from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Blogging Nick Lampson 

On Thursday evening, April 28, Ericksom & Associates, a Democratic political consulting group whose clients have included Lois Capps, Bobby Scott, Darlene Hooley, and Ben Cardin, held a “fundraiser” for Nick Lampson, who on Monday May 2nd will formally announce that he is going to run against Tom Delay for the House of Representatives. I used the quotes because there was no minimum contribution required, in fact, no contribution at all.

I attended this event because of the interest progressive bloggers, especially at dailykos, have had in this CD, especially as shown by the support of Morrison against Delay in the 2004 cycle. I was there for 2.5 hours, talked with many people, including about 20 minutes one one one with Lampson (in several different conversations), and took extensive notes. Rep. Lampson and others were all informed that I was going to blog the event. People remained open and forthcoming, and were willing to be on the record.

The attendance included an interesting mix of people. Among the attendees were current members of Congress Charles Gonzalez of TX, Jim Matheson of UT, and Jim Oberstar of MN (with whom I talked -- more below). Also present was former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, who remembered the occasion when we had previously met years ago (although she probably didn't remember me) --a fundraiser for then Congressman Bob Edgar. She remarked that my attending this event showed a continuing good taste in supporting good men.

There were a number of labor lobbyists present. When I asked why they supported Lampson, one from IBEW told me that it was more than just the politics of it, it was the absolutely clear difference in policy. The first example cited was that Lampson supports Davis-Bacon, Delay opposes. This lobbyist listed about a half dozen issues that demonstrated the absolute chasm between the positions of the two men.

Others in attendance were former staffers and interns for Lampson. One staffer now retired, when I asked him what phrase he would use for his ex-boss said
“The nicest person in the world. Just one word: NICE in all capital letters.”
When I repeated this to the Congressman he joked that I had talked to the only one he had paid to say that. One former intern said that she was so looking forward to the campaign so that she could work on behalf of the most honorable man she had met in public service.

Another Congressional staffer, who had previously worked for Martin Frost and now works for Emmanuel Cleaver told me that Lampson was greatly respected by the staffs of all of the Texas Dems. I also spoke with a staffer from Ted kennedy and i noticed more than a few staffers from the DCCC, although I did not have the change for any conversations with them.

When I talked with Jim Oberstar, I asked him if he could tell me why he supported Nick Lampson. I have his permission to quote:
”Honesty, Integrity, a genuine commitment tom public service for itself and the good that it can accomplish.”
Mr. Oberstar went on to talk about how Lampson had stayed on the issue of missing and exploited children (he used to regularly introduce legislation about this), raising it in foreign capitals when traveling on behalf of the Congress, and raising it with notable foreign visitors to Washington DC.

As I have noted, I had several opportunities to talked one on one with Lampson. He is a very friendly and engaging guy. I also had the opportunity to listen in on several of his conversations, and I have his permission to post all that I have included here. I will not distinguish whether the remarks were made only to me or to a broader group: what is important is the content.

Rep. Lampson noted that when deciding in which district to run after the ‘redistricting” split his previous district, although he ran against Poe and lost (because most of his previous district was there) he actually polled better against Delay than he did against Poe.

He does not yet have an exact budget, but thinks that it will be in the neighborhood of $5 Million (which is an astronomical amount for a House seat). He does not seem to think that raising money will be a problem, and based on what I was seeing there, with major DC players such as Lannie Davis, I would tend to agree.

A bit of background might be relevant. Nick Lampson is a former teacher, having taught science both at his alma mater Lamar Tech and also in public schools (about which he told a funny story I will relate shortly). He first was elected as a tax assessor, and from what some of the people from his part of Texas told me, managed to remain popular even while in that office. He then ran for Congress, getting elected I believe in 1996.

After we had chatted for a couple minutes, he told me that I might not agree with him on all of the issues (he’s right), but we were able to quickly find enough in common. I liked the fact that he was upfront about it, that he didn’t want me to think he was soft peddling the differences. He was willing to listen to people who talked to him, and got quite interested when I told him about the role dailykos had played for Morrison. He wants to know more, and told me to contact him by email, and he wrote down the url. Here i would note that given the demographics of his district he might not want to advertise here. But he was fascinated when I told him about the elected officials who post here.

The immediate bond between us is because we share the experience of teaching adolescents. While we did not get into a great deal of detail on educational policy, when I mentioned that it was my real passion he told me that not only had he been a teacher, his wife was a Special Ed teacher working with kids on Life Skills, and his daughter was getting so frustrated with what was happening that she was thinking of leaving her job as a public school teacher. he then added “That should give you some idea of what I think about No Child Left Behind.”

I want to share a story he then told me. I won’t use quotes, because it is not word for word. I will put it into block quote, because it was Nick Lampson’s story.

I was teaching around the time we really tried to integrate the schools in our district. We didn’t do it by moving the kids, we started by moving the teachers. The took about 75% of us, strong teachers, from the white school, perhaps the newest and most modern building in the district. The black school was one of the oldest, if not the oldest, buildings. I remember that there was a group of buildings in a shape around a space, like a U, with a sidewalk across the end. There was always several inches of water in that open space, because of all the rain we get in that part of Texas. It never seemed to dry up. I went to talk to the principal about it, and he said he had been complaining about it for around 12 years. I asked if I could try to do something about it, and he told me if I wanted to, go ahead.

So I went out there with my biology students. They took samples, measured, and examined what they found. Sure enough, there were three things they identified that were harmful to humans. So I had them turn over their information to the Department of Health. The Health people told the school people that that “pond” had to be cleaned up or the building was going to close. They told the school in the morning, and by the afternoon there were crews draining the pond and fixing the site.

He and I talked a bit more, but this story encapsulated several things. One, this was authentic learning, relevant to the worlds of the students, applying knowledge in a real-world setting. This is the kind of lesson that sticks with kids forever. Further, it shows Lampson as one who can come up with creative ways of fixing problems for which others have not been able to come up with solutions.

I was quite impressed with Nick Lampson. I’m sure it shows in what I have written. I intend to stay in touch, to explore educational policy some, and to encourage him to find creative ways to use the blogosphere. I heard from others that he believes he can defeat Delay, but has some concerns that were Delay to drop out it would actually be harder to win the district. I think the fact that he is declaring early will enable him to build a base of support that will sustain him even should Delay drop out. That will require him to run a campaign which is not primarily based on attacking Delay. My sense is that Nick Lampson is actually far more comfortable running a campaign on issues and not on personalities. Yes, he will have to address the subject of ethical issues. He will want to make a contrast between his high ethical standards and the behavior of the incumbent. But his real focus needs to be on what he will do positively. If he can keep that kind of focus, then it might not matter who is his opponent. And should Delay face more ethical reprimands and/or and indictment from Ronnie Earl, Lampson can express his regrets for the people of the district that they are unable to receive their proper representation because of the ethical problems of his opponent, but then also note that all are considered innocent until proven guilty and return to focus on the issues.

Two thoughts come to mind. One is part of the first part of the West Wing “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen” episode, looking back to before Bartlet was president. When Bartlet cannot understand why Leo wants him to run, Leo says that he is tired of settling for the lesser of whatever, and wants to see if a good man can win. Folks, you will not agree with Nick Lampson on all the issues. But I guarantee you this, he is a good man.

The other is a halfremembered tale about Lyndon Johnson. I will probably not get the quotes right, but it is how i think Delay can be hoist by his own petard. Someone told Johnson that he really couldn’t accuse his opponent of being a pig-f***er, that no one would believe, and Johnson respond to the effect that “yeah, but I’d like to see him have to deny it.” I’m not saying the Lampson would ever do something like that. I don’t think he has to. I think merely expressing sorrow at the ethical problems of his opponent creates a similar situation -- what can Delay do without keeping the ethical charges in the public view??

Nick Lampson still has his website from the 2004 campaign. Here is the home page. You can find out his bio, including his public service, and especially where he stands on the issues

I consider myself fairly progressive. Considering the demographics of the District he will try to represent, Nick Lampson is actually fairly progressive. Many progressive/liberal types will disagree with him, especially on some social issues. But look at the total package -- this is someone who can be a real plus, someone for whom the progressive/liberal side of the party should be willing to support with enthusiasm.

My first loyalty in 2006 will be to Don Beyer should he run for the Senate in Virginia. But I will find a way to help Nick Lampson one way or another. I encourage others to browse his website, and draw your own conclusions. Clearly he is far superior in every way -- on issues, on ethics, as a human being -- to the incumbent former exterminator. I think he is deserving of support on his own merits, not merely by comparison with Delay -- that is a test even a dead armadillo in the middle of the road could surpass. This, folks, is a very good man. We have far too of those in our public life. Is it not time to restore another to a position in our nation’s leadership?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

TWA - the police state has arrived 

[Crossposted from dailykos]
TWA stands for Travelling While Arab  --  our new equivalent for what domestically used to be DWB = driving while black.

Below the fold I have included the text of an email I just received off of a listserv for alums from my college.  I thought it might be something of which kossacks and others should be aware.

Other than complaining to public officials about this kind of thing, I do not know what else can be done, except perhaps also to publicize.  I know no more specifics than what is offered below the fold.  Read --  but definitely do NOT enjoy.


A friend of mine, an American, recently returned to the States after a number of years living abroad. With him went his wife (Palestinian) and new-born daughter. They have been living in Missouri since January.

My friend and his wife met and married in the US, where she had studied bachelors from U of Colorado, I think). When they arrived at the port of entry (O'Hare) in January, there were no hassles.

However, the wife, who is a Canadian citizen, took their daughter to visit her parents in Toronto. When she went to board the plane to return home, an American immigration officer, after taking her aside for questioning, refused her entry and told her she would be arrested if she were to try again. She seems to be guilty of TWA (Traveling While Arab). This occurred on Saturday,

April 23.

I don't know what papers she may or may not have, but my friend told me these details over the phone last night:

    1)    There is a process whereby she can apply for entry to the US, with a minimum wait of four months for a reply.

    2)    The Senator's office told my friend, and this seems to have been confirmed

by the Congressman's office and a prominent lawyer in town, that all formerly-existing avenues to get favors done have been closed for reasons of homeland security.

I suggested, for lack of any other ideas that my friend contact the ACLU.

