Saturday, October 08, 2005

"That doesn't sound like choice, but fear"

I've always thought that school choice within public schools would be a good thing. There'd be no drain on overall spending on public education and a little bit of choice might force schools to be more responsive to the needs of students and parents.

But this article makes those assumptions seem suspect at best, downright wrong at worst. From In These Times:

NCLB and school choice policies are often touted as effective strategies to improve educational quality and close the achievement gap between low-income/minority and white middle-class students. But school choice in Portland has also exacerbated inequality, favoring savvy middle-class families at the expense of families in struggling communities. Theoretically, NCLB gives low-income students the opportunity to move to higher performing schools. In reality, the law means the kids who are left behind have even fewer resources than before.

“No Child Left Behind gives the illusion of choice, but it’s really about dismantling the schools,” says Elisha Williams, a senior at Jefferson High School, a predominantly African-American institution that lost more than 10 percent of its enrollment to federally mandated NCLB transfers last year. When struggling schools like Jefferson are labeled “nonperforming,” Williams says, families transfer to other schools, taking per capita government dollars with them. Williams also argues that high stakes testing mandated by NCLB fuels negative stereotypes about African American communities and encourages families to pull their kids from low-income minority schools. “That doesn’t seem like choice to me, but fear,” Williams says.

This makes the Raleigh program the NYT wrote about last week sound even more attractive.

Next year, they can drive!

Teach for America, a program first envisioned in an undergraduate thesis, last week marked its 15th birthday. NPR marked the occasion with an interview with the visionary who started it all, Wendy Kopp.

Longhorns win!!!!

45-12. Finally! We've been waiting six years for a defeat of Oklahoma and we got it. Big time.
For more, click here.

Friday, October 07, 2005

"It's about time"

Governor Blagojevich of Illinois announced this week that every child in his state will have health insurance.

There can be little doubt that one cause of the persistent failure of many children is their health-- or lack of it. As schools have been forced to slash budgets, nurses were one of the first "non-instructional" expenditures to go. No nurses in the school, no health care provided -- what's a kid to do?

Well done, Governor. I hope you can deliver. And I hope other governors follow your lead.

For details, see the Chicago Tribune's story. A highlight:

The governor's ambitious proposal would alter the way Medicaid oversees medical care and make Illinois the first state in the nation to offer coverage to all uninsured children.

For the first time, most Medicaid members would be required to select a doctor who would be responsible for managing all their medical care. Currently, patients on Medicaid can see any physician they like, and care management is virtually non-existent.

The program would save $57 million next year, and Blagojevich wants to use $45 million of that to extend health care coverage to uninsured children from middle-income families.

The governor, who has made health care a signature issue, said he would try to pass his plan in the legislature's veto session this month and was "cautiously optimistic" about its prospects.

"It's about time government did something to help [middle class families] ... get health care for their kids," he said.

Opportunity and prosperity

Two very influential Democratic intellectuals -- William Galston and Elaine Karmack -- have issued a report advising Democrats how to get out of the political wilderness. And it doesn't involve framing.

They're the same two that penned a report in 1989 that set the tone for Clinton's centrist run in '92, so people are listening. What does this have to do with education? From the Washington Post:

They contend that Democrats who hope the party's relative advantages on health care and education can vault them back to power "fail the test of political reality in the post-9/11 world." Security issues have become "threshold" questions for many voters, ...

I think there's truth in this, but it's only part truth. Americans are rightly concerned with security and justifiably frightened by terrorists. But we are also concerned about the opportunities that will be available to our children. With a rising deficit and decreasing investments in education, it is becoming more and more likely that future generations will see falling standards of living. That's an intolerable situation.

The twin messages of Democrats need to be opportunity and prosperity. And you can't have either without an excellent educational system. Test scores, which Republicans (and some Democrats unfortunately) are obsessed with, merely prove adequacy. We must demand more.

Education leads to opportunity and prosperity.

(For more on the report, and one particular claim that there simply aren't enough voters in the liberal base to achieve broad victories on Election Day, see Kevin Drum's Political Animal.)

How bad were Louisiana schools?

Katy Haycock of the Education Trust makes the argument that Louisiana schools weren't as bad as everyone assumed. In fact, though they had a long way to go, Louisiana scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed some of the biggest gains in the country.

