Saturday, October 01, 2005

Another devastatingly sad story

The federal government needs to allocate a large chunk of the rebuilding funds for the Gulf Coast for New Orleans' three black colleges. Katrina ravaged their campuses and the cost of rebuilding is staggering. From the Washington Post:

New Orleans's Black Colleges Hit Hard

Schools Worry About Losing Faculty to Host Institutions While They Rebuild

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 1, 2005; Page A01

Concern is growing among black educators about the future of New Orleans's three historic African American universities, which were hit much harder by Katrina -- and have fewer resources with which to recover -- than the city's other major colleges.

Dillard University, Xavier University of Louisiana and Southern University at New Orleans got smacked with at least $1 billion in flood and fire destruction -- by far the worst damage of all the city's institutions of higher education.

he schools' limited endowments, coupled with a generally less-moneyed alumni base, have posed particular challenges to saving these venerable institutions, say school officials and education advocates. Sources say there have been some preliminary discussions about whether the schools can continue to pay faculty salaries and benefits while rebuilding.

"The task is just daunting," Dillard University President Marvalene Hughes said after she viewed the damage firsthand on Friday. "Seeing it was my reality."

In the hours after the storm, Dillard -- a stately, leafy 135-year-old campus -- was floating in upwards of 10 feet of water and lost three dorms to fire. Xavier, the nation's only historically black Catholic college, is today drenched in sludge and mold and has a flooded library, among other damage. Southern, part of the only black college system in the nation, was flooded in all its 11 buildings. Chancellor Edward Jackson believes the entire campus needs to be razed and rebuilt, at a cost of $500 million.

Last week, school administrators pleaded with government officials for special and expedited financial help that would include generous incentives to lure back faculty and 8,000 students to the colleges -- long considered a vital part of the culture and fabric of the city's large black community -- who dispersed to other schools when New Orleans was evacuated.

We'll see if the response meets the desperate need.

Bush-style accountability

The NYT posted an article today on the GAO report on the illegality of the Bush Education Department's propaganda program. I posted more fully on this earlier today, but the NYT had this important paragraph that didn't appear in the Washington Post acount at all:

The ruling comes with no penalty, but under federal law the department is supposed to report the violations to the White House and Congress.

So it's a violation of the law, with no penalty. Boy, that makes sense. I guess that pretty much sums up Bush-style accountability for anybody in his Administration.

Friday, September 30, 2005

As if things weren't bad enough for the White House

The General Accountability Office (there's more than a little irony here) determined that the Bush Education Department was out of bounds legally when they paid commentators to praise their policies in newspaper articles and on TV while not disclosing the payments. There's a name for that... let's see, I think it's... oh yeah, propaganda!

From the NY Times yesterday (via Tim at Assorted Stuff):

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 - Federal auditors said today that the Bush administration had violated the law by purchasing favorable news coverage of President Bush's education policies, by making payments to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party.

In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" inside the United States, in violation of a longstanding, explicit statutory ban.

The contract with Mr. Williams and the general contours of the administration's public relations campaign had been known for months. The report today provided the first definitive ruling on the legality of the activities.

Lawyers from the G.A.O., an independent nonpartisan arm of Congress, found that the Bush administration had systematically analyzed news articles to see if they carried the message, "The Bush administration/the G.O.P. is committed to education."

The auditors declared: "We see no use for such information except for partisan political purposes. Engaging in a purely political activity such as this is not a proper use of appropriated funds."

The G.A.O. also assailed the Education Department for telling Ketchum Inc., a large public relations company, to pay Mr. Williams for newspaper columns and television appearances praising Mr. Bush's education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act.

When that arrangement became publicly known, it set off widespread criticism. At a news conference in January, Mr. Bush said: "We will not be paying commentators to advance our agenda. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."

But more recently the Education Department defended its payments to Mr. Williams, saying his commentaries were "no more than the legitimate dissemination of information to the public."

The G.A.O. said the Education Department had no money or authority to "procure favorable commentary in violation of the publicity or propaganda prohibition" in federal law.