Can anyone here offer any sound advice about how to proceed? My friend, under the shock of this situation is at his wits' end.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

TIM KAINE: Thinking About Earth Day 

Tim Kaine, who WILL be our next governor in Virginia, sent those on his email list a wonderful piece that I think all here should see.   Since it is not copyrighted, I will offer the entire text below the fold.   Since the letter is complete in itself, I will offer no comments of my own.  And since the words are all his, I will offer no tip jar.


Dear Friend:

Happy 36th Earth Day! As we celebrate our commitment to protecting the natural beauty that defines Virginia, it's a good time to reflect upon what drives us to fight for these special places. My motivations always go back to my kids. We love to spend time on Virginia rivers canoeing and camping together. The opportunity to share this with my kids strengthens my resolve that they should be able to share it, years from now, with theirs. Last summer, after a week-long river trip, I wrote this article:

A Week on the Shenandoah and Rappahannock Rivers

By Tim Kaine

Henry David Thoreau's first published work described a boat trip he took with his brother John on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers in 1839. The book combines travelogue, natural history and religious and philosophic inquiry. Its strongest features are a profound love for the beauty of those New England rivers and an extended meditation on friendship, inspired by John's death in 1842. It was John's passing that motivated Thoreau to dust off his journal from the trip and start writing the book while living in his hand-built home at Walden Pond in 1845. The book barely sold during Thoreau's life ? hundreds of the original one thousand copies that Thoreau paid to publish were returned to him after the public showed no interest.

Thoreau's book, thank God, has lived. Its passages, and boat trips from my own childhood, taught me that beauty and friendship thrive on the rivers of our country. Canoeing, setting up camp, fishing in the early morning hours and roaring campfires have become an essential part of my life and now part of the life of my own children. There is no finer place to get away from the noise and rush of daily life than on the rivers crossing our Commonwealth.

Last year, I convinced a group of neighborhood dads, to come away for the week with kids to explore great Virginia rivers. Seventeen of us traveled to the New River near Blacksburg for 3 days on the New and one of its tributaries and then finished the week with three more days on the Maury and upper James. The trip gave our children a chance to bond away from the city. Dads spent quiet hours with their children in canoes as we alternately drifted and fought our way through whitewater. And, late at night, we dads who see too little of each other around the neighborhood found that river trips are as conducive to building friendship now as they were for Thoreau nearly 170 years ago.

This year, we took a growing, nearly 25, on another week-long trip on Virginia rivers. We chose the Shenandoah and Rappahannock rivers, two beautiful streams wrapped in history. The plan was much that same as last year ? spend long days exploring scenic waterways, catch some fish, and build bonds of family and friendship. The water was a little lower, the fishing a little better, and we came back again refreshed and struck by the singular beauty of our state.

We broke the week into three segments. First, we spent three days canoeing the South Fork of the Shenandoah as it carves its way through the Blue Ridge to join the Potomac at Harper's Ferry. On day four, we broke camp and moved over to the upper Rappahannock, stopping to climb Old Rag Mountain along the way. For the last three days, we canoed on the Rap between Remington and Fredericksburg before returning to Richmond. We were never more than four hours from home, but it felt as if we were miles and years away from our daily routines.

Many sharp memories stand out: the fantastic campsite at Andy Guest State Park on the Shenandoah, the comical array of lures and jigs that we brought to coax smallmouth bass out of both rivers, the amazing underwater rock formations on the South Fork north of Luray, the pleasant Tuesday evening at Bing Crosby field in Front Royal watching college players in the wonderful Valley Baseball League, our teenagers showing us whitewater rodeo moves at Bull Falls near Harpers Ferry as the more nervous dads portaged around he toughest rapid on the trip, a mother bear and two poodle-sized cubs blocking the ridge trail up Old Rag for 15 minutes, healthy bald eagle populations on both rivers, including a nesting pair taking flight before our eyes near the confluence of the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers, the kids setting up a dinner assembly line on night with chopped vegetable and meats that we each packed into foil and threw on the fire to cook, the hole recently blown in the Embrey Dam in Fredericksburg to give fish access to ancient spawning grounds, just as Thoreau predicted would happen as he came upon similar dams near Lowell, Massachusetts so long ago.

Other memories are less sharp but even more lasting. Just as last year, the time spent with kids away from television and computers, just drifting, fishing and talking. Dads who catch pleasant minutes together in only scattered occasions over the course of the year now spending hours talking and laughing around the campfire. Our cumulative awe at the natural splendor we inherit in Virginia and the growing understanding that we have a part in maintaining it for the next generation's dads and kids who will seek the same pleasure.

We will come back again and again, to camp by the river, to see it new each morning and hear its quiet voice long after dark has descended. Waking in the middle of the night, the river is there. Thoreau and his brother experience it this way:

Whenever we awoke in the night, still eking out our dreams with half-awakened thoughts, it was not until after an interval, when the winder breathed harder than usual, flapping the curtains of our tent, and causing its cords to vibrate, the we remembered that we lay on the banks of the Merrimack, and not in our chamber at home. With our heads so low in the grass, we heard the river whirling and sucking, and lapsing downward, kissing the shore as it went, sometimes crippling louder than others, and again its mighty current making only a slight limpid trickling sound, as if our water-pail had sprung a leak, and the water were flowing into the grass by our side. The wind, rustling the oaks and hazels, impressed us like a wakeful and inconsiderate person up at midnight, moving and putting things to rights, occasionally stirring up whole drawers full of leaves at a puff. There seemed to be a great haste and preparation throughout Nature, as for a distinguished visitor; all her aisles had to be swept in the night, by a thousand hand-maidens, and a thousand pots to be boiled for the next day's feasting; --such a whispering bustle, as if ten thousand fairies made the fingers fly, silently sewing at the new carpet with which the earth was to be clothed, and the new drapery which was to adorn the trees. And then the wind would lull and die away and we like it fell asleep again.

Tim Kaine  

Friday, April 22, 2005

ammo to use against wingnuts 

since Henry Hyde was kind enough to give us an opening.

I originally posted this as a comment to the first diary on dailykos on Hyde's remarks yesterday.  That diary had a factual error, which is noted in the expanded and corrected version below the fold.   To me the difference between the two impeachment attempts is (1) the fact that the effort against Nixon was bipartisan, and (2) the clear vindictiveness of the effort against Clinton, shown to me by the invocation of the so-called death penalty in all 4 porposed articles, whereas it appeared in none of the articles against Nixon.

first, remember that Hillary worked as a staff lawyer for the Hosue Judiciary Committee.  I'm sure that fact was well known to the Republicans.  There are only a few people who were on Judiciary then who are still in Congress  -- Paul Sarbanes and Trent Lott in the Senate, Charlie Rangel in the House.  

Second, the Articles of Impeachment voted out against Nixon, viewable here, were not as harsh as they could have been.  The conclusion of each article was identical:

Wherefore, Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.

These articles do not include the so-called "death penalty" of "disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States" (Article I, Section 3, Clause 7).  

All four of the Articles voted out of Committee against Clinton, which can be found, with the committee votes, here, do contain the death penalty, phrased identically as

Wherefore, William Jefferson Clinton, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States

To me the fact that the Republicans going after Clinton were prepared to deny him, in theory, a pension, a Presidential library, Secret Service Protection,  -- when NONE of that was proposed for Nixon who after all had done far worse,  -- makes it very clear that this had nothing to do with seeking justice, and everything to do with getting even.

Also worth considering   --  none of the four articles proposed against Clinton received a single Democratic vote, and two failed to muster a majority within the House as a whole because Republican crossed over to vote against them, those two going down by votes of 229-205 and 285-148 (I erroneously said these failed in Committee when I posted this as a comment.  For full details on the full House votes on all four articles, you can go here

The first two articles against Nixon received 6 (out of 17) Republican committee votes, as well as all of the Democratic votes.   These included several fairly Conservative Republicans, such as Caldwell Butler of Virginia.  The final article of impeachment only received two Republican votes, and also lost two Conservative Democrats, Flowers (of Alabama?) and Mann (SC).

It is also well worth considering the difference in the Senate.  When Nixon, knowing he would lost in the House, considered going on an fighting in the Senate, a group of Senate Republican, incluidng High Scott, the Minority Leader, and Barry Goldwater, went to see him.  They told him he'd be lucky to get a dozen votes in his favor in the Senate, and I have seen sources where Godlwater is said to have told him that he (Godlwater) would not be one of those supporting him.  Goldwater even called the Washington Post to tell them to ease off so that Nixon would resign.

To this contrast what happened with Clinton.  

(NOTE   to see the complete votes on the two charges, you can go here

On the perjury charge, the following Republican voted not guilty:

Chafee, R.I.

Collins, Maine

Gorton, Wash.

Jeffords, Vt.

Shelby, Ala.

Snowe, Maine

Specter, Pa.

Stevens, Alaska

Thompson, Tenn.

Warner, Va.

That charge received only 45 votes in favor of conviction.  You will note that one of the Republican votes against conviction was Fred Thompson, who was minority counsel fo Senate Watergate Committee and thus had some udnerstanding of the relative seriousness of the two cases.

On the obstruction charge, the vote was a 50-50 tie, with the following Republicans voting against conviction:

Chafee, R.I.

Collins, Maine

Jeffords, Vt.

Snowe, Maine

Specter, Pa.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

teachers and the law 

in keeping with my practice of making available resources and information that I think may be of value to people on this list, I want to call your attention to a resource.  It is dsigned primarily for teachers, of which clearly there are many on this blog.  But the information covered will be of interest and perhaps even of use for many others.

more below the fold


It comes from the Reach Every Child website run by Alan Haskvits, to whose work I have previously made reference at kos and on my own blog.  

This particular set of resources is entitled, as is this diary, Teachers and the Law.  Let me offer the intro for the page, which includes the subcategories for which information is available.  My formatting will be slightly different than what you will see on the site.  NOTE: you will see a blurb in what I quote for Horace Mann   -- that is because that company serves as sponsor for the site.  I am neither promoting nor endorsing that company in not editing out that portion of the intro.

Enjoy, or whatever.

Teachers and the Law

It is no secret school systems and teachers have become the source of countless legal claims in recent years. In fact, the most dangerous time in a teacher's life is not in the classroom, but while on yard duty or supervision. So all educators should review these sites to refresh their knowledge about the law; they should also check with their union.

What is the Loco Parentis Doctrine?