This is critically important, of course, because the Bush Education Department would like you to think there had been no progress in Louisiana public schools and thus, vouchers and privatization are the way to go. They're wrong.

(Via NSBA's Board Buzz.)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Homeschooling evacuees

The AP ran a surprising story about the ongoing struggle to provide an adequate education for hurricane evacuees. It seems that a massive number of them are homeschooling. I guess it shouldn't be surprising really, since for many parents and students, there just aren't many other good choices. Public schools are overcrowded and private schools have even less capacity than the public ones.

It's almost impossible to tell how many exactly are doing this, or what the long term effects on the kids will be, but the AP provided some pretty interesting anecdotes, like these:

"At her school in East Baton Rouge, there were four drug busts one day, and the next someone was selling pills," said Michelle Pellegal, gesturing at her 16-year-old daughter, April Kent. "She said, 'I can't go to that school any more."'

...Pellegal works in the produce department of a grocery store. She will oversee her daughter's lessons in chemistry and algebra after work, she said, until Plaquemines Parish schools reopen.

Some, like Pam Ricouard, followed the state's wishes and enrolled her five children in school in Erath, a rural town in coastal Louisiana, after Katrina only to flee before Rita put the small farming town underwater.

Now, she said, she's home-schooling her fourth, sixth, eighth, ninth and 12th grade children until her local school district reopens.

"Math'll be hard," she said, sighing. "It's not just addition and subtraction -- it's everything."

Even the students seem fed up with the seemingly endless vacation that Katrina and Rita bestowed upon them, stuck as they often are at home in the sticky Louisiana heat.

"I'm ready to go back and see all my friends," Kent said. "I don't like being at home, all bored."

His eyes were bigger than his stomach

Also in the nothing to do with education category, this story is one of the craziest I've read in years. Apparently a Burmese python tried to eat an alligator. The results weren't pretty. The article's here and the picture (approach with caution if you have a queasy stomach) is here.

Blood in the water

It's not directly related to education, but I found this article fascinating. The crux of the matter: many potential Republican candidates aren't running because they view '06 as a disaster waiting to happen.

The reverse is happening in the Democratic party. All the best candidates are stepping up because they smell blood in the water.

Why's it happening? "There's one obvious reason why Republican candidates aren't listening to the White House and the national party: For the first time, Mr. Bush is an unpopular president."

Those are the words of David Wiegel who, incidentally, has a blog which can be found here. The article is here.

Something different

For a couple of interesting reads on uber-alternative styles of education, see Salon's profile of "unschooling" and the Boston Globe's look at the unschooling school, Sudbury Valley.

Quality blogging

Scott over at the Center for Teaching Quality informs me that they've started a blog called Teaching Matters Most. Welcome to edusphere, Scott.

Their entries are strong and coherent pleas for more attention to be paid to the critical issue of teacher quality.

Here's a snippet from one of them about the high-profile debate over how the school system in New Orleans should be rebuilt:

In Orleans Parish schools, students currently have a one in five chance of getting an uncertified teacher compared to a one in twenty chance in high-performing schools. And statewide, one –seventh of teachers are uncertified. Implementing school choice and alternative certification programs as envisioned by the Fordham Foundation will never address this fundamental teaching quality dilemma underlying the problems facing New Orleans and urban school districts across the country.

Despite the almost undeniable significance of teaching quality and the exponential growth rate of charter schools into a permanent and significant element of America’s education landscape, there has been little research into issues of teaching quality within them, including matters related to the effectiveness of teacher preparation, selection, induction, and professional development.

Because of their autonomy from legal and regulatory structures, charter schools could potentially benefit from increased freedom to hire the best teachers, design effective professional development, and promote a strong professional culture. However, these practices are not currently guaranteed to happen in any particular charter school and do not occur systematically across all charter schools. In all likelihood, adoption will vary across the charter sector, with some schools engaging in top-notch teaching quality practices and others falling far short of these goals. We know teaching quality matters, but we know little about how charter, private and religious schools perform on this crucial measure.