This is supposed to be an Education Department that favors strong accountability, right? So who's accountable? Will Bush oppose failure from schools but tolerate failure from his top appointees? And the $64,000 question: If this was, as the Accountability Office put it, "in violation of a longstanding, explicit statutory ban," shouldn't someone be punished?

Learning only allowed after Labor Day

Michigan approved a statewide post-Labor Day school start date. There's a similar movement here in Texas. I found the story via the National School Board Association's blog. The NSBA opposes the move on many grounds, namely that local control is eroded and a poor message is sent to students that tourism is more important than education.

I hate to say it -- because I love summer vacation as much as the next teacher -- but we'll really know that policymakers are serious about education when they mandate, and provide money for, a year round school calendar. Sorry, summer camps, but can you imagine what 25% more class time could do for student learning?

The right thing to do

Rare kudos to Secretary Spellings for granting flexibility to schools that have taken in Hurricane evacuees. She's often talked about flexibility but done little to actually give it. It remains to be seen how flexible Spellings and the Ed. Dept will be, and it's hard not to wonder how much of this is fueled by plummeting approval ratings and the fact that NCLB is up for reauthorization in a little over a year. But still, I give credit where credit is due. And this is clearly the right thing to do.

From the Washington Post story:

Under pressure from hurricane-stressed states, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced yesterday that the agency will for one year relax academic accountability standards under the administration's signature education initiative, allowing schools affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita to recoup without facing penalties for poor annual assessments.

The decision marks a significant shift for Spellings, who has said since she assumed office that while she will be flexible in enforcing the No Child Left Behind law, one area of measure is sacrosanct: holding schools accountable for the results of yearly tests. Yesterday's action marks the first time the administration has yielded any ground on this point.

"It's important to note that is not Waiver City," department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said. "No one has gotten a waiver yet, and these schools will have to show that they did not meet the state standards because of this disaster and these displaced students."

Spellings told a House committee that schools in the five "major disaster" states will be eligible to delay obligations under the education act without requesting a waiver under a provision that allows for the impact of a natural disasters. Schools that were greatly damaged or closed would be eligible for this option.

Other schools in these and other states accommodating the estimated 370,000 displaced students would still be required to test those pupils. But they would be permitted to lump their test scores into a separate subcategory. If a school determines that these students' scores will cause it to fall short of the law's requirement that the school is making "adequate yearly progress," it may then ask for a waiver to not count the scores.

"We must not penalize any school of any kind for its commitment to these students," Spelling told legislators.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A little humor on a Friday

From the Borowtiz Report:

Embattled Republicans Seek Legal Protection as Gay Married Couple

In what some skeptics saw as a calculated move to protect themselves from impending prosecution and ethics probes, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and former Speaker of the House Tom DeLay announced today that they were engaged to be married.

Holding hands on the steps of the Capitol, Sen. Frist and Rep. DeLay denied that there were any ulterior motives for their stunning decision to wed.

“Let our critics say what they want,” Rep. DeLay said. “Bill and I have never been more in love.”

But before reporters could question the two smitten lawmakers, Sen. Frist added, “And as a gay married couple, we expect to be protected from harassment by the government, including prosecution for conspiracy and investigation of insider stock sales.”

Rep. DeLay, seemingly fighting back tears, concurred: “We refuse to be attacked by those who won’t accept our love.”

Lowering the stakes, raising standards

UT Professor Angela Valenzuela linked to this article from the Austin Statesman. The point is simple: high-stakes tests disproportionately harm minority students. Testing is very important as a diagnostic tool but it must not be the only measure of success.

Can you imagine doing your job every day, working hard, meeting goals, and then to have your entire year's performance determined by a series of tests? And if you fail one, it's as if you failed them all?

It's an absurd system. You would naturally focus less on the tasks associated with your job and more on the tests. This is exactly what is happening in schools across America. And it's happening more in the schools accountability was supposed to benefit: namely, ones with large minority populations.