This doctrine is the cornerstone of educators' legal rights, and it means "in the place of parents." In other words, an educator has the right to act as a parent (in the absence of the parent) while the student is in school. In reality, the doctrine is limited for school authorities since parents are not required to provide procedural due process before initiating discipline. However, rules should not be contrary to the basic wishes of parents. Although courts fully realize the responsibility of the school system to establish proper educational settings, one must remember school board members are elected to represent their constituents (parents) of a given political jurisdiction.

The following resources cover a number of the legal issues for educators. In addition, some offer guidance in understanding why teachers might not be eligible for full Social Security benefits, making it vital for teachers to have a good retirement plan. Also, remember that Horace Mann offers coverage for assault cases.

*    Copyright law and the Internet

*    General Education Law

*    Social Security, IRS and teachers

*    Teacher liability and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

*    Teaching religion and tolerance in the classroom

*    Union support


commercializing all of education? 

just received an email from Eschool news online  .. the headline story is entitled "Schools to lose free access to ENC."   ENC = the Eisenhower National Clearing House for Mathematics and Science Education.

Let me below the fold quote a couple of paragraphs from the story, and then provide a link to read the entire thing


ENC's annual $5 million in federal support comes to an end Sept. 30. After that, schools will have to pay for access to the clearinghouse's content: ENC officials are transforming the organization into a commercial entity, using subscriptions and advertising as a way to support their materials.

ENC's mission has been to identify effective curriculum resources, create high-quality professional development materials, and disseminate useful information and products to improve K-12 mathematics and science teaching and learning.

Through its web site, ENC has developed a database of more than 27,000 K-12 math and science product and web site reviews. According to Simutis, 17,000 of those reviews now have research associated with them that demonstrates their alignment to state and federal standards.

The highly acclaimed ENC monthly selection of web sites for math and science education, known as the "Digital Dozen," has been a consistently popular web resource among educators looking for math and science content online. Educators also will lose free access to ENC's month-by-month classroom calendar filled with online math and science resources that pertain to the month's events; links to lessons and activities; a guide to creating personal professional development plans; and "ENC Focus," a magazine written for and by classroom teachers and linked to online discussion forums.

Simutis, who said the ENC web site gets 175,000 unique visitors each month, said it's unfortunate that ED has chosen not to fund the project. "It's not like we've solved the achievement issues for math and science in this country," he said. "There are going to be very few resources available for [these disciplines] provided by the department."


After September, ENC will be available at a new internet location, www.goENC.com. As of then, ENC will be a private source of technical assistance for local governments. It will cost schools an annual subscription fee of $349 for access to the clearinghouse's extensive resources and expertise. This fee covers all educators in the subscribing institution--and subscriptions ordered before June 1 will be available for a reduced price of $299 per school. Simutis said ENC hopes to continue to offer its free print magazine to educators, too, except with advertisements.

The change will mean a substantial reduction in force for ENC as it transforms into a commercial enterprise; the organization will go from its present staff of 50 full-time employees to "no more than 8," according to Simutis.


What I have quoted gives a sense of the article.  You can click here if you want to read the entire thing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

new "Report" on teacher quality 

from the Progressive Policy Institute which for those who don't know is the 'think tank" for the DLC -- Al From is the head of the parent Third Way Foundation.  They combined DLC/PPI has sent out an email broadcast about their new report on teacher quality.  Not surprisingly, they find that quality lacking.

I will below the fold include the entire text of the email, which inlcudes a link so one can read the press release and get a link to the pdf of the entire 16 page "report."  Then I will explain why I keep writing "report."


here's the email:

New Policy Work on PPionline.org
Since the 1960s, the quality of the teaching profession has declined. It is clear that current approaches to improving teacher quality simply do not work, because they fail to focus on the problems driving declines: an outdated preparation and compensation scheme and too few growth opportunities to attract highly skilled individuals to the teaching profession. In "Lifting Teacher Performance," a new Progressive Policy Institute report released today, policymakers are offered better ways to reward and attract highly skilled educators, improving the quality and distribution of America's teachers.
In this new report, Andrew Leigh, an economist in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University, and Sara Mead, education policy analyst at PPI, demonstrate how policymakers can use the latest performance data to create a bottom-up reform plan, improving teacher preparation and quality. Leigh and Mead examine how to reform teacher preparation with a focus on teacher aptitude, especially the necessity of good verbal skills, intellectual ability, and content area knowledge. They also recommend a modernized compensation system designed to reward excellence and challenging placements; making teaching competitive with other professional careers and equalizing teacher quality between poor and affluent schools.
Lifting Teacher Performance


And now several comments from teacherken, who has taken the time to read through the entire pdf of the 'report" so you don't have to, unless you really want to.

1.  DLC has a history of what I consider hostility to public schools, and especially to teachers' unions.   Thus anyone who has paid attention to their previous bloviations will not be surprised to find that they find the decline of teacher quality has two main contributors, one the ability of talented women to obtain jobs other than teaching, but also the increased unionization of teachers during the 1960's and 1970's.  Given the fact that teachers' unions represent one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the total dominance of the DNC by the DLC, I do not find this surprising.  What I do find surprising is that the comment is offered with little evidence to back it up ... and yes, I have read through the myriad references, not all of which support the various assertation made in the "report."   BTW, DLC supported John  Kerry in his mid 1990's attacks on public schools, when Kerry argued for doing away with teacher tenure and turning all public schools into charter schools.

2.  Let me explain why I keep writing "report."  The paper purports to be a metanalysis  -- that is, it gathers a lot of previous studies and then tries to aggregate the findings.   But this "report" does no statistical analysis of its own.  It may be authored by people holding Ph. D's (onhe of whom is in Australia, which may or may not have relevance to his analyzing the quality or American teachers).  The various reports and research cited have little in common except that they seem to support the positions the DLC has previously taken on education.  I do not know all of the works, but I do know the work of many of the authors.  One author cited several times is Erik Hanushek, who has argued strenuously that the addition of money makes little difference in educational results.  I will note that his analyses have been thoroughly dissected by people such as Laine, Hedges and Greenwald, and also by Alan Krueger at Princeton, who took one data set on which Hanushek was relying, reanalyzied it, and showed how erroneous Hanushek's conclusions were.

3.  There are assertions made that determination of teacher quality can be done by value-added assessment such as that developed by William Sanders in Tennessee.  Here I know a good deal, and would point out that the independent analysis done under the request of the State Auditor's office in TN (and I have a copy of both reports in my study) make clear that some of the claims Sanders made for his analysis could not be supported.  And for what it is worth, his methodology is till a black box which, since it is proprietary, he will not open to outside analysis.  Given the problems we have had withy black box voting, you will understand why some of us in education are quite reluctant to have such a method used to evaluate teachers or students.

4.  One import of the 'report" is that their shold be diffferential salaries based on the greater positive effects some teachers have on their students, after things like prior knowledge and socio-economics  -- that is, things outside the control fo the teacher -- are controlled for.   In theory that is a good idea, except it presumes that each teacher operates in isolation.  Even in elementary school, where one teacher has responsibility for most of the 'academic"subjects of the students, usually the student encounters other adults -- art, music and phys ed teachers, for example.  And at the secondary level none of us teach in isolation.  I have my students for one of their 7 instructional periods each day.  What happens in the other 6 and during their lunch interacts with what goes on in my class.

Please note   --  by any emasure, including such as those proposed in this "report,"  In would be rated a superior teacher and in theory be entitled to a higher level of compensation.  And yet I never see the politicians who opt for imposing something like this on teachers be willing to impose it on themselves.  Nor have they asked us teachers what we think.  I will tell you that were teachers given more say in the training, support and evaluation of teachers, you would have far fewer problem teachers.  And having served as a shop steward for my large (at the time over 3,000 students) high school,  I know that most of the teachers in my building would oppose such a differential scale, even though msot of us in the building would probably qualify when compared either to other teachers across Maryland, or most assuredly to other teachers in our district  [the best teachedrs fight to come to our school].  That we who would benefit from such a program oppose it should tell the policymakers something, were they only to listen.

As I write now, the storm clouds gather over head at the end of a long, and somewhat hot (mid 80's) day in Washington.  The music to which I listen is the Adagietto from the Mahler 5th Symphony  --  if you saw the movie Death In Venice you will remember this music.  I have written, and am about to post, an entry that I know will quickly scroll into oblivion  -- we have the new Pope, we have Bolton, and education is so less important to so many people.

But I will continue to post these entries to provide information for those who care.  It is one thing i can do without feeling totally useless.

peace all.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

a statement for Pastor Dan 

My name is Kenneth Bernstein. On various electronic fora I am known as Teacherken. Much of my life has been an inchoate search for meaning. During my almost 59 years of life I spent time in a variety of religions. While I am now officially a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), I have at various times attended regularly at synagogues (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox), been an active member of churches (Episcopalian and Orthodox Church in America), received a masters degree from a Roman Catholic seminary, taught comparative religion in synagogue, church and public high school. As I write this I sit in a room full of books on religion. Trained as a musician much of the music I love is derived from people's dedication to their faith, and I have served as a choir director in the Orthodox Church.

In my own search for meaning I have spent a summer in an Episcopalian Benedictine monastery, and had several extended stays on Mount Athos in Greece, where for almost a decade my personal spiritual father was the abbot of one of the monasteries. My wife --who is an active Orthodox Christian who is pro-life in every sense (including opposing the death penalty) as well as an ardent environmentalist -- and I were married in an Orthodox church ceremony. I do not believe that any reasonable person could consider us hostile to people of faith.

I am officially an independent, as I live in Virginia, which does not have party registration. I have voted for a few Republicans for local office over the years I have lived here, but I have never campaigned for anyone except Democrats. I consider myself quite liberal / progressive on most issues, although I do believe in fiscal responsibility in government. Thus the two presidential candidates about whom I have been most excited were both social liberals who were fiscal conservative, Fritz Hollings and Howard Dean.

