Friday, August 26, 2005

UFT blog, Edwize

The United Federation of Teachers has started a blog called Edwize. I really liked this post dealing with the opposition by conservatives to the UFT starting two charter schools in NYC. What are the afraid of?


I forgot to link to the Education Wonks' Carnival earlier in the week. Check it out if you haven't already by clicking here.

Also, I noticed I didn't have the education wonks on my blogroll. I've fixed that.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Spellings troubled "a little bit"

From the Washington Post:

Education Chief Reacts To 'No Child' Lawsuit

ATLANTA -- Education Secretary Margaret Spellings called claims that the No Child Left Behind Act is not fully funded "a red herring" and suggested the states that are balking may simply fear seeing the test results.

Connecticut filed a lawsuit Monday alleging that the federal government has not provided enough money to pay for the testing and programs associated with the 2001 law.

Spellings, speaking to the Atlanta Press Club, said the lawsuit "does trouble me a little bit." Afterward, she suggested that those states that oppose the law simply fear the results of its accountability measures.

Roberts on education

With Roberts' Senate confirmation hearing fast approaching, it seems like everyone is analyzing his record. So why shouldn't I?

The Economist dated today has this to say about Roberts' view of the separation of church and state vis a vis education:

A... memo from 1985 shows that Mr Roberts thought it fine for schools in Alabama to require a moment of silence, during which pupils could pray if they wanted to. (The Supreme Court disagreed.) In 1991, as deputy solicitor-general, he co-wrote a brief urging the Supreme Court to allow schools to recite a prayer at graduation ceremonies, arguing that there was no coercion involved since attendance at such events is voluntary. (In the second case, he was acting as an advocate, so this was not necessarily his own opinion.)

In 1984, he argued that student religious groups should be allowed the same rights of assembly as other student groups. He also said he had “no quarrel” with a speech by Bill Bennett, in which the then education secretary chided the Supreme Court for barring the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools,...

So he's for school prayer and for the posting of the Ten Commandments? Great. Theocracy here we come.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Federal money for proselytizing

A complete shocker! A stunner! A conservative abstinence-only group is using federal funds to push religion on teens! I'm flabbergasted. How could this happen?

From the Kaiser Foundation "Daily Reproductive Health Report":

National Politics & Policy | Federal Grant to Abstinence Education Program Withheld Because Group Seemingly Using Tax Money for Religious Purposes
[Aug 23, 2005]

HHS officials on Monday suspended federal grant money to the Pennsylvania-based abstinence education group Silver Ring Thing, saying the organization appears to be using tax dollars to fund religious programs, the Washington Post reports. In a letter to the program director, Harry Wilson, associate commissioner of the agency's Family and Youth Services Bureau, said the federally funded program "includes both secular and religious components that are not adequately safeguarded," the Post reports. HHS officials ordered the organization to submit a "corrective action plan" in order to receive an expected $75,000 in federal funding this year. Representatives of Silver Ring Thing said that although it is a "faith-based" group, it does not use public funding for its religious activities. "Any religious teaching that goes on is separate in time and place from what the government is funding," Joel Oster -- senior litigation counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the Silver Ring Thing...

This is going to be an increasing problem over the next several years. These "faith based" groups simply can't help themselves. They have a mission and whether it's public or private dollars, they're going to be missionaries. It's not part of what they do, it's who they are. And that's fine, that's great, but not with my tax money.

Kudos to the HHS for putting them on notice. And Kudos to the ACLU for bringing it up.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

NCLB less popular than the Iraq War!

Phi Delta Kappa released its annual poll on public education issues today. From the press release:

A nationwide survey released today reports that an increasing number of Americans say they know a fair amount about the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. But the more they know about it, the less they like it.

80% believe that test results from math and reading don't by themselves tell whether a school is a success or a failure.


It's time to rethink this thing.

For the full results, click here.

Monday, August 22, 2005

"Arbitrary, rigid, and capricious"

Ouch. Those were the words of the Connecticut AG in the case filed against the Department of Education over funding of NCLB, according to the NY Times.

So far, Connecticut is going it alone (there is at least one other major lawsuit in the works, but it is filed on behalf of districts by the NEA and local affiliates). There's a reason for it:

Connecticut's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, had sought, without success, to persuade other states to join his suit, although Maine officials said today that they were seriously considering their own lawsuit.

Mr. Blumenthal said that other states were reluctant to join his effort because they had not yet done the studies that could prove that the federal law had caused them to spend state money on federal mandates. He said that "fear of retaliation by the Bush administration" had also made some states reluctant.

Of course, Bush Administration apologists will deny it, but the administration has a reputation for this kind of thing. Still, NCLB has become so onerous and damaging to state budgets that I'll bet that other states will join in or file their own suits. Of course, if Connecticut wins, the floodgates would open. That's why the case will be so important.

I think they've got a good case:

Connecticut's legal argument is based on a passage in the law that was first put forth by Republicans during the Clinton administration and that forbids Washington to require states to spend their own funds to put federal policies into effect.

A case of the chickens coming home to roost, perhaps?

... In an interview, [Connecticut Attorney General Richard] Blumenthal said that Connecticut's suit was "not a blunderbuss attack" on the law but rather "a targeted challenge to unfunded mandates."

Remember, this isn't about what you or a judge thinks about the merits of the law or testing or the achievement gap or anything else. This is about the law. And the law says that the feds must fund federal programs. They're clearly not doing that right now.

