school dropout rate and the lowest college enrollment rate, but diverged on whether the government is fixing the problem.

Praising No Child Left Behind, the education law President Bush signed in January 2002, Spellings pointed to National Assessment of Educational Progress scores released Thursday that show 9-year-olds, including Hispanics, have improved their reading and math scores.

"These results did not come out of thin air," Spellings said. "They came from a commitment to doing something that's never been done before, a commitment to giving every child a quality education."

"The achievement gap is beginning to close," she said.

But minutes later, Clinton told the same group: "You are doing your part, but I don't know that your government is doing its part right now."

Clinton stressed that, though younger students' scores have improved, 17-year-olds have made virtually no gains since the tests first started being given 30 years ago.

"I'm not sure that we are doing everything we should to make your job easier, to make sure that the opportunity society is alive and well for everyone," she said.

Whose message do you think was better received?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Gubernatorial absenteeism

The National Governors Association agree to set a common standard for high school dropouts. Missing from the Washington Post coverage was a mention of the so-called "Texas Miracle" in which the dropout rate in the Lone Star State miraculously dropped to 1% several years ago. Uh, not really, we found out later. There were still 30-40% dropout rates around the state --and much higher rates in heavily African- and Mexican-American areas.

But state and district education officials employed what some have come to call "Enron-style accounting" to education statistics.

Yesterday's agreement by the NGA was a way to avoid that in the future and provide reliable and valid statistics:

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), the incoming NGA chairman, said the current system of measuring graduation rates allows states to disguise poor performance -- as if, he said, some basketball teams were shooting at eight-foot hoops when others are shooting at the standard 10-foot hoops. Calling existing data "meaningless," he said, "We're going to be able to honestly know how we're doing in comparison to other states."

But guess who was absent from the NGA conference? The Governors of California, Florida, and yes, Texas, were all no-shows. That would be Governator, Jeb, and Goodhair. What a trio. Those three need to get with the program. The NGA's work won't mean much if three of the biggest five states in the union don't sign on.

Texas, in particular, could use a little reputation restoration following the Texas Miracle fiasco.

The Dropout Crisis

I received several emails from the Indianapolis Star promoting an editorial in yesterday's paper about the black male dropout rate in their city. According to conventional wisdom, blacks attending school in suburban areas had a much better chance of graduating than their counterparts in the city. Not so, according to the Star.

Suburban schools are failing nearly as badly as city schools.


The suburban problem in graduating black males is reflective of overall national and state achievement gaps. A mere 38 percent of black males graduated from Indiana's high schools in 2002; just 42 percent of America's black males in the class of 2002 earned diplomas.

Boys of all races tend to graduate at lower rates than girls. Yet black males bear the heaviest toll for dropping out. About 37 percent of black male dropouts will likely land in prison, according to Princeton University Professor Bruce Western; it's one reason why only 603,000 black males were attending college while nearly 800,000 were serving prison time in 2000.

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