Perhaps because I teach government, I am appalled by the misinterpretation of our Constitutional tradition that I hear from people like Tom Delay and Bill Frist, or from people who claim to be Christian. This nation was founded on principles of the enlightenment, with a conscious effort by most of the important founders to separate the government from religion, and thereby to protect religion from government. It is worth noting that even before the Constitution we had a strong tradition of this separation. When states wrote constitutions in 1776 to replace their colonial charters, many, like that of Pennsylvania, guaranteed religious freedom, that document near its beginning stating
That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences and understanding: And that no man ought or of right can be compelled to attend any religious worship, or erect or support any place of worship, or maintain any ministry, contrary to, or against, his own free will and consent: Nor can any man, who acknowledges the being of a God, be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen, on account of his religious sentiments or peculiar mode of religious worship : And that no authority can or ought to be vested in, or assumed by any power whatever, that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner controul, the right of conscience in the free exercise of religious worship.

The Constitution itself does not mention God, and clearly states in Article VI that no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

As one who has seriously studied the Bible, I resent those who quote selectively, who use distorted translations, who ignore the clear import. I fail to see how anyone who would call themselves Christian could ignore the life of the Jesus of Nazareth who was criticized for dining with tax collectors and sinners. I am shocked at those who would prescribe harsh penalties for those they claim violate "God's laws" when Jesus challenged them by saying that only those who were themselves without sins should cast stones at the woman taken in adultery, or who challenged those condemning others for motes to look at the beams in their own eyes. And I cannot imagine that someone can consider themselves Christian when acting, saying, or implying that those who suffer in life because of poverty or hunger or nakedness or imprisonment have only themselves to blame when the clear words of Jesus in Matthew 25 is that how we will be measured will be by how we acted towards "the least of these" whom he calls his brethren.

My purpose in this message is not to engage in a bible quoting -- or Constitution quoting -- contest. As a person who believes deeply I want my religious beliefs to be free from government interference. Lincoln told us that as he would not want to be a slave neither would he want to be a slaveowner. I apply that as follows: I am a member a tiny religious minority, and I was born into a religious tradition that has been subject to discrimination and far worse. I value the protection offered me by our Constitution. As I would not want to be be oppressed because of my beliefs or what others might consider by unbelief, neither would I wish to impose my beliefs on others.

To any politician or those who seek political influence who wishes to impose one particular view of morality and religion, I say you are not only not acting an an American fashion, you are not acting in a Christian fashion. In your attempts to impose or mandate your beliefs you admit your fear that your ideas will not have appeal on their own. Perhaps that may be because those ideas are neither American nor Christian in their origin. Oh I grant that they may be developed by people who lived in the united States and who considered themselves Christian. But there are almost two billion Christians of various denominations around the world, and what you express would be alien to most of them. And as a student of history I know that Founders like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin, to name just a few, would absolutely reject what you claim was their intent in the establishment of our system of government.

As a liberal, one influenced by the teaching of both the Jewish and Christian bibles, I know that to live a faith based on either or both of those documents requires humility -- men do not, after all, have the mind of God. Such a life requires a recognition of our responsibility as individuals and as a society for those not well off. Such a life could not find support for the doctrine of unfettered capitalism that offers no concern for the poor -- after all one Mitzvah for the Jew was to leave the corners of the field unharvested so that the poor might have something to eat. There is no justification in either "Testament" for greed, for self-aggrandizement and justification, for seeking power in order to accumulate wealth, or for seeking power merely to be powerful. Rather, both collections of spiritual wisdom offer many condemnations of those who mistreat the poor, or show a lack of hospitality to strangers, the Jewish Bible pointedly reminding its readers that they are not to deny justice to the sojourner in their land because they themselves were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

I will not condemn you if I think you are wrong. I will hope that you will allow the spirit of God as you know it to fill you with love. In the words of John, men will know that people are disciples of Jesus because they will love one another even as he has loved them. And I will not accept that you have any moral authority to condemn those with whom you disagree. That surely shows a lack of faith in a God who is all loving, who is thus capable of persuading all to turn to him.

I respect those whose belief may be different than mine. That is why I believe so strongly in the separation of Church (or synagogue, temple, pagoda, or mosque) and state. Insofar as you will advocate against such separation, I will oppose you. I will oppose you as violating the principles on which our nation was founded. And I will oppose you as violating the clear intent of the teaching of Jesus, and the far broader understanding of the Christian world both in much of the past and in much of the world today. It is precisely because I respect people of faith that I will do so.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Loss of Hope? 

Today the sun is shining.  Yesterday we met many of next year's 9th grade students and their parents at an open house (I was there as a boys' soccer coach).  On Thursday I was at the Cosmos Club in DC as my alma mater, Haverford College, welcomed newly accepted applicants for next fall (and attempted to persuade them to enroll), including two of my students.  Today we also finally work on our taxes, already knowing that the only question is how much we will get back from the Feds, as we always get money back from Virginia.

All of these are things about which to smile, or to feel good.  And yet I cannot escape from a sense of deep sadness.  It is not yet a question of dreading what may come next, although that is clearly an influence.  It is something potentially far more debilitating, the possibility of the loss of hope.

As I have noted here before, a teacher's day and week are often so overloaded with things that must be done that it can be hard to sit and reflect, that is, beyond that reflection on what I must do for the immediate tasks as a teacher.  And the sense of purpose, of being there for my students is often what keeps me going when I am exhausted or frustrated.  

But praise from others for my teaching, positive evaluations from my superiors, even thanks from my students -- present and former -- cannot insulate me from the reality that in my quiet moments I confront.  And that reality is that all that I do may be without purpose.  And that thought is debilitating.

I teach because I hope to make a difference in the lives of my students.  I hope that they will be better able to think their own thoughts, to defend their ideas, to dialog with those whose ideas are different.  I also blog -- sometimes because I believe that something I post may likewise make a difference in the life of someone who encounters my words, or the words from others that I encounter and choose to pass on electronically.  And when I look at the small part of the universe with which I normally deal I remain hopeful because on that small scale I can  see a difference, both in the impact I have on my students, for example, as well as how working with them changes me in a positive fashion.

Yet as soon as I raise my eyes to a broader horizon, hope begins to fade.  There is much about which people post here that could illustrate this  -- threats against judges with whom people disagree,  acceptance of torture as justifiable by far too many in our leadership and in society as a whole, willingness to demean those different from us.  Let me reflect on this last  -- we can read about the National Guardsman who in his training at Fort Knox heard Arabs and Afghans referred to as things such as ragheads  -- this brought back the painful memory of Marine Corps training where I heard Vietnamese referred to as dinks, slopes, and gooks.  So long as one sees one's opponent as human, it is hard to kill and even harder to torture.  But if one can acquire a mindset that perceives that "other" as less than oneself, one has started down the slippery slope that so easily leads to My Lai, to Abu Ghraib, to throwing people out of helicopters and planes in Vietnam, to 'extraordinary rendering.'  

And were one to take advantage of map.google and look at satellite images of places one knows well, one can far too easily see the destruction of the natural world on a large scale.  Of course, were we not so oblivious we would see this happening all around us every day.  When I go to the mountains and drive out I-66 where I used to see farms and fields and woods I now see Sam's Club and townhouse condo communities and office parks.  

When I teach my students about the horrors and atrocities about which the world chose to stay silent in the past, and they ask me about how we remain silent and ineffectual today  -- in Darfur, or as we did in Rwanda so recently  --  what answer can I give them that allows them to hope that their lives will be different?  

If you have read to this point, you may be expecting me to now express a worldview that is negative.  I will not, for then I could not go on.  And I know many who would counsel me not to worry about the "big picture" for precisely that reason.  But I cannot ignore, I cannot close my eyes and ears, and I will not be silent.

When I was a child one lesson that I learned in many ways is that sometimes one was confronted with choices.  One might do something that would seemingly make no difference, but would do so merely because it was the right thing to do.  Each of us probably has memories -- either of ourselves as children, or of children we have observed -- who will do something that is of no benefit to them, and may even expose them to some kind of risk, of ridicule or even of injury, but nevertheless do so simply because it is the right thing to do.  

Were I a parent, I would want my children to be able to understand why people do things that are so harmful  -- from fear, from rage, from selfishness from whatever motivation -- so that they can examine their own motivations and not act for such ignoble if understandable reasons.  As a teacher I want to empower my students to be able to ask those questions, of themselves and of others, to determine for themselves the "whys" of the world, and to hope that somehow along the way they will also develop a moral sense that is far broader than "what's in it for me, for mine?"  

I do not know how to define courage, because it is not a term relevant in my own day to day living.  I know that I teach not because I have hope about the big picture, because I do not.  Were I to 'realistically" look at the world on a big scale, suicide or selfishness would be the only "logical" responses.  Blaise Pascal is famous for his 'wager"  --  either there is a God or there isn't.  If there isn't a God, it doesn't matter if I act as if there is or not.  But if there is a God, and I act as if there isn't, I will very much be found wanting at the end.  Therefore I should act as if there is God.  Some may perceive my way of operating as an exemplar of that wager.  It is not.

I really have little hope on the large scale.  But I will act as if all things are possible.  I know that on the very small scale with which I interact I have hope -- that this child will learn to write better, that another student will begin to believe in her own ideas.  I can believe that with help a student whose parents cannot even read in their native language, having grown up in a nation where schools were closed because of revolutions, can herself earn a graduate degree.  I can experience an adolescent who has known nothing but anger and disappointment in earlier days come to experience  -- both receiving and giving -- love and acceptance, and know something of success.  

I cannot and will not remain silent about "larger" issues.  Even as I have little expectation that anything I say or do will have meaning beyond a very narrow part of the world where people's lives tangentially touch mine, I feel the obligation not to acquiesce to evil in any way.  I will speak and write even at what I perceive as the very real risk that continuing to do so could result in the loss of my profession, my freedom, or even my life.  I view those risks as very much on the increase in this nation.  I do not take them lightly, but they will not paralyze me, in word or in deed.  

If I act without integrity, then I cannot hope that my students will maintain integrity.  If I become paralyzed by fear of what may happen, then I can be certain that the alternative which I would not fear cannot happen.  If I do not model how it is act even if one has little hope of making a difference but doing so merely because it is the right, the moral thing to do, then I cannot expect that my students will have the example of what that kind of life means.

There are many terms people have used to describe me, as a teacher and as a person.  There is only one that is meaningful to me, and that is one that in my own eyes I still have to earn.  It is that I live with integrity.  I will be 59 in about 6 weeks.  I am still learning what integrity means.  I do know this  -- that insofar as i live without integrity, I deny hope to others.  For lack of integrity equals surrender to fear, to shame, to despair.  If one encounters someone who goes on despite the frustrations, the lack of recognition, even the isolation, some encounter when they go against the grain but follow their conscience -- while also recognizing their own fallibility  --  one gets a window into what is possible for oneself.  And then hope is not lost.