I usually don't agree with the editorial page of the Statesman so I was elated to see this article. Contrary to the tone I often take here, I really do prefer to be agreeable. The Statesman article was clearly articulated and logically sound. I reprint it here in its entirety:

For several years, state Rep. Dora Olivo, D-Missouri City, has been fighting to de-emphasize the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in promoting and graduating Texas students. Her bills to do that have met with fierce resistance from lawmakers who swear by high-stakes testing as a means of improving student performance. De-emphasizing the test, they argue, would weaken standards.

But a new study shows high-stakes testing programs in Texas and elsewhere might do as much harm as good. It might finally dispel those mistaken notions and give the bills the momentum they need.

When the Legislature meets in 2007, it should pass Olivo's measures, House Bills 1612 and 1613. The legislation would leave intact the best of Texas' testing system and fix what isn't working. The measures would permit schools to use multiple criteria, including grades, teacher evaluations and TAKS scores, to determine promotion and graduation. As it stands, seniors are denied diplomas if they don't pass the exit TAKS, regardless of their grades.

It's worth repeating that state skills exams are a good way to measure what students are learning and diagnose academic weaknesses. But Texas has used the test inappropriately to determine student promotion, retention and graduation. Because schools place so much emphasis on the TAKS, teachers long have complained that they are devoting too much time to teaching the test and not enough time helping students learn how to think critically.

The study, released earlier this month by the Education Policy Studies Laboratory, examined the effect of high-stakes testing in Texas and 24 other states. It found "no convincing evidence" that punitive measures aimed at pressuring schools and students to improve scores produced better student achievement than would otherwise have been expected. But it did find that high-stakes testing was having a negative effect on many minority students. The study found that states with greater numbers of minority students are using testing systems that exert greater pressure. Researchers think that increased testing pressure is related to larger numbers of students being held back or dropping out of school.

We've seen that happen in Texas public schools. This year, there were 21,198 seniors who did not pass the exit TAKS, so they didn't graduate. Those students completed other graduation requirements, but couldn't pass the skills exam.

Failure rates were highest among African Americans (15 percent didn't pass the exit TAKS) and Hispanics (14 percent). Five percent of white students flunked the exam.

For several years, we've been concerned about Texas' high-stakes testing program. This school year again, the exam will be used to determine whether third- and fifth-graders should be promoted and whether seniors should get their diplomas.

It is true that Texas' testing program has illuminated the gap in performance between white and minority students and between students from middle- and upper income families and those from low-income homes. That is good because it allows schools to focus their resources on the students who need it most. It also helps schools design more challenging curricula for higher performers who might otherwise be ignored.

It would be fine if the testing program stopped there. But Texas takes it a few steps too far. De-emphasizing the test would improve public schools.

Well done. For more information on state Representative Dora Olivo and the bills referenced in the editorial, click here.

Defend the constitution

A group of scientists has formed an online grassroots effort to pressure politicians to keep politics out of science education.

Check out a description here and the website itself here.

From the news release:

With a significant online advertising program and plans to run TV and print ads attacking the religious right, the Campaign is positioned to become a leading voice in efforts to curb the growing political influence of leaders of the religious right from Tony Perkins to James Dobson and Pat Robertson.

The Campaign's Advisory Board includes such notable leaders as:

-- Bruce Alberts, former president of the National Academy of Sciences

-- Francisco Ayala, former president and chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

-- Ira Glasser, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union

-- Rev. James Lawson, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Los Angeles

-- Harold Varmus, former director of the National Institutes of Health

-- Erwin Chemerinsky, professor, Duke University School of Law

Other members include clergy, constitutional scholars, scientists and grassroots activists.

Nice lineup.

File under "Wow"

Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett has a possible solution to lower the crime rate: abort black fetuses.

Maybe conservatives would like to add that as a party plank at the next convention?


A caller to Bennett's radio show suggested that the Social Security system would have money to spare if the nation hadn't aborted so many wage earners over the years. In the course of raising questions about that theory, Bennett said you can't make too many assumptions about the kind of adults aborted fetuses might grow up to be.

