Board's Eye View

Just when academic excellence ?seemed to be making a comeback with our educators and policymakers we face the challenge of another wave of education tool and die makers whose products are confused with, er, knowledge.? Yesterday, I was happy to report that differentiated instruction guru Carol Tomlinson recognized that DI [differentiated instruction] was just a tool and that the nation had better get its content house in order before DI could do much good.

Today we are treated to a long, front-page story in the New York Times featuring cracks in another idol of modern education: technology; in this case, the ?software? that hides in said magic box.

What the Times says is already a $2.2 billion industry may just be producing more educational snake oil. The paper cites the federal Education Department's What Works Clearinghouse, which conducts rigorous studies of the research that many of the software developers allude to in their promotional materials, and concludes,

Some firms misrepresent research by cherry-picking results and promote surveys or limited case studies that lack the scientific rigor required by the clearnhouse and other authorities.

An interesting irony here is that the Times has a story in the same edition of the paper about a growing chorus of Republicans calling for the abolition of the federal Education Department. ?It would seem that some members of the GOP have gone back to a rather narrow states-rights parochialism, forgetting their party's individual rights roots and the core values...

I awoke this morning thinking about test scores ? New York State releases it's 4th- and 8th-grade reading and math scores tomorrow and our little district ? 50 percent poor, 30% black ? rarely hits the 50 proficient rate.? My next thought was how the school administration will present the results at tomorrow's board meeting (it's not so bad, we're working on it, we've got many challenges, especially the budget cutbacks), and then, how the local press would play it (quoting the administration) ? if at all.? Over the years the school community has gotten used to failure (it tends to see? "failure" as a judgment made by ivory tower bureaucrats and outsiders who don't understand the realities of local life)? and the local press, which reports almost exclusively the words of the administration, and depends on ads from local business, which is supported in part? by consumers with a stake in the school district, etc. The press as a bullhorn of failure, oddly enough, is reassuring. Plus c'a change, plus c'est la meme chose.

I am not one to blame the press for problems, but I do take seriously the founders' belief that the democratic experiment won't work without an informed public.? It is not about taking a stand for or against; it's about reporting the facts -- all of them, including those from dissenters, reformers, and researchers.? As the Fox News anthem has it, ?We inform, you decide.? The problem is that even if the public is...

The New York Times editorial page has been a fairly consistent supporter of education reform over the last ten years, including a courageous and early backing of No Child Left Behind.? But it seems to reveal a blind spot about money in its criticism of Andrew Cuomo's proposal to cap New York State property taxes, calling the new governor's suggestion ?a ploy? and ?a charade.?

In fact, the State's GOP-controlled senate, after just an hour of deliberation, passed the cap legislation yesterday by a wide margin, 45 to 17.? (Thirteen Democrats voted with the majority.) ?Cuomo releases his state budget today, which everyone suspects will slash state aid to education, according to some politicos, by up to five percent.

A pro-cap vote by the state's Assembly, still controlled by Democrats, is not a slam dunk, but why does the Times call the tax cap a ploy?? As I read the editorial, it doesn't like the fact that?the legislation requires a 60 percent majority by local voters to increase the local tax by more than 2 percent. ?That would give people who oppose school spending more voting power than people who support it.? reasons the Times, which goes on to complain that the bill ?would also do away with the traditional school budget vote and require districts to simply ask voters to support a tax increase.?

The Times conveniently forgets that New York school?budget votes are already a charade.? Currently, even if local voters...

It's great to have Saturday morning education stories to mull, but the New York Times may be?pushing the envelope with this line-up.

1.? To the Barricades.? Leave it to Arizona to shut down an ethnic-studies program for Mexican Americans. Pretty politically incorrect until you read (front page) ?that on the walls of the program's Tucson public school classroom hang a poster of Che Guevara and a protest sign reading ?United Together in La Lucha!,? that one of the teachers calls Ben Franklin (yes the guy with the glasses) a ?racist, and the kids are reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Occupied America. But can they read? Toward the end of the story we learn that ?Tucson's test scores are among the lowest in the state,? although the reporter gives no numbers. And shame on the Times for allowing this lame sentence to follow that inadequate one: ?Officials here say those enrolled in the program do better on state tests than those of the same ethnicity who are not enrolled.? As we say in New York, Oy!

2.? Dillon is Back.? It's nice to see that Sam Dillon survived his kerfuffle with Jay Green (see here).? And this profile of William H. Fitzhugh, ?the cantankerous publisher of a journal that showcases high school research papers,? should be safe enough?though it is depressing. As Fitzhugh tells Dillon, ?Most kids don't know how to write, don't know any history, and that's a disgrace ? Writing...

In the hell of good intentions, the anti-bullying campaign has got to be on one of the lower rings. (The self-esteem movement is?pretty far down.)?

Anyone who has had any experience with the post-Columbine Code of Conduct panic will understand.? Such Codes are dense, intricate documents that attempt to foresee ? and ban! ? every conceivable social indiscretion. Most of the kids who get caught up in this web ? and get suspended from school or sent to In-school Suspension rooms?? are the hapless ones who most need to get educated.? It is fairly well known that history's harshest dictators rule not with an iron fist, but with razored talons paging through volumes of laws banning just about everything, offering such rulers?complete authority under the rubric of the