I have met several such people in my life.  The encounters were quite challenging  --  and the effects still playing out in my day to day existence.  At least one of the persons would consider my describing him as such silly, because he would say he is simply living a life centered on God, and as a monk that is no big deal.  One, now dead, was one of the most loving people I have known, a person who maintain his childlike qualities as well as anyone I have encountered.  He was a major influence on my from when I met him as my freshman advisor at Haverford in  the fall of 1963 until his death a few years ago.  And one I will describe as a person -- a Shetland sheepdog who knew only one way to relate to the world:  with love, with delight, with affirmation.

Having received these blessings, I am duty and honor bound to pass them on to others.  And thus this diary.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Teacher Quality and NBPTS Certification 

is an issue that is currently under some scrutiny.  I hope to do a detailed essay on this subject in the near future.  For now I'd like to point readers at an opinion piece by Andy Rotherham of th Progressive Policy Institute.  Originanally appearing in Education Week, the entire text also appears at the PPI Website here under the title "Credit Where It's Due."

To summarize briefly, Rotherham accepts the research that finds that NBPTS certified teachers provide higher quality instruction than doe their non-certified peers, but criticizes the fact that such teachers are rarely find in high poverty and low performing schools.  He comes down in favor of using the extra stipends received by such teachers to at least in part motivate them to move to schools more in need of improvement.

Let me offer at least a few selections, although it is very hard to make meaningful extracts from this article, as its flows together very thoroughly.

Education Week | Column | March 30, 2005

Credit Where It's Due

By Andrew Rotherham


Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared in Education Week.


It's well known that low-income and minority students are less likely to get the best teachers. What is less known is that despite emerging efforts to deal with this problem, other local, state, and national policies reinforce the inequitable status quo. Obvious culprits include various seniority provisionsin collective bargaining agreements, single-salary scales that offer little or no incentive for teachers to take challenging assignments, and archaic teacher-licensing systems.  

Things working against equity include the state incentives for teachers who earn NBPTS certification:

These well-intentioned incentives, designed to reward teachers who complete the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification process, are generally divorced from efforts to make the distribution of top-flight teachers more equitable. The result is that as policymakers and educators focus on the interrelated equity challenges of improving teacher quality andturning around low-performing schools, national board-certified teachers arelargely out of the game.

After giving some background on the development of the standardes, which includes substantial federal investment, noting the number (ove 32,000) who have achieved certification, and the cost of undergoing the processing ($2,300), Rotherham notes

Some states and school districts help cover the cost of candidate applications, which would otherwise be borne by individual teachers. The most notable form of support, however, is the creation of salary differentials for teachers with thecertification. Forty-nine states and 530 localities offer some sort of incentive or recognition for these teachers. More specifically, 30 states andthe District of Columbia offer bonuses or higher salaries for board certification. The Progressive Policy Institute estimates that, combined, even during the past few lean years for state budgets, states are spending at least $100 million annually on board-related salary enhancements alone.

He disagrees with those who criticize the effects of NBPTS certification

New research by Dan Goldhaber and Emily Anthony of the Urban Institute suggests that nationally certified teachers are at least marginally more effective than both average teachers and teachers who sought, but failed to earn, national certification. This new research is much more rigorous than previous studies of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and should be taken more seriously. Though more research is obviously needed, the Urban Institute researchers' finding is reason for cautious optimism that the certification carries some value in identifying especially effective teachers.  

He focuses instead on what he considers the poor distribution of those who received such certification

Figures from the national board estimate that about 37percent of board-certified teachers are teaching in high-poverty schools, which are defined as schools receiving Title I money. Yet Title I funding is an imprecise proxy for poverty. Fifty-eight percent of all U.S. public schools receive some Title I dollars. Thus, even this estimate of only about one in three probably overstates the true distribution of board-certified teachers in genuinely high-poverty schools.

He quotes researt that supports this:

A 2003 study led by Goldhaber found that nationally certified teachers in North Carolina were disproportionately teaching in more affluent districts, as well as districts with fewer minority students. A 2004 study by SRI International examined distribution in the six states with the most board-certified teachers -- California, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, and South Carolina. These states account for about 65 percent of all board-certified teachers nationwide. The SRI researchers found that only 12 percent of nationally certified teachers teach in schools with more than 75 percent of their students receiving free or reduced-price lunch; only 16 percent teach in schools with more than 75 percent minority student populations; and only 19 percent teach in a school in the bottom third of performance for its state. Put plainly, you're unlikely to find a national board-certified teacher in a school that is high-poverty, high-minority, or seriously struggling.

He notes that part of the intent of NBPTS was to supply more highly qualified teachers to schools in the categories just listed.

Indeed, addressing these inequities was a primary rationale behind the teacher-quality provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Yet, despite this, states and the national board have done little to engage board-certified teachers in efforts to address the disparities. Nationwide, only three states -- California, Illinois, and New York -- offer robust salary incentives for board-certified teachers to work in low-performing or high-poverty schools. (In addition, the American Federation of Teachers' Connecticut affiliate offers incentives to teachers in that state who work in hard-to-serve schools.) It's worth noting that of the states SRI studied, California had a more equitable distribution of nationally certified teachers than any other.  

He offers suggestions to address the inequitable distribution of NBPTS certified teachers:

By making two interrelated changes, states can better align incentives for national certification with efforts to help high-poverty schools. First, states should make the maximum pay differentials and bonuses for nationally certified teachers more substantial than they are now. Only eight states offer incentives of $5,000 or more. The incentives also must be sustained over time. Because of state-level budget constraints and growth in the number of board-certified teachers, some states are cutting funding for such programs. Small stipends and uncertainty about funding weaken the leverage of these incentives.

Second, states must link these incentives to their efforts to help hard-to-staff schools meet the No Child Left Behind law's highly-qualified-teacher mandate, or to otherwise help struggling schools improve. Ideally, states should tie bonuses and salary increases to service in high-poverty or low-performing schools. Short of this, states could make incentives conditional on service or mentoring as part of school improvement initiatives undertaken by states or districts.  

He commends recent efforts in SC and GA to address the issue, but cautions

While ideally states would build on existing differentials for board-certified teachers, state finance is far from ideal. In fact, the obvious equity issue notwithstanding, proponents of differentials who are resisting state efforts to better target the incentives actually have a self-interest here as well. Without better alignment of these salary differentials with broader state policy goals, such as ensuring that at-risk students get top teachers, it's likely that in many states the differentials will simply be reduced in the future, as increasing numbers of nationally certified teachers make them unaffordable.

The federal government also should get into the game. Washington can partner with states and play a useful role here. During the 2004 campaign, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry proposed offering federally funded incentives to board-certified teachers who teach in high-poverty schools. It's a good idea, and one straightforward approach to doing it would be for the federal government to match or otherwise enhance state-based incentives for board-certified teachers who work in high-poverty and struggling schools, thereby helping increase the impact of state dollars.

He urges to NBPTS itself to play more of a role, offering several strategies

Providing various financial incentives, waiving renewal fees for board-certified teachers in high-poverty schools, or even creating special certifications and endorsements for board-certified teachers accomplished in teaching in challenging schools are just a few ideas.

Helping struggling schools means that states must use all of their resources as effectively as possible.  Larger and better-targeted bonuses and pay differentials for nationally certified teachers will ultimately leveragegreater educational improvement than smaller and more diffuse incentives divorced from broader state and national school improvement efforts.

Considering the magnitude of today's teacher-quality challenge, policymakers cannot afford to leave this impressive cadre of teachers behind.

As one who has just completed his initial submissions (and I hope this will be the only submission needed) for NBPTS certification, who does NOT teach in a high poverty or low performing school, and who will received a $5,000/year differential when I am successfully certified, I found this article pertinent, even though I believe that there should be some differential for those of us who do not teach in high impact schools.  After all, if the assertion is that all students are entitled to better teaching quality, incentives should be applied boradly, even if more should be offered more challengeing students.  My school is substantially minority (more than 55% African-American for starters), we have a fair share of students who have not previously had the kind of instruction we can and do provide.   But I also acknowledge that the issue of equity raised by Rotherham has validity as well.

If you want to know a bit more about Rotherham, here's what the website from which I extracted the article has to say:

Andrew J. Rotherham is the director of the 21st Century Schools Project at the Progressive Policy Institute, and he writes the blog Eduwonk.com. He is also a member of the Virginia state board of education and serves as the chairman of the board of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Cheapskate Conservatives Cheat Students 

Richard Rothstein used to be the education writer for the NY Times until apparently forced aside.  He is currently a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute and a visiting professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.  Yesterday (April 3) he had an interesting op ed in the LA Times (for which free registration is required), the total title of which is
Cheapskate Conservatives Cheat Students

Let's pump some money into highly promising programs.

This is the url

I had not planned to post any diaries at this point, but I will, below the fold offer several paragraphs, so that those who are interested can pursue the full article.


For years now, conservative economists have contended that sinking money into schools is pointless because test scores don't automatically rise when schools boost spending. True, spending and achievement don't always go hand in hand, but the conservative argument still doesn't make sense.

But the economists who deny that money matters don't propose slashing New Jersey's standard to California's more miserly one. Nor do they proposecutting suburban spending, high in many states, to inner-city levels. Yet still they argue, illogically, against pumping more money into schools with less -- an inconsistency that suggests their opposition to greater spending is based more on parsimony than on analysis.

Studies show that early childhood care and education programs are crucial to academic success. . . . By age 3, many minority and poor children already are far behind in cognitive development. When disadvantaged children are placed in early care programs staffed with enough well-educated caregivers to give the children individual attention, the effects are positive, research shows. . . .  Even when these early care programs don't consistently produce higher elementary school test scores, the children benefit down the road. They are more likely to graduate from high school and earn more as adults, and are less likely to get pregnant or commit a crime.

Please especially note the next, which I have bolded

James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and political conservative, estimates that for every dollar spent on early childhood education for disadvantaged children, society saves nearly $9, mostly in reduced adultincarceration costs.