There is "just too much that you don't know," Bennett said. "But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

And Bill Bennett, you, too, are ridiculous and morally reprehensible. Maybe your mom should have aborted you. But then Vegas would be $7 million poorer and the world would have been denied your Book of Virtues.

Did I miss the chapter where you explained why racism is a virtue?

(Audio of his statement is at Media Matters.)

Interview with a vampire

US News and World Report has an interview with Edison Schools founder Chris Whittle. There are few figures in education that are more controversial than Whittle. His business angle now is to take over failing public schools and run them as a private, for-profit contractor.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Floundering at the Ed Dept

The announcement a few weeks ago by the Dept. of Education that vouchers would be given to hurricane evacuees made big news. And then it virtually disappeared. I search for education stories all the time but there was very little written that shed any new insight on what was going on.

Into the void steps The Hill which reports that there is very little support in Congress for the controversial measure. Specifically, Sen. Enzi (R-WY) appears to be in opposition to the plan:

When Education Secretary Margaret Spellings laid out the White House’s $2.6 billion education package for displaced Gulf Coast students, $488 million of which could be used to send children to private school, public-school officials decried what they called the opportunism of using a national crisis to push through a perennial conservative priority.

But Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, so far appears to be siding with his top Democrat, Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.), and keeping vouchers out of Katrina relief. Spellings followed by downplaying the vouchers plan less than a week after its introduction, calling it a temporary and narrow measure.

The House, though, remains a wildcard:

Even so, some lawmakers were not prepared to entirely rule out school vouchers for the migrating children of Katrina. Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), a centrist and a swing vote on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said he would consider easing his usual resistance to the notion.

“In this unique circumstance … I don’t want to say I’m opposed to it, as I might be typically,” Castle said, pointing out that he did support vouchers for students in the District of Columbia.

Even with Castle's support, the Bush Administration would have to convince the Senate to adopt the measure which seems unlikely.

The Hill also presents a bigger issue: the lack of any coherent agenda from the Ed. Department:

“The communication taking place is not clear, not precise, between Congress and the administration, and we feel it’s very important that we’re very clear,” said Vincent Ferrandino, executive director of the National Associations of Elementary School Principals.

The White House’s unveiling of a massive education drive earlier this year to extend No Child Left Behind mandates to high schools was especially befuddling to public-school officials, as little support for it existed in Congress and the administration stopped touting the plan soon after its presidential introduction.

“It does seem like a disconnect,” said Stephen DeWitt, a lobbyist for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which has sent mass mailings to drum up senatorial accolades for the voucher-free Enzi-Kennedy bill. The Department of Education, DeWitt noted, “is immediately rejected by Congress, and there’s no conversation going forward.”

I think this is symptomatic of the Bush White House: disorganized, unclear, ineffective-- in a word, floundering.

Considering how bad they've been on education policy so far and they're consistent support for vouchers, let's hope it stays that way.

Adopt-a-Library in the Gulf Coast

Here's a nice story from NPR about an effort by the American Library Association to rebuild libraries in the Gulf Coast region devastated by Katrina.

57% !?!?!

The PBS Newshour has this about the background of the evolution court case in Pennsylvania. It's a nice primer that ends with this:

Public opinion polls have consistently shown that much of the American public does not agree with the scientific community. In a March 2005 poll conducted by NBC News, 57 percent of respondents believed that the "biblical account of creation" was the most likely explanation of the origin of humans; only 33 percent believed it was evolution.

Opponents of evolution use surveys like this to make their case that school boards have the right to require that other theories be taught. The courts, on the other hand, have regularly argued that teaching theories such as creationism and intelligent design would violate the Constitution.

For now, the fight is in federal court and could wind up before the US Supreme Court.

57%? Wow. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I am.

Depending on who Bush appoints to the Supreme Court (I'm betting Emilio Garza), this case could end up coming down to Anthony Kennedy. Anthony, I hope you're not one of the 57%.

They work... great?

The news of the day is of course about DeLay. It's about time. Ah, justice is sweet.