Where is the call for investing in what we know works for providing New Orleans students with high quality teachers? Where is the call for a special teaching fellows program to recruit and develop a new kind of teacher — one who knows content, how to teach it, and how to work with special children? Where is the call for investing in new school-university partnerships to prepare and develop teachers? Where is the call for redesigned schools so better prepared teachers have more time to work more closely with students on both their academic, social, and emotional needs? Where is the call to finally pay the teachers of New Orleans a decent professional salary and improve their working conditions and then to finally establish and enforce the same high standards for all teachers?

The answer to these calls will cost money and will not happen in weeks or even months following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. But a short-sighted response calling for increased school choice and claiming that teachers need no additional preparation and support to work with New Orleans students is simply wrong. The current and future students of this great city deserve better.

Yes they do. Vouchers and school choice do not necessarily meet any of the most pressing needs of urban schools. In fact, as evidenced by teacher quality, in some cases they might actually exacerbate the existing problems.

I'm glad the CTQ is blogging. I look forward to reading more of what they have to say in the near future.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"The Wal-Mart way"

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy released a report this week that blasted Wal-Mart for giving to dubious causes and seeking to improve its image more than actually providing help to the needy.

From the press release:

"The Waltons' and Wal-Mart's philanthropy deserves more scrutiny than praise. Giving by the family and the corporate foundation exemplifies the family's true priorities and agendas," said Jeff Krehely, deputy director of NCRP. "Not only are they deflecting public scrutiny with their shameless public relations campaigns, they are doing so while simultaneously using quasi-public dollars to advance an agenda of personal enrichment cloaked in philanthropy. We encourage the media, nonprofit advocates, and policy makers to step up oversight efforts of corporate philanthropy, as these vast concentrations of wealth have the potential to change the policy landscape, and not necessarily in the best interests of the public," said Krehely.

The Waltons have been the biggest financial backers of vouchers and the candidates that support them. In the late John Walton's words, they'd like to bring "the Wal-Mart way" to education. And wouldn't that be great? Women would get paid less than men, no teachers would have health insurance, and the kids would get a crappy, cheap education at a low price.

We can only hope...

I'll have more on the report and the Waltons in the days to come, but for now I'll end this post by drawing your attention to the post script at the bottom of the National Committee for Repsonsive Philanthropy's press release:

Contrary to the claims of Wal-Mart spokesperson Melissa O�Brien in a New York Sun article dated 10/5/2005, NCRP never received money from Target Stores or the Target Foundation. In the 1990s, NCRP received several grants from the Dayton-Hudson Foundation, whose parent company owned several retail chains. The Target Corporation emerged from the dissolution of the Dayton-Hudson Corporation. During the transition, NCRP was notified that it would not receive money from the newly formed Target Foundation, largely because of NCRP�s progressive mission and role as a philanthropic reform organization.

We are more than willing to engage the Wal-Mart Corporation in an honest debate about its philanthropy, but we will not tolerate blatant lies being spread about NCRP in an effort to discredit our research programs or publications.

Wow. The Waltons are playing hardball. The Sun article is here. (Via

Great article on the Daily Show

This has nothing to do with education. But the Daily Show has got to be the best thing to happen to TV since, well, cable. The Guardian ran an excellent feature over the weekend about Jon Stewart. I highly recommend it. (Thanks to Kim of A Little Polyanna for the link.)

Kahlenberg on integration of a different kind

Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation pointed out an interesting juxtaposition in the New York Times. In the book review section appeared a critique of Jonathan Kozol's new book, Shame of a Nation. The critique engaged the question of busing and desegregation in public schools. Its an old debate played out in the media and in the courts of over the last 50 years.

But on the front page was an article I posted about last week that talked about a few programs that desegregate not by race but by income. The results are astounding. Kahlenberg thinks this is the wave of the future, this is the discussion we should be having. I agree. Check out his article here.

Special ed case in the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case on special education. Specifically the case deals with who has the burden of proof in establishing special educational needs: the district or the parents.

For more, click here for NPR's Morning Edition story on the particulars of the case.

UT's sort-of diversity

The AP covered diversity issues at my alma mater of UT. It's a situation that is very common across the country, but especially in the South. In Texas, for instance, 12% of the state is black but only 4% of the UT student body. Hispanics make up nearly 30% of the state but only 15% of the student body. Those few minorities that are on campus often feel isolated and unwelcome.