Although rarely recognized, minority children seem to learn as much in school as their white counterparts, and on some measures, their gains are greater. For instance, an analysis of scores from the highly regarded National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that black eighth-graders in 1998 gained more in reading from the time they were fourth-graders than whites. Although schools can do much more to improve minority performance, big causes of the continuing gap in overall achievement are that disadvantaged children start out so far behind, and their education gets less support after school and during the summer break. The best opportunities for smart investments to boost minority performance further may lie outside the regular school day.

And while I will not offer mujch comment or annotation on what Rothstein says (and you really should read the whole piece), his finally short paragraph cuts to the heart of the issue:

Throwing money at problems is not the way to solve them, but smart spending can pay. We spend too little on programs likely to succeed not because we lack consensus on their value. We just don't want to raise taxes to pay for them.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

F for Assessment - today's education diary 

One unavoidable issue when discussing education is that of Assessment, which unfortunately is usually listed to testing, although it could include portfolios, performance exercises, and other measures.  The new Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) requires as a condition of the receipt of Feeral add testing of all children in grades 3-8 in math and reading, with all kinds of additional requirements in testing.  While some testing as a measure of school performance has been required in 10th grade (largely because that is what Texas had done), we now see moves to further expand high school testing.

Today's diary will offer a quite negative evaluation on how we are doing our assessments, written by one of America's great experts on the subject.

The article from which the material in blockquote is selected, entitled "F for Assessment" was written by W. James Popham, who started his career as a high school teacher in Oregon, and is professor  emeritus at the University of California- Los Angeles School of Education and Information Studies. Author of 25 books, he is a former president of the American Educational Research Association, which with tens of thousands of members is the preeminent professional association for those who do research on educational issues.  The article appears in the current issue of Edutopia, a magazine produced by The George Lucas Educational Foundation, and is available for free both in print and on-line.  The Foundation makes available a variety of resources for free at its website, and I urge anyone interested in education to take the time to explore.

What follows are selected passages from the Popham article.  I also urge those reading this to go and read the entire article, which can be found here in html, and which will also provide a link to download it as a PDF.

The article begins with a very blunt statement:


by W. James  Popham

For the last four decades, students' scores on standardized tests have increasingly been regarded as the most meaningful evidence for evaluating U.S. schools. Most Americans, indeed, believe students' standardized test performances are the only legitimate indicator of a school's instructional effectiveness. Yet, although test-based evaluations of schools seem to occur almost as often as fire drills, in most instances these evaluations are inaccurate. That's because the standardized tests employed are flat-out wrong.  

Popham notes the prevalence of the current style of tests goes back to the first major Federal expenditures of funds on education in 1965, which required some form of assessment to prove the moneys provided were being "well-spent".  He then offers the following:

But how, you might ask, could a practice that's been so prevalent for so long be mistaken? Just think back to the many years we forced airline attendants and nonsmokers to suck in secondhand toxins because smoking on airliners was prohibited only during takeoff and landing. Some screwups can linger for a long time. But mistakes, even ones we've lived with for decades, can often be corrected once they've been identified, and that's what we must do to halt today's wrongheaded school evaluations. If enough educators -- and noneducators -- realize that there are serious flaws in the way we evaluate our schools, and that those flaws erode educational quality, there's a chance we can stop this absurdity  

Popham then proceeds to offer definitions of key terms.  He begins by defining a "standardized test"

any test that's administered, scored, and interpreted in a standard, predetermined manner. Standardized aptitude tests are designed to make predictions about how a test taker will perform in a subsequent setting  
and notes how SAT and ACT exams are the primary example of this.  He immediately warns that

Although students' scores on standardized aptitude tests are sometimes unwisely stirred into the school-evaluation stew, scores on standardized achievement tests are typically the ones used to judge a school's success.  

Popham gives two examples the kinds of test "ill-suited" for such purposes.  The first is standardized achievement tests like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills which use a comparative measurrement strategy, comparing the score of the individual test taker against those of some predetermined norm group.  Popham gives a clear explanation of what this means,  Note especially what I have placed in bold in the second paragraph of what immediately follows:

Because of the need for nationally standardized achievement tests to provide fine-grained, percentile-by-percentile comparisons, it is imperative that these tests produce a considerable degree of score-spread -- in other words, plenty of differences among test takers' scores. So producing score-spread often preoccupies those who construct standardized achievement tests.

Statistically, a question that creates the most score-spread on standardized achievement tests is one that only about half the students answer correctly. Over the years, developers of standardized achievement tests have learned that if they can link students' success on a question to students' socioeconomic status (SES), then that item is usually answered correctly by about half of the test takers. If an item is answered correctly more often by students at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale than by lower-SES kids, that question will provide plenty of score-spread. After all, SES is a delightfully spread-out variable and one that isn't quickly altered. As a result, in today's nationally standardized achievement tests, there are many SES-linked items.  

We have now been confronted with an important reality:  that much of what the most commonly used tests are really measuring is neither innate ability nor what has been learned, but rather the socio-economic status, SES, of the students sitting for the exam.   As Popham bluntly notes (and the emphasis in the final sentence is mine):

Unfortunately, this kind of test tends to measure not what students have been taught in school but what they bring to school. That's the reason there's such a strong relationship between a school's standardized-test scores and the economic and social makeup of that school's student body. As a consequence, most nationally standardized achievement tests end up being instructionally insensitive. That is, they're unable to detect improved instruction in a school even when it has definitely taken place. Because of this insensitivity, when students' scores on such tests are used to evaluate a school's instructional performance, that evaluation usually misses the mark.  

The second category of tests is those developed to measure mastery of officially approved lists of skill and contents, also referred to as goals or content aims, and commonly called content standards.  Many statewide tests such as those in Florida fall into this category.  This category is generally described as "standards based."  

Let me simply offer without content Popham's next two paragraphs:

Because these customized standards-based tests were designed (almost always with the assistance of an external test-development contractor) to be aligned with a state's curricular aspirations, it would seem that they would be ideal for appraising a school's quality. Unfortunately, that's not the way it works out. When a state's education officials decide to identify the skills and knowledge that students should master, the typical procedure for doing so hinges on the recommendations of  subject-matter specialists from that state. For example, if authorities in Ohio or New Mexico want to identify their state's official content standards for mathematics, then a group of, say, 30 math teachers, mathcurriculum consultants, and university math professors are invited to form a statewide content-standards committee. Typically, when these committees attempt to identify the skills and knowledge the students should master, their recommendation -- not surprisingly -- is that students should master everything. These committees seem bent on identifying skills that they fervently wish students would possess. Regrettably, the resultant litanies of committee-chosen content standards tend to resemble curricular wish lists rather than realistic targets.

Whether or not the targets make sense, there tend to be a lot of them, and the effect is counterproductive. A state's standardsbased tests are intended to evaluate schools based on students' test performances, but teachers soon become overwhelmed by too many targets. Educators must guess about which of this multitude of content standards will actually be assessed on a given year's test. Moreover, because there are so many content standards to be assessed and only limited testing time, it is impossible to report any meaningful results about which content standards have and haven't been mastered.  

Popham then notes that since it becomes impossible to properly cover all of the standards in the class time available that teachers begin to increasingly pay less attention both to the standards and to the test, with result being

students' performances on this type of instructionally insensitive test often become dependent upon the very same SES factors that compromise the utility of nationally standardized achievement tests when used for school evaluation.  

Now that he has provided the background, Popham goes on to examine what appears under the subtitled of "Wrong Tests, Wrong Consequences:

Bad things happen when schools are evaluated using either of these two types of instructionally insensitive tests. This is particularly true when the importance of a school evaluation is substantial, as it is now. All of the nation's public schools are evaluated annually under the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Not only are the results of the NCLB school-by-school evaluations widely disseminated, there are also penalties for schools that receive NCLB funds yet fail to make sufficient test-based progress. These schools are placed on an improvement track that can soon "improve" them into nonexistence. Educators in America's public schools obviously are under tremendous pressure to improve their students' scores on whatever NCLB tests their state has chosen.  

 But, as Popham notes. with few exceptions all of the testing regimes currently being used by the states fall into one of the two categories above.  He then describes the 3 "adverse classroom consequences" which he considers an inevitable outcome of such an approach.   Let's go through these one at a time.:


* Curricular reductionism.

In an effort to boost their students' NCLB test scores, many teachers jettison curricular content that -- albeit important -- is not apt to be covered on an upcoming test. As a result, students end up educationally shortchanged.  

For this we can note that in some cases people have tried to force precisely this outcome.  Thus we saw the state school board in Kansas remove evolution from the testable content, thereby hoping to pressure teachers not to cover it in their instruction, since to do so might adversely effect test scores that would not include such material.   Fortunately this created such a backlash that the newly elected replacement mebers were able to reverse this decision.


* Excessive drilling.

Because it is essentially impossible to raise students' scores on instructionally insensitive tests, many teachers -- in desperation -- require seemingly endless practice with items similar to those on an approaching accountability test. This dreary drilling often stamps out any genuine joy students might (and should) experience while they learn.  
 When people refer to "drill and kill" this is what they mean.  If your child seems to spend an excessive amount of time on worksheets, on practice items for such a test, this is what you are seeing.

The third consequence:

* Modeled dishonesty.

Some teachers, frustrated by being asked to raise scores on tests deliberately designed to preclude such score raising, may be tempted to adopt unethical practices during the administration or scoring of accountability tests. Students learn that whenever the stakes are high enough, the teacher thinks it's OK to cheat. This is a lesson that should never be taught.  
 Please note, these remarks do not mean that either Popham nor any other opponent of such tests believes that this consequence is justifiable behavior.  We are pointing out that when the stakes become high enough, including things like job security and bonuses, we are likely to see this behavior with greater frequency.  Those who pay attention have in fact seen an increase of stories about precisely this kind of behavior, and not just in failing inner city schools.  Because the requirements under NCLB to show Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) in all disaggregated subgroups, we have seen examples in high performing schools in places like Montgomery County Maryland.

Popham believes that things do not have to be this way.  He offers three attributes offered in 2001 by an important national group, before the adoption of NCLB, that should be part of an "instructionally supportive" test:

* A modest number of supersignificant curricular aims.

To avoid overwhelming teachers and students with daunting lists of curricular targets, an instructionally supportive accountability test should measure students' mastery of only an intellectually manageable number of curricular aims, more like a half-dozen than the 50 or so that a teacher may encounter today. However, because fewer curricular benchmarks are to be measured, they must be truly significant.

* Lucid descriptions of aims.