But there is education news today, too. The Palm Beach Post covered the impending Bush plan to provide $500 million for vouchers for hurricane evacuees by looking at the wonderful voucher program in Florida, which is the largest program in the nation:

Both Gov. Bush and his education commissioner, John Winn, said they had not been in contact with the White House or the federal education officials regarding the Katrina vouchers. But Bush said he thought they were a good idea and again defended the use of vouchers in Florida.

"They work great," he said.

In a series of articles, The Palm Beach Post has showed how the lack of oversight in Bush's programs has allowed home school "consultants" to receive vouchers, how an Ocala correspondence school operator with a checkered business past had set himself up as a voucher distributor and how a school founded by an accused terrorist received vouchers. (emphasis mine, of course.)

An investigation based on the articles by Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher led to arrests in both the Ocala case as well as a Christian school in Bartow. His audit of the programs also found that there were virtually no financial or academic yardsticks to measure the programs' effectiveness.

Sounds great, huh? I'm all for funding terrorist schools in America, but who isn't? So that begs the question: why not put in some oversight? Well, the Florida Senate, Republicans included, tried to do just that:

The programs have little academic or financial oversight, which some supporters and most voucher critics have tried to correct over the last two years. Christian conservatives, however, including Gov. Jeb Bush's top education aide, have prevented the Senate "voucher accountability" bill from passing.

But surely the federal program that will provide half of a billion dollars will have oversight, right? Well, maybe...

Chad Colby, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said agency lawyers are still working on the precise language that will then be sent to Congress.

"We're going to comply with all laws," he said. "The attorneys are working on the language to make sure it's done right."

Of course, when anyone from the Bush Administration says something will be "done right" that's your cue to cringe.

My guess is there will be little or no oversight. I hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Christians acting, well, un-Christian

It's amazing how tolerant some religious people are. The Washington Post today reports on the creationism-backing school board members' very un-Christian behavior towards a science teacher:

Intimidation Alleged On 'Intelligent Design'

Teacher Cites School Board Pressure

By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 28, 2005; Page A03

HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 27 -- Parents in federal court Tuesday described an atmosphere of intimidation and anger when school board members in Dover, Pa., last year decided to require high school biology teachers to read a statement that casts doubt on the theory of evolution.

Bryan Rehm, a parent who also taught physics at Dover High School, testified of continual pressure from board members not to "teach monkeys-to-man evolution." He said that the board required teachers to watch a film critical of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and that board members talked openly of teaching creationism alongside evolution.

The atmosphere became so heated that neighbors began to call him an "atheist with . . . a lot of words added on to it," Rehm said. He said that "it was turning into a real zoo" and that students were quarreling about evolution.

No, this is not Tennessee in 1925. This is Pennsylvania in 2005. Wow.

"The right thing"-- whatever that is

Last week, Margaret Spellings appointed Charles Miller to lead a commission to propose legislation to improve higher education. Miller seems to be a good choice. He's someone that works well on both sides of the aisle, is well aware of the issues involved (he served on UT-Austin's governing board), and cares deeply about the future of American higher education.

But he's said a few curious things so far. Like this from the Houston Chronicle yesterday:

By August, Miller wants the commission, which has a $700,000 operating budget, to submit a report that is "short, but important," addressing no more than six themes.

Time will tell whether the work will lead to specific legislation. But he said it will not lead to a higher-education version of the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandates testing of reading and math skills and holds elementary and high schools accountable for the results. Critics claim the act is underfunded and overly bureaucratic.

"It's a different breed of cat," Miller said of colleges and universities. "We should be asking: What are they learning? Are they learning the right thing? Academe is going to have to come up with answers there."

The first part is great. God knows we don't need an expansion of NCLB to the college level. And as conceited as the Bush Administration has been in other areas they must know that such a move would be met with massive resistance.

But then he poses some questions -- good ones -- and says "academe is going to have to come up with answers." But there's hardly any representation from faculty or students on the commission. So by academe does he mean, well, himself and 18 fellow panelists. I sure hope not.