Connecticut's got a pretty good case. We'll see if the judge agrees.

Update: Tomorrow's edition of the NYT is already online. A couple of interesting tidbits:

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, expressed support for the suit.

"We in Connecticut do a lot of testing already, far more than most other states," she said. "Our taxpayers are sagging under the crushing costs of local education. What we don't need is a new laundry list of things to do - with no new money to do them."

This again highlights the often bipartisan nature of the opposition to NCLB. Also:

Legal scholars said that previous lawsuits by other states against the federal government over so-called unfunded mandates have had mixed success. But David B. Cruz, a professor at the University of Southern California's law school, called Connecticut's suit "legally very strong" because of the law's explicit language prohibiting unfunded mandates.

"It just doesn't add up"

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ably covered the NCLB woes in my hometown in Sunday's paper:

Educators decry how U.S. defines success
Of the Post-Dispatch

Meramec Valley School District's assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and professional development made the rounds to three elementary schools last week to deliver the good news: All three schools had helped more of their students score proficient or advanced on state reading and math tests.

So the same assistant superintendent, Janet Hubbard, cringed when she saw the newspaper report last week about her district falling short of Missouri's target for yearly progress. The Franklin County district's five elementary schools met the goals. The middle and high schools did not.

"It's heart-wrenching that out of all of these incredible achievements, people are going to remember reading in the paper that Meramec Valley didn't meet the state standards," Hubbard said. "But I'm in the schools celebrating."

Welcome to the world created by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

...For example, the Troy, Mo., School District failed to make adequate yearly progress this year because a single group of children - those in special education at Troy Middle School - fell short of the target for communication arts, according to testing data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

That vexes Harvey Hegger, a retired engineer whose three grandchildren attend Troy schools.

Hegger looked at the test scores and saw that his school posted higher percentages of students in the top two scoring levels than some other districts in the area. But some of those other districts met the state goals - and Troy didn't.

"I'm sure anybody who understands math and numbers would look at that and say, 'That doesn't make sense,'" said Hegger, a retired engineer. "It just doesn't add up."

Exactly. They do highlight the talk from the Ed. Dept. that progress might be considered as an indicator of "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) rather than benchmarks. That would of course make AYP reflective of its name-- that is, it would actually be a measure of progress.

Ferguson-Florissant Superintendent Jeff Spiegel said he favors a proposal suggested recently by U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, in which the country would move from requiring every student to be proficient to a system that measures each student's performance year to year.

"It makes sense to a lot of educators to do that instead of comparing the performance of different students," Spiegel said.

Marshall Cohen, director of the Lift for Life Academy, said his charter middle school does just that, by testing each student at the beginning and end of the school year to see whether the child has made progress under No Child Left Behind, which applies to charter schools but not to private schools.

Testing students as a group doesn't tell educators whether they helped a student who started several grade levels behind catch up to the rest of the class, Cohen said.

"That's what we like to see, and we've been showing progress in those areas," Cohen said.

So will the feds loosen up and make AYP more reflective of its name? That depends on the state of the rebellion against NCLB:

Educators and parents say they understand the push for accountability. But they don't understand how schools and districts that stack up as excellent by other measures can fail to reach the state targets for yearly progress.

Missouri residents are not alone in their concern. At least 15 states have considered legislation to opt out of the federal law, and 21 states have debated measures criticizing it, according to a study released last week by the Civil Society Institute, a nonpartisan advocacy group in Massachusetts.

If the resistance to NCLB fades, so will the much needed reforms. But if the heat stays on the feds to make the changes -- that is, if it looks like states really would start opting out -- then we'll see big changes, fast.

Quantifying quality

CNN has a story up this afternoon on the section in NCLB that requires every classroom to have a qualified teacher by the end of this school year.

To make a long story short, it ain't gonna happen.

As with so many things, districts and states are working feverishly to change the definition to meet the qualifications of the teachers they already have. And what more can you really expect them to do? Get more qualified teachers? With what money?

And while the Bush Administration attempts to make political hay with a meaningless snazzy sound bite (i.e., "a highly qualified teacher in every classroom), many truly highly qualified teachers wonder what this is all about:

To teachers, the process is often confusing, burdensome and ill-focused. The law aims to make sure a math teacher knows math. But it does not measure a teacher's devotion or ability to connect with students.

"It has nothing to do with me as a teacher," said Terrie Tudor, a drama teacher from Wheaton, Illinois. "It's a legal definition and a document. That's what we're trying to reach."

Norma De La Rosa, a reading teacher in El Paso, Texas, said it is fine to hold teachers accountable, but the judging often is unfair and subjective.

"Whose definition of highly qualified are we looking at? From what perspective?" she said. "From somebody who has never been in the classroom? Who has never gone through the teacher preparation courses? Who has never been through the ups and downs of education?"

Teachers' unions and state leaders say they believe states have tried to strike a balance, following the law while being fair to veteran instructors. "I think states are making valiant efforts," said Raymond Simon, deputy education secretary.

It's a little bizarre that the AP writer talks about teachers' union and state leaders and then quotes the deputy education secretary in the same graf. But the point is well made. States are trying to find a middle ground so that they don't drive the very highly qualified teachers the law is supposed to ensure out of the profession.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

I'm back

Well, I guess I didn't really leave but the beginning of the school year is fairly consuming. Please keep checking the site though, I'll be back to posting regularly this week.
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