An instructionally helpful test must be accompanied by clear, concise, and teacherpalatable descriptions of each curricular aim to be assessed. With clear descriptions, teachers can direct their instruction toward promoting students' mastery of skills and knowledge rather than toward getting students to come up with correct answers to particular test items.

* Instructionally useful reports.

Because an accountability test that supports teaching is focused on only a very limited number of challenging curricular aims, a student's mastery of each subject can be meaningfully measured, letting teachers determine how effective their instruction has been. Students and their parents can also benefit from such informative reports.  

Popham states that a test based on such principles will accurately evaluate schools and (what I consider of AT LEAST equal importance) improve instruction.  He notes that Wyoming already has such a testing scheme (congratulation btw to any "cowboys" reading this), and urges other states to follow their example.

One question I have often been asked as a result of the various education diaries I have posted is "what can I do?"  Popham offers an answer that I hope readers will find useful.   It is with this that I will conclude:

If you want to be part of the solution to this situation, it's imperative to learn all you can about educational testing. Then learn some more. For all its importance, educational testing really isn't particularly complicated, because its fundamentals consist of commonsense ideas, not numerical obscurities. You'll not only understand better what's going on in the current mismeasurement of school quality, you'll also be able to explain it to others. And those "others," ideally, will be school board members, legislators, and concerned citizens who might, in turn, make a difference. Simply hop on the Internet or head to your local library and hunt down an introductory book or two about educational assessment. (I've written several such books that, though not as engaging as a crackling good spy thriller, really aren't intimidating.)

With a better understanding of why it is so inane -- and destructive -- to evaluate schools using students' scores on the wrong species of standardized tests, you can persuade anyone who'll listen that policy makers need to make better choices. Our 40-year saga of unsound school evaluation needs to end. Now.  

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Proud with a reason: 

in the Sunday, April 3, Washington Post Magazine, there is a piece by Jay Mathews called High Schools That Work: Looking beyond average SAT scores to find top-notch Washington educations. It is the result of what Mathews calles his "back fence survey" in which
we asked readers which local high schools had impressed them and why. More than 300 people responded to The Washington Post Magazine's Back Fence Survey, nominating high schools and explaining what made them worthy of praise. Those who weighed in included parents, teachers, principals, students, alumni and community leaders. This wasn't a scientific survey and didn't pretend to be. But it highlighted some interesting high schools that we hadn't heard much about before, along with others that we had.

In addition to the Back Fence responses, we talked to education experts, visited schools and examined the numbers. Then we compiled a list of 30 exceptional public and private high schools from across the region. It's by no means comprehensive. There are undoubtedly lots of terrific schools that aren't mentioned here. But this list offers a glimpse of what some public and private high schools are doing right in the eyes of those who know the most about them.

The first high school listed,under Public High Schools, just happens to be one with which I am quite familiar:
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, Prince George's County: 2,869 students (26.6 percent white, 57.4 percent black, 4.3 percent Hispanic, 11.5 percent Asian, 21 percent low-income); average SAT 1061; 83.3 percent pass state English test, 57 percent pass state math test; Challenge Index rating 1.289; 63 percent of teachers have master's or PhD; 90 percent of seniors go to four-year colleges.

This very large school educates its students in an austere, prisonlike building with a bus fleet large enough to serve a small city. But it also has a big advantage. About one-third of its students have been selected based on grades and test scores for its science and technology magnet program.

In other words, it has more than its share of bright and ambitious students. Yet what parents and teachers gush over is not the many awards it has won or the number of AP classes it offers or the Ivy League admissions it boasts, but something more metaphysical. Eleanor Roosevelt has an extraordinary spirit, the Back Fence boosters say, stemming from the fact that 57 percent of its students are African American, that the nonmagnet students get as much encouragement as the science and tech whizzes, that klutzes are welcome on athletic teams and that the staff treats parents like partners rather than like dangerous intruders.

Udomah C. Ohiri says that when his daughter's grades slipped badly her freshman year and he sought help from her guidance counselor, within 24 hours all of the girl's teachers were assembled for a before-school meeting. "Life changed thereafter," Ohiri reports. Now a sophomore, the daughter "does all her school work without being reminded."

"I love the fact that we carpool with an Asian, an Indian and a Jewish-Caucasian boy," says parent Tina McGuffey, who describes her family as white evangelical Christian. Accustomed to her son's fine grades in middle school, she was stunned when Eleanor Roosevelt refused to let him take geometry in ninth grade. Despite his A in eighth-grade algebra, he had failed the school's algebra assessment test, which was not multiple choice and did not allow calculators. He took algebra again, the Eleanor Roosevelt way.

The school has an effective principal, Sylvester Conyers, and several legendary teachers, including Latin instructor Linda Squier and social studies teacher Kenneth Bernstein. Band director Sally Wagner and choral director Barbara Baker have created a 750-student musical juggernaut with so many ensembles and bands that one can barely keep count.

And yes, if you look in that last paragraph, you can now put a lastname on teacherken. Although I know Jay, that apparently had nothing to do with it. He told me that the teachers listed were named by multiple parents. And for what it is worth, we were the only high school for which teachers were listed. And even though we are best known as a Science and Tech magnet, the four teachers listed are two in the arts and two in the humanities.

Education and "The Mighty Wurlitzer 

this has also been posted on dailykos and at boomantribune, in a slightly different form

Those who read this site regularly know how hard it is to get the ordinary person to accept that much of what they read in the press on political issues is inaccurate, often framed and deliberately distorted by what is often described as"the Mighty Wurlitzer" of the organized forces on the political right.  What may surprise you is how true this is in the battles over education.  One important example recently occurred over the issue of the effectiveness of Charter schools.  The piece in today's diary, by Jerry Bracey (whose bona fidesto address the issue will appear at the end of the piece) posted it on the Assessment Reform Network listserv run by FAIRTEST.  He was kind enough to give me permission to post it.


Gerald W. Bracey

When a group of researchers at Stanford University, the Economic Policy Institute, and Columbia University undertook to evaluate charter schools research in early 2005, they undertook it as a stealth project, working in the kind of secrecy normally associated with spies.  They told virtually no one about their effort and the few who stumbled on it in conversation were sworn to stay mum until the investigations appeared as a book, The Charter School Dust-up.  They behaved in this most unusual, un-academic way because, as one of the authors, a person given to sober thought and understatement, told a colleague, "Those people are zealots."

He did not name those people.  He did not have to.  Anyone in the field of education who had followed the swirl of controversy surrounding a 2004 study of charter schools would have been aware that he had in mind, generally, many of the 31 academics who had signed a full page advertisement in the New York Times August 25, 2004 and, specifically, Paul Peterson of Harvard who had organized the signatories for the ad and Jeanne Allen, President of the Center for Education Reform who had put up $125,000 to pay for it.  The ad appeared again three weeks later in Education Week, minus the signatures of Nobel Prize winner James Heckman of the University of Chicago and David Figlio of the University of Florida who said they had not realized what they were getting into.

They could not have realized what they were getting into because no one in education had ever seen anything like the ad. Aside from those pushing products and services, full page ads in the Times typically address some hotly contested issue in the public domain - Israel, Vioxx risks or Social Security, for example.  The ad was in reaction to a lone New York Times article about test scores in charter schools.

Although educators occasionally write articles on controversial topics that inspire impassioned debate - Arthur Jensen on the heritability of IQ, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray on the implications of The Bell Curve, for instance - the points and counter points mostly remain in the polite discourse of academia and are published in professional journals, literate lay periodicals or the "Commentary" sections  of the profession's weeklies, Education Week and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Occasionally, debate might spill onto an op-ed page.  The ad was something else.

The ad was the culmination of unprecedented attacks on an analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) charter school data by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and on the New York Times for publishing the AFT's findings. NAEP data are normally analyzed and released by the U. S. Department of Education which funds NAEP and operates it through a contract with the Educational Testing Service in Princeton. The AFT had moved to massage the data because the Department had failed to release its own analyses and showed no signs that it planned to.  

In Spring 2003, the Department had added a sample of fourth graders in charter schools to its regular NAEP assessment activities in reading and mathematics (NAEP assessments typically occur in grades 4 and 8 and sometimes 12.  Overwhelmingly, though, students in charter schools are in the elementary grades only).  By September, 2003, the  Department had analyzed the 2003 regular school NAEP data and placed the results on its Website.  As of summer, 2004, it had not moved to examine the results from charter schools.      

The AFT first offered its report to the Associated Press which declined it.  The New York Times, experiencing its own difficulties extracting another charter school report from the Department, was more responsive (the contractor for this other study, SRI International, had delivered the final report in June, 2004, but the Times would have to use a Freedom of Information Request to get this document and would not be in a position to write about it until November).

With the Department withholding one report and neglecting the data from another, the Times might well have suspected that the Department was not pleased with the pictures the data painted.  The Department, after all, had supported charters enthusiastically:  in addition to a regular grants program for charter schools, in June it had given California $75 million for new charters.  If the NAEP numbers showed charters weren't doing well, taxpayers might question if the money had been well spent.

The Times reported the AFT analysis in a front page, above the fold, article on  Tuesday, August 17, 2004.  Children in charter schools, the article said, did not score as high on the NAEP tests as children in regular public schools.  Poor children in charters scored lower than poor children in public schools.  Children in central city charter schools scored lower than children in central city public schools. Black students in charter schools didn't differ from blacks in public schools but the black-white achievement gap was as large in charters as it was in public schools. The Times story carried the headline, "Nationís Charter Schools Lagging Behind, U. S. Test Scores Reveal."  Those people read the headline and saw: "Times to Charter Schools: Drop Dead."

The next day, all hell broke loose.

On Wednesday, August 18, the Times carried a second story, Section A, but not page one, largely devoted to quotes from then-Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, defending charters.  Harvard's Peterson, William Howell and Martin West penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "Dog Eats AFT Homework."  Editors at the Chicago Tribune struck a similar chord of ridicule, calling the study, "as new as a lava lamp, as revelatory as an old sock and as significant as a belch."  

The Tuesday Times article had quoted former assistant secretary of education and charter advocate, Chester E. Finn, Jr., saying "The scores are low, dismayingly low" (Finn's Thomas B. Fordham Foundation sponsors charters in Dayton, Ohio).  But Wednesday found Finn recovered from his dismay and on the attack in the New York Post: "This week's firestorm over the performance of charter schools can be traced to a mischief bearing grenade hand-delivered by the charter hating American Federation of Teachers to the New York Times".