And if "Are they learning the right thing?" ain't a loaded question, I don't know what is. If that's there focus, the panel's recommendations could end up being yet another battle in the Culture Wars. If there's one thing higher education doesn't need, it's that.

Feeling inadequate?

Down here in Texas, we're expecting a landmark ruling from the Texas Supreme Court on the constitutionality -- that is, the adequacy and equity -- of the school finance system.

I talked to one of the lawyers that represented the school districts in the case against the state today. He said he expects a mixed decision: some areas will be found to be constitutional and others will not. This makes sense considering the Supreme Court in Texas is elected and currently has nine Republicans to no Democrats. They're conservative, want to get elected again, and quite possibly, like Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson who will most likely write the decision, they might also have larger political ambitions down the road.

That said, the system is a mess and they'd lose a lot of credibility and prestige for the judicial branch if they found the sytem totally constitutional.

Texas has substantially equalized funding for instruction. That is, about 85% of Texas schools receive about the same amount of money per student. It's unlikely -- though sad -- that the Court will demand more.

But the state has hardly done anything to bring equity to facilities and this is where, hopefully, the Court will side with the districts. As of now, the state provides aid to only about 20 of the 1,043 districts for facilities. Many disrticts, especially those in South Texas and in urban centers, cannot build adequate facilities to support classroom instruction.

In short, it's hard to teach if the building is crumbling around you. Scratch that, it's hard to teach-- period. It's near impossible to teach if the building is crumbling around you.

Dallas Morning News columnist William McKenzie believes that they should find the whole system unconstitutional. It'd be hard to disagree. To make his point, he highlights one school in Irving, outside of Dallas, MacArthur High:

When class bells ring, a sea of black, brown and white faces rushes into the halls. It's hard to imagine a better picture of Texas. The student body is a third Hispanic, a third African-American and a third white. Like Texas, it has no majority population. Everyone is in the same boat, whether they like it or not.

MacArthur also mirrors Texas for number-crunching reasons. Thanks to the state's school funding dilemma, the Irving school district had reached the top rate it can tax property owners, $1.50 per $100 in valuation. Out of ways to increase resources, MacArthur had to cut 22 teaching positions.

It did so largely by eliminating the popular block scheduling format. Instead of offering intense 90-minute class periods, Irving returned to the traditional 55-minute classes. Many of us probably grew up with 55-minute periods, but educators like MacArthur principal Tracie Fraley argue that intense, longer classes lead students to a higher level of thinking.

This is going on all over the state. Standards get raised. Accountability is demanded. Funding decreases. Seems fair, huh?

I'll post as soon as I hear about the Texas Supreme Court ruling.

What happens next?

The Boston Globe reports today that three schools will be taken over by the state for underperformance. I'm not particularly concerned with the details of the reasons why. Undoubtedly, every state has its shares of schools that are -- using any reasonable measure -- failing the parents and students in their area.

What is of primary concern to me is what happend to the school after it's been taken over. Conservatives use this strategy as a Trojan horse for vouchers and privatization and, in so doing, they proclaim "taking over failing schools" to be a panacea. It's not. Taking it over is the easy part. Improving it is much harder.

The only insight the Globe article gives into what happens next appears in this graf in which a school previously taken over is:

Since the Kuss Middle School was taken over last year, a state-hired educational consulting firm began working closely with faculty. The consultants helped teachers improve their methods and raise expectations for students, said Nancy Mullen, the new principal at Kuss, whom the school system appointed.

There is no mention of who the consultants are or what is meant by helping "teachers improve their methods." If the take-over agents really do change a school culture, we need to know how they did it so that their methods can be taught to others so that additional schools won't have to go through a take-over.

It's maddening that the Globe didn't go into more detail over what happened at Kuss or what will happen at the other schools slated for takeover. The most important part of the story isn't being told.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The best thing since the overhead projector?

The October issue of NEA Today features teacher and student bloggers. They call blogs the best things for teachers since the overhead projector. Nice.

Thanks for the heads up to Joe at Shut Up and Teach, who published the Advocate Weekly with links to all of last week's highlights at progressive edublogs. As always, be sure to check it out. And thanks, Joe.

Intelligent design case begins

The case to decide if the Dover, Pennsylvania school district can include creationism in its science curriculum began today.

For the AP preview of the case, click here. Here's the LA Times' take on it. For an update of today's events click here.

And for an editorial claiming that creationism, or intelligent design as its advocates call it, should be taught in science class, click here. For the record, creationism should be taught. It should be taught in religion class, not in science class. Newsflash: IT'S NOT SCIENCE!!

Want proof? Read this from the LA Times' article:

DOVER, Pa. — In the beginning, members of the Dover Area School District board wrangled over what should be required in their high school biology curriculum.

Some were adamant that science teachers should stick with the widely taught theory of evolution and random selection. Others said the teaching of "intelligent design" should also be required, arguing that certain elements of life, like cell structure, are best explained by an intelligent cause.

The debate had strong religious overtones.

"Nearly 2,000 years ago, someone died on a cross for us," said board member William Buckingham, who urged his colleagues to include intelligent design in ninth-grade science classes. "Shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for him?"

Yes, you should. In church-- NOT in public schools.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Posted without comment

Addressing teacher recruitment at UC

The University of California system is facing problems that are endemic to institutions of higher education around the country: double digit percentage drops in funding and double digit percentage gains in enrollment. It puts a serious squeeze on services for students, according to UC system President Robert Dynes.

He did an interview with the San Francisco Chrnoicle that appears in today's edition.

The whole interview is informative but, given the focus on this blog, I found this section particularly interesting. In it, Dynes talks about what UC is doing to produce more qualified math and science teachers which is one of the most pressing problems in American K-12 education. He also addresses the hot-button issue of standardized testing:

Q: Let's focus on the question of K-12 education. If we're not producing the kind of incoming freshmen from California's public school system that we need, where are we going to be?

A: We must continue to attract people from around the world to our graduate programs and all of that -- our graduate programs, our post-doctoral programs and our research programs. But if we're not developing in California the fruit stock, if we're not creating the next innovators, if we're not generating the next artists, the next engineers, the next scientists, the next Nobel laureates from Californians, we could very well have the finest university in the world and an almost dysfunctional K-12, which is totally unstable.

There are some fabulous schools in California. But, as I've traveled around, I've been shocked at discovering that in some school districts throughout California there are no -- none -- credentialed science and math teachers. None.

I always have used as a yardstick mathematical knowledge, the facility with which young people can estimate things. Truly, the way we get through life is by constantly estimating -- how long does it take? We're constantly calculating. And if I look at ninth-grade algebra, which is truly a yardstick here in California, we are not doing very well at all.

Q: What can the university do?

A: We've committed to preparing -- and this was a deal with the governor -- we are committed to producing 1,000 credentialed science and math teachers a year. They're entering our class this fall, and it's called "A Thousand Teachers, A Million Minds," so it's a catchy term.

Right now, we have in the bank from industry in California about $3 million. The goal is to have the students graduate in four years and be credentialed as master teachers and then be out in the schools in the fifth year.

Part of what industry has bought into is a model where industry will offer something in addition to the cash. The teacher spends a summer as an intern at a company like SBC Communications or Intel.

What happens is the teachers come out of there energized by the impact that science has on technology and on life. So they go back to the classrooms, and they're not teaching just out of the textbooks. They're teaching their experience.

Q: Are standardized tests helping or hurting education?

A: They're doing both. It's really important to have some form of standardized tests because that's the way you have a yardstick of what schools are doing well and what schools are not doing well. Now, when it drives teachers to teach to the test, that's harmful. You really want teachers who inspire excitement in your people. Creating the fire, creating the excitement, creating the inquisitive nature, is the most important thing.

I think he's hit it spot-on. And I'm intrigued by how the teacher training program he described will work -- or not work. It sounds good, but will those teachers stay in the profession given the low salary structure?
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