Forget stupid remarks from talk radio hosts, this is racism that actually affects people.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

10 voucher schools fail to disclose information

At the beginning of the school year, the Milwaukee Journal noted that there would be a close watch on that city's 130 or so voucher schools. They don't have to provide much information, just attendance rolls and financial statements, but those would be scrutinized by the media and policymakers, according to the Journal. Well, today, the Journal reported that 10 of the voucher schools didn't even report that much.

Lack of accountability remains one of the biggest problems for voucher supporters. Readers of this blog know that I think accountability is a bit overdone these days, especially as it relates to test scores that end up driving curriculum. But anyone would agree there needs to be some accountability. At least let the public know who's going to the school and how the money is being spent.

The public money for these private schools is, for now, being withheld.

To agree or not to agree, that was the question

New York City's teacher union, the UFT, has finally posted comment about the contract agreement reached yesterday that averted the very real possibility of a strike that could have shut down the city's schools.

PBS's Newshour did an excellent piece on the negotiations and the tenure of Chancellor Klein a few days ago, before the agreement was reached, that provides some excellent background info.

Health care savings for districts and teachers?

Health insurance costs school districts billions of dollars. And with the price rising all the time, if things stay the same, an ever increasing share of budgets will be eaten up by it, leaving less for teacher salaries and instructional materials. Nothing we can do it about, right? Maybe not.

According to author Paul Zane Pillzer in an interview with Newsweek, many companies are dropping employer sponsored health plans and instead providing money for employees to pay for their own -- at far less cost. How does it work? For those without pre-existing conditions, the cost of individual plans, on average, is half the cost of employer plans. And for those with pre-existing conditions, well, I'll let Pillzer explain:

Pillzer: The average [healthcare] expenditures for an American are $6,600 a year. Ninety percent of the people spend less than $1,000, but 10 percent use more than $40,000 a year. In the old days, we didn’t know who was healthy or not. The thinking was that anyone could get cancer or other diseases, so let’s bond together and insure each other. But crank the clock forward 20 years and I can predict with 99-percent accuracy what you will spend next year. And a carrier can check with the Medical Information Bureau, which has your whole file. So if you’re healthy, the [insurance company] would charge you $7,000 for what they charge the company $14,000 because under their policy with your company, they have to cover whoever is in the company. But if they could choose to only cover the 90 percent, they would charge them less.

Newsweek: What happens to the other 10 percent?
Pillzer: Two big things have happened that exploded the popularity of individual health insurance policies. One is that companies are allowed to pay for individual policies now and can reimburse employees tax free. And, starting in 2005, states are now required [by Congress] to have state guaranteed coverage.

Newsweek: For that 10 percent with health problems?
Pillzner: Yes, we’ve always had it for old people with Medicare, and for poor people with Medicaid … But this is not for poor people but middle class and upper class people who have been rejected for an individual policy or have had their policy rate [premium] upgraded because of a health problem—or they have a letter saying one of those two things would happen if they applied. That makes them eligible for state guaranteed coverage.

Newsweek: Won’t it be much more expensive?
Pillzner: It is the identical coverage but two to three times the [average premium price] in the state. Some states are better and some are worse ... But healthy family members could get individual coverage then get the unhealthy person guaranteed coverage. So you can lock in a lower rate for the other family members who are healthy.

And the overall cost would still be less. I could see a scenario where districts take the money they currently spend on health insurance, give it to teachers directly (non-taxable as a health care stipend) and teachers shop around for the best price. The districts would save money on administrative costs and teachers would have a net gain. Those with pre-existing conditions wouldn't gain anything, but, at least it would seem from what Pillzner is suggesting, they wouldn't lose anything easier.

This change in how health insurance works will be fascinating to watch. In a world where the average employee switches jobs an average of eight to ten times in their life, it no longer makes sense for health insurance to be tied to one's job. The savings for districts and teachers here could be immense.

More on New Orleans' universities

The other day I posted about the plight of New Orleans' black universities. CNN today takes a broader look at all of that city's universities:

The New Orleans schools also are working on plans to band together, allowing students from the harder-hit Xavier and Dillard universities to take classes at relatively unscathed Tulane and Loyola. Xavier and Dillard would also lend faculty.

Tulane and Loyola are on higher ground and thus in better shape; Xavier officials will have to cope with the remnants of a flooded library, while three of Dillard's dorms were lost to storm-related fires.

It's great they are working together to find short-term solutions but the article is consipicuously silent about longer-term plans for Xavier and Dillard. The silence is probably due to a lack of knowledge as to what will happen to those schools.

Another interesting tidbit from the article:

To lure faculty back with their families, Tulane -- the largest private employer in greater New Orleans with 6,000 employees -- has received approval from the Orleans Parish School Board to sponsor a charter school aimed at children in the neighborhood.

There will undoubtedly be many charters started in the area because, due to their smaller size, they are more adaptable than the large school districts. Normally, I'm very cautious about charters, but, in this case, I think the school boards need to be open to them. As long as they are public, non-profit institutions I see no reason why there shouldn't be more of them.

Rebuilding New Orleans

As the chat with Paul Hill continues at EdWeek about the rebuilding of New Orleans education system, I want to point to an NPR story that aired this morning featuring a member of the Louisiana State Board of Education. She talks about many of the issues going on in the chat. New Orleans, it appears, will make a fascinating model of how to build an urban school system basically from scratch.

They mentioned the NPR story in the EdWeek chat:

Question from Brian Menard, MEd student, UMass-Lowell:
NO needs schools up and running ASAP, yet how far can NO go in rebuilding the school system until it knows whether the number of students it needs to service will be 80%, 50%, 30%, or some other proportion of its former student population?

Ann Bradley:
As I mentioned, Alvarez & Marsal and the interim superintendent have issued a bulletin asking parents and empoloyees to get in touch so they can begin reopening schools and staffing them, etc. They are moving one step at a time based on assessments of buildings, etc. On National Public Radio this morning, I am told, a member of the Louisiana state board of education said she thought there might only be 10,000 to 15,000 students served this year by the district. In a way, you could envision that opening schools on an "as needed" basis provides an opportunity to pick the best people to run them and to pay close attention to the programs they offer, but I have no idea if that is how it will actually feel or play out in the city.

Monday, October 03, 2005

EdWeek hosts a live chat tomorrow about the rebuilding of New Orleans' schools

The details:
LIVE CHAT: Re-Creating Public Education in New Orleans

WHEN: Today, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2005, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., EST


Paul T. Hill joins EDUCATION WEEK for this live online chat,
focusing on rebuilding in New Orleans. Mr. Hill believes
that American school planners will be as close as they have
ever come to a "green field" opportunity: A large and long
troubled urban public school system will need to be rebuilt
from scratch.

But how should it be rebuilt and reorganized? What steps
need to be taken? And what potential mistakes need to be

The commentary he wrote for last week's edition of EdWeek is here.

Inventiveness and progress

One of the greatest challenges for anyone involved in education is how to find the proper balance between teaching the basics and encouraging creativity. It's an ancient problem, as old as learning itself.

Uber-inventors Danny Hillis and Bran Ferren offer some interesting thoughts about the connection between education and invention. From Newsweek:

Oct. 10, 2005 issue - Are inventors born, or are they made? Danny Hillis, who can't remember a time when he wasn't trying to make mind-blowing stuff, comes at the question, as usual, from an unexpected angle: potential inventors are un-made. "In some sense, every kid is inventive," he says. Without encouragement, a child's gleeful penchant for experimentation becomes endangered. "Kids invent things all the time until they get to school and adults tell them they shouldn't be wasting their time doing silly stuff," says Bran Ferren, Hillis's partner at Applied Minds, a company that invents amazing things for corporations like General Motors and institutions like the United States government.

There's a very real lesson here: if every school is standardized and formulaic, if every minute of the school day is planned and plotted to achieve narrow curricular goals and ensure "success" on mindless standardized tests, what happens to creativity and invention? And if creativity is banished from schools, where will cures for diseases and new technological innovations come from?

Invention is at the heart of progress. So I ask you: Are we doing enough in our schools to cultivate a spirit of inventiveness and encourage creativity in students? Or are we, as Ferren suggests, doing the opposite?

Do they have the life and dash that is necessary?

This Saturday the Texas Longhorns will hopefully end a five-year slump against the hated Oklahoma Sooners. For you history buffs out there, here's how the Austin Statesman reported the first matchup between the schools (before Oklahoma was a state) in 1900:


Practice game yesterday

The game of football yesterday afternoon at the Varsity athletic field was an interesting contrast, notwithstanding the rather one-sided score of 28-2 in favor of the Varsity.


While Oklahoma should be given credit for the stiffness of her center trio, the fact that the Varsity backs made but small headway at these points is partly due to the Varsity backs themselves. They had not the life and dash that is necessary to successful line plunging,...

Here's hoping that Jamal Charles, Selvyn Young, and Vince Young have the life and dash necessary for successful line plunging-- and that Adrian Peterson doesn't.

Bennett forced to resign from K12

Bill Bennett has resigned from the chairmanship of K12, the notorious privatization company that is within junk-bond felon Michael Milken's education conglomerate.

Apparently, Bennett has stooped so low that he has brought the already low company down even further. Check out the statement from the K12 website (via SchoolsMatter):

Statements by K12 Inc. and William J. Bennett Regarding Bennett's Resignation from the K12 Board of Directors

McLean, VA -- October 3, 2005 - K12, Inc. today announced that William J. Bennett has resigned as an employee, and as Chairman and member of the company's Board of Directors, effective immediately. K12 Inc. said the Board accepted his resignation, thanking him for his contributions to the company. K12 Inc. said that it has no relationship with, or involvement in, Dr. Bennett's radio program. The opinions expressed by Dr. Bennett on his radio program are his and his alone.

Dr. Bennett, in a separate statement said: "I am in the midst of a political battle based on a coordinated campaign willfully distorting my views, my record, and my statements. Given the controversy surrounding the remarks I made on my radio show, I am stepping down from my positions at K12, so that neither the mission of the company, nor its children, are affected, distracted, or harmed in any way."

A coordinated campaign? Who's coordinating it? Who's distorting your statements? Everyone's been quoting you exactly as you said it. And the audio of you saying it is right here.

The paranoia on the right is astounding.

Good news

New York City Mayor Bloomberg reached an agreement with the teachers' union today that gives them a 15% raise over the next four years and ends the possibility of a teacher strike.

DeLay indicted again

Word in Austin is that the grand jury has re-indicted DeLay, and there is an additional indictment for money laundering ... More later...

Update: Here is the AP story (via the Stakeholder).

Welcome to the digital age

There's an exciting effort underway to digitize books and make them searchable and available on the internet-- free.

But wait. Didn't Google already try that.? Yes, but their attempt has, uncharacteristically, been a disaster.

Now Yahoo (I refuse to put the exclamation point, it's stupid) has teamed with the University of California, the University of Toronto, Hewlett Packard, and Adobe to digitize thousands of books that aren't copyright protected. The next stage in their plan will be to get consent from copyright holders to digitize their books. This will save them the legal troubles plaguing Google's effort.

The group is called the Open Content Alliance. There's an AP story here and a NYT story here. A highlight from the NYT:

"What's so interesting about all of this are the collections that can come forward that are relatively specialized," said Carole Moore, chief librarian at the University of Toronto. "This will put it together on a global scale, which is really exciting."

In other words, a library that specializes in Hemingway could put their collection online, as could a library that specializes in American History, or mollusks, or oceanograpy, or whatever. This would be absolutely amazing if it works. And I don't see why it wouldn't. Especially if they can get others to join the effort:

The new group is calling for others to join. And Mr. Kahle of the Internet Archive said he hoped to recruit Google.

"The thing I want to have happen out of all this is have Google join in," he said. "I know we're dealing with archcompetitors, but if there's room for these guys to bend, by the time my kid goes to college, we could have a library system that is just astonishing."

It'll be a 21st-Century Alexandria: all the best works of literature collected in one place. But it'll be better than Alexandria because it'll be searchable. Welcome to the digital age.

Abort Bennett


Former Education Secretary Finds Himself in Middle of Controversy Again

After being blasted for saying on his radio program that aborting all black babies would reduce crime in America, former Education Secretary Bill Bennett attempted an apology today, telling his radio audience that aborting all future talk-show hosts would dramatically reduce the number of idiotic remarks made on the radio.

“I just want to put this out there,” Mr. Bennett said on “Morning in America,” his nationally syndicated radio program. “But if we were to systematically abort every future radio talk-show host in this country, the number of idiotic remarks made in America would plummet.”

For the rest of the article, visit the Borowitz Report.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"He wanted them to fail"

Bill Bennett created quite a storm last week with his suggestion that aborting all black babies would lower the crime rate (can't imagine why?!?). Reed Hundt, former FCC chief under Clinton, relays this story at TPM Cafe:

When I was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (1993-97), I asked Bill Bennett to visit my office so that I could ask him for help in seeking legislation that would pay for internet access in all classrooms and libraries in the country. Eventually Senators Olympia Snowe and Jay Rockefeller, with the White House leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, put that provision in the Telecommunications Law of 1996, and today nearly 90% of all classrooms and libraries do have such access. The schools covered were public and private. So far the federal funding (actually collected from everyone as part of the phone bill) has been matched more or less equally with school district funding to total about $20 billion over the last seven years. More than 90% of all teachers praise the impact of such technology on their work. At any rate, since Mr. Bennett had been Secretary of Education I asked him to support the bill in the crucial stage when we needed Republican allies. He told me he would not help, because he did not want public schools to obtain new funding, new capability, new tools for success. He wanted them, he said, to fail so that they could be replaced with vouchers,charter schools, religious schools, and other forms of private education. Well, I thought, at least he's candid about his true views. The key Senate committee voted almost on party lines on the bill, all D's for and all R's against, except one -- Olympia Snowe. Her support provided the margin of victory. (Emphasis mine.)

I now have more respect for Olympia Snowe and -- I didn't think it was possible -- less respect for Bill Bennett.

Highlights from progressive edublogs

Universal college education?

Rep. Rahm Ehmanuel (D-Illinois), head of the DCCC, appeared on Meet the Press this morning. He squared off against his counterpart, head of the NRCC, Rep. Tom Reynolds. The entire exchange was interesting and can be read in full here, and there are highlights from the DCCC point of view here. But I was most interesting in this:

MR. RUSSERT: So was it a mistake for Democrats in the Senate and House to vote to authorize the war?

REP. EMANUEL: Given the information that we were given them, they made their decision. What has been a mistake is to let this type of administration basically run a policy of incompetence when it comes to Iraq. Let me address, though, the future of this country. I'll give you five quick ideas. One, we make college education as universal for the 21st century that a high school education was in the 20th.

MR. RUSSERT: And who pays for that?

REP. EMANUEL: The American people, because it offers--Let me get to it.

He never got to it. But still, is this going to ba a key part of the Democratic agenda in '06, '08 and beyond? I hope so.

"A purely punitive improvement strategy will eventually have negative results"

Thanks to Tim at Assorted Stuff for pointing out this article (subs. req'd) by Julia Steiny of the Providence Journal.

Steiny, like most critics of NCLB, understands that testing has its place. It's important, even vital. But it's not everything. When it becomes everything, kids -- and teachers -- drop out. And who can blame them? Tests aren't exciting or motivating. Important yes, interesting no.

From Steiny's editorial:

The intensely myopic focus on testing inherent in the No Child Left Behind law is having the unintended (we hope) consequence of driving civic and social goals right out of the curriculum and school culture. This is happening despite the fact that for many of the original advocates of universal public education the goal was to have an educated citizenry, individuals equipped to take part in democracy.

Whatever the law's virtues -- and it definitely has some -- the copious testing it demands is specifically to identify the deficient. (Forget building on strength.) The law then addresses those found wanting with threats and punishments. As any parent or organizational leader will tell you, a purely punitive improvement strategy will eventually have negative results.

Without saying that testing is important -- I, and just about every other NCLB critic, have conceded this point on mnay occassions-- I'd love to hear an NCLB supporter address this criticism: NCLB is entirely negative, giving no credit to schools that pass the tests, only punishments to those that don't.

And what about civics? Is the purpose of schooling only to teach reading, math, and science? What about community service, democracy, history, geography... I could go on, but you get the point.

No Child Left Behind needs to be -- to borrow the Clinton cliche -- mended, not ended. We need to ensure that every student is proficient in reading and math. But that cannot be achieved entirely by punitive means.

And what's more, proficiency in math and reading should not the ultimate goal of our education system. It's way too confining, narrow, and frankly, uninspiring. Schools do so much more than teach basic skills and somehow (admittedly, I don't know exactly how) the other aspects of a school's mission must be considered in the formula for success.

Sen. Obama on how progressives should proceed

It's not particularly about education, but this post on Sen. Barack Obama's blog (yes, Sen. Obama has a blog) is remarkable. It's a long post which, like the article I recommended earlier, is well worth reading in its entirety. But if you're pressed for time, here's a snippet:

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.

Finally, I am not arguing that we "unilaterally disarm" in the face of Republican attacks, or bite our tongue when this Administration screws up. Whenever they are wrong, inept, or dishonest, we should say so clearly and repeatedly; and whenever they gear up their attack machine, we should respond quickly and forcefully. I am suggesting that the tone we take matters, and that truth, as best we know it, be the hallmark of our response.

My dear friend Paul Simon used to consistently win the votes of much more conservative voters in Southern Illinois because he had mastered the art of "disagreeing without being disagreeable," and they trusted him to tell the truth. Similarly, one of Paul Wellstone's greatest strengths was his ability to deliver a scathing rebuke of the Republicans without ever losing his sense of humor and affability. In fact, I would argue that the most powerful voices of change in the country, from Lincoln to King, have been those who can speak with the utmost conviction about the great issues of the day without ever belittling those who opposed them, and without denying the limits of their own perspectives.

"They call it reform, but it isn't"

Don't miss this editorial from Boston Globe correspondent Beverly Beckham. She hits the essential limitations of testing as perfectly as I've ever heard or read. The whole piece is virtuosic and I highly recommend you read it all, but if you're pressed for time, here are a few highlights:

For the first six years of school, I had been one of the kids who was headed somewhere. Top of the class. Straight A's. Gold stars on all my papers.

And then in seventh grade I entered a new school in a new town. And there I was, alone at the blackboard, unable to diagram a sentence or parse a verb or understand the simple rule that factor times factor equals product.

Humiliation came daily, along with the underlying message that I lacked the essential knowledge of every other kid in my class. I didn't get gold stars anymore. My parents said it didn't matter. I knew it did.

One voice, one test, one label can destroy a child.

Only half of Massachusetts fourth-graders were deemed ''proficient or above" on the MCAS English exam this year. Only 39 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient or above in math. MCAS scores are broadcast on the news, headlined in the papers, highlighted and discussed from one school year to the next. When kids fail, their teachers, their parents, their schools, and their communities are all judged to be lacking.

Each MCAS report brings back those teenage memories. Each year, more children and towns are labeled losers.

On report cards, a teacher can write, ''Kate is a joy to have in class. Danny gets along well with his peers. Megan is a great artist. Sarah is good at sharing."

And a child and his parents get not just encouragement from this, but truth.

Because some of the most important things -- patience, kindness, loyalty, curiosity, dependability, steadfastness, grit, wonder -- cannot be measured on an exam.

Ain't that the truth? She concluded on this note:

Encouragement is vital. And patience. And practice. Practice may not make perfect but if you practice anything enough -- math, the piano, soccer, writing -- you don't get worse at it. You get better.

Today's teachers and kids practice all year for MCAS. Is this really the best use of their time? Shouldn't the primary goal of public education be educating children to want to learn, not to ace an exam?

They call it assessment, but it's judgment. They call it reform, but it isn't. To me, with four-decade-old memories still fresh, the MCAS pigeonholes children, teachers, and entire communities. And to me, there is nothing new -- or productive -- about this.

Creationism on trial

See the Sunday New York Times' coverage of the creationism court case here.

Mistaken identity

Justice Stevens toured the school in San Antonio that was named after him last week. He spoke to the students and answered their questions. How cool is that?

From the San Antonio Express News:

He is the senior member of the nation's highest court. Now the acting Supreme Court chief justice, John Paul Stevens has served for 30 years.

But on a tour of Northside's newest school, John Paul Stevens High School — named in his honor — Stevens, wearing his trademark bow tie and heavy, dark-framed glasses, earned another claim to fame Wednesday.

"Are you the guy from Fiesta Texas?" a student in a special education class asked the justice as he shook his hand.

The student wasn't thinking about legal arguments and precedents. He was thinking about the man in the dark suit and bow tie who dances wildly on Six Flags theme park commercials.

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