Finn's characterization of the reaction as a "firestorm" is curious and telling. From the first Times article to Finn's op-ed only 24 hours had elapsed.  Nothing else had appeared in print before Finnís reaction.  If there was a "firestorm", it was internal, raging over the phones, faxes, and emails of those people (charter advocates who were veterans of the left-leaning Alternative Schools and Free Schools movements of the Sixties and Seventies kept their counsel).  

Which is not to say that after Wednesday the firestorm metaphor was not accurate. Those people managed op-ed placement in virtually every New York daily, a feat that assuredly required coordination.  The inferno blazed on the next day.  On Thursday, August 19, the Reverend Floyd Flake, identified by the Times as a former New York Congressman (but not also identified as the President of the Charter Schools Division of Edison Schools, Inc.), pleaded for charters on the Times op-ed page.  Allen debated the AFT's Bella Rosenberg about the study on National Public Radio's Tavis Smiley Show while the Department of Education sent Nina Shokraii Rees to do similar battle on "The News Hour With Jim Lehrer" (Rees came to the Department from the Heritage Foundation, once characterized by Los Angeles Times editor, Michael Kinsley, as a "propaganda machine masquerading as a think tank").

The Manhattan Instituteís Jay P. Greene, a Peterson protégé, called the study "sheer nonsense" in the New York Sun. At the Center for Education Reform's website Allen wrote, "The AFT has been working on their plan for months to twist AEP data and attack the nationís unsuspecting 3000 charter schools with a full-force media blitz."  How a single article in one paper, even an eminent paper such as the Times, could constitute a "full-force media blitz," Ms. Allen did not explain.  The New York Post, having published Finn's op-ed the previous day, now weighed in with its own editorial, "Kids Come Last:" "The AFT hates them (charter schools) because they threaten the union's public school monopoly."

Neither Finn nor the Post seemed aware of the irony of their savaging the AFT's position on charters.  Without the AFT, there probably wouldn't be any charter schools. Ray Budde, a Massachusetts teacher coined the term in the 1970's and it generated little interest until championed by then-AFT president, Albert Shanker, in the 1980's at the AFT's national convention and in his weekly New York Times column.  A Shanker Minneapolis speech led directly to the Minnesota legislature passing the nation's first charter school law in 1991.  Shanker soon became disenchanted with charters, though, seeing them divisive, self-sealed entities: "the basic principle of charter schools ensures that whatever common ground schools now share will disappear."

The word "contract" can be substituted for "charter" with no loss of meaning.  The contract that charter schools offered was this: we will remain public schools, but let us have increased autonomy in what the school teaches and how the school is run.  Free us from the bureaucratic burdens of the rules and regulations that afflict public schools.  In return, we will increase achievement. If we fail to improve achievement, we will cease to exist. Five years after the Minnesota law was passed, the University of Minnesotaís Joe Nathan, a long-time friend of alternative schools, characterized the bargain this way:  'Hundreds of charter schools have been created around this nation by educators who are willing to put their jobs on the line and say "If we can't improve students achievement, close down our school." That is accountability - clear, specific, and real.'

Other charter advocates had gone beyond Nathan's improve-or-die criterion and argued that the real purpose of a charter school was not just to improve achievement in that school.  That was secondary.  The primary purpose of a charter school was to act as a "laboratory of innovation" and stimulate improved achievement in the entire system.

Given the charters' promissory note, a study finding that charter school students did not even keep pace with their peers in public schools would be a hard blow to the charter school movement as a viable instrument of education reform.  Such a study in 2004 would cause not only the charter school movement to weaken.  The day after the original article, A New York Times editorial called the AFT analysis a "devastating setback" to Bush's signature education program, No Child Left Behind. Under the terms of that law, schools that repeatedly fail to make as much annual progress as the law requires can convert to charter school status.  But charters performing lower than regular schools would render the conversion option meaningless.

While the Times editorial probably added to the impact of the study, a simultaneous event on the left coast also affected charters' image. From the start of the charter school movement, some observers had feared that the charters schools' increased autonomy increased the risk of fiscal malfeasance and fraud.  A number of stories had indeed documented horrible conditions in some charter schools.  One charter school student in Texas described his charter school that had no desks, no chairs, no textbooks, no chalkboards, no trash cans, no gymnasium, no lunchroom, no vending machines, and no functioning toilet this way: "If you name it, we don't have it." Other stories told how money intended for instruction got siphoned into other projects, such as purchasing a nice home for the school operator's mother.   The day before the New York Times charter piece, the Los Angeles Times reported that a charter operator in California, under investigation for possible criminal activities such as inflating enrollments to obtain more money from the state, had suddenly closed down 60 charter school campuses, leaving hundreds of employees without jobs and 10,000 students without schools three weeks before the start of the fall term.  The New York Times' article cited the Los Angeles Times' story.

After the editorial and op-ed assaults on the AFT and the Times came the ad.  It was headlined "Charter School Evaluation Reported by New York Times Fails to Meet Professional Standards."  The ad can be accessed HERE, a location at the Center for Education Reform's web site. "We the undersigned members of the research community," it began, "are dismayed by the prominent, largely uncritical coverage given by The New York Times to a study of charter schools by the American Federation of Teachers. The study in question does not meet current professional research standards." By referring to the analysis as a "study" by the AFT rather than an analysis of NAEP data by the AFT, the ad continued the thrust of several op-eds portraying the research as wholly and self-servingly conducted by the union (one website even called the analysis "nefarious").

The ad impugned the quality of the data and the analysis, and chastised the Times for reporting it. Under the heading "Journalistic Responsibility," the ad declared, "The news media has [sic] an obligation to assess carefully any research sponsored by interest groups engaged in policy debates.  Such studies need to be vetted by independent scholars, as is commonly done in coverage of research on the biological and physical sciences."

These flaws the signers found in the research, in the Times journalism, and the standards the signers put forth to eliminate such failings, struck other researchers as odd or even hypocritical: some of the signers' own researches did not meet the "professional standards"î described in the ad.  Writing in The American Prospect, Economic Policy Institute researcher, Lawrence Mishel observed, "Many of these guardians of professional research standards have repeatedly violated the principles they  now proclaim."  As if to further undercut the adís authority, one of the signatories, Caroline Hoxby of Harvard, rushed a pro-charter study into print -- on her web site, at least, not in a report vetted by independent scholars -- and summarized her research as an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.  Hoxby's research failed to live up to the principles in the ad and, perhaps due to the haste, also contained errors of fact.

With the data abroad in the land, the U. S. Department of Education now moved to report them.  The Department report, released on December 15, 2004, affirmed the AFT's analysis.  Of 22 comparisons in reading and mathematics, 20 favored public school children.  Hispanic fourth-graders in charters scored one point higher than Hispanic fourth-graders in public schools in reading (201 vs. 199), and white fourth-graders in the two types of schools tied.

At the press conference announcing the report, then-Deputy Secretary of Education, Eugene Hickok, reiterated the Departmentís charter support: "We're big fans of charter schools." Hickok also asserted that "Charter schools that don't work, don't stay open."  Diana Jean Schemo, the New York Times reporter who had written the August story found this a curious statement.  She and fellow Times reporter, Sam Dillon had had to use a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the earlier SRI International charter study and that study had stated flatly:

Charter schools rarely face sanctions (revocation or nonrenewal).  Furthermore, authorizing bodies impose sanctions on charter schools because of problems related to compliance with regulations and school finances, rather than student performance. Authorizers (of charters) have difficulty closing schools that are having problems (emphases in the original).

The ad and the Department of Education's actions renewed an oft-voiced concern about the Bush administration and politically oriented researchers, that they subordinate science to ideology (in November 2003, President George W. Bush named three of the ad's signers, Eric Hanushek, Caroline Hoxby, and Herbert Walberg to the 15-member National Board of Education Sciences which oversees the Department of Education's Institute for Educational Sciences).  The Union of Concerned Scientists had earlier accused the administration of deliberately manipulating, suppressing and ignoring scientific advice it did not agree with while stacking advisory panels only with people who had met an ideological litmus test.  Representative Henry Waxman, labeled "science's political bulldog" by Scientific American, established a web site called "Politics and Science" to report on the administration's failures to separate the two.  In the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Ron Suskind observed of Bush's presidency, "open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value."

The troubling issues raised by the ad and its signers, by Hickok contradicting a report commissioned by his own office, and by the administration generally were framed by Harvard psychologist, Howard Gardner:

Is science a disinterested effort to find out what the world is really like  - or is science simply a tool that we use to promote a certain point of view that we have and if the evidence supports us, great, and if not we squelch it or we don't put it on the web?  The question we have to ask ourselves is, Do we want to live in a world where you canít count on scientists calling it the way it is, or simply accept that there are scientists on the left and scientists on the right?

The existence of the ad and the many volleys hurled at the analysis and the article indicate that, in some quarters at least, there are researchers with little interest in what the world is really like, what the data really say, with calling it the way it is.

Here is a brief bio of Gerald Bracey as it appears on the website of the Educational Policy Reserach Unit of the Educational Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University, which can be read here:

Gerald W. Bracey

Gerald W. Bracey holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University. He has held positions at Educational Testing Service, Indiana University, the Virginia Department of Education, and Cherry Creek (Colo.) Schools. Since 1991 he has been an independent educational researcher and writer who specializes in assessment and policy analysis. Bracey is currently an independent researcher and writer, an Associate of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, and an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at George Mason University. Bracey also maintains a website, the Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency (www.america-tomorrow.com/bracey).

Recent books include The War Against America's Public Schools (2002), Put to the Test: An Educator's and Consumer's Guide to Standardized Testing (2002), What You Should Know About the War Against America's Public Schools (2003) and The Death of Childhood and the Destruction of Public Schools. An earlier book, Understanding Education Statistics: It's Easier and More Important than You Think, was revised in 2003, while another previous book, Setting the Record Straight, is being revised for publication in 2004.

 The last book has now been released.  Jerry also writes extensively in the professional literature, most especially his columns in Phil Delta Kappan, which is published by Phi Delta Kappa, an professional orgaization in education, which provides links to the publication on their website.  The website from which I obtained this bio (listed above) has a list with hotlinks to a number of Bracey's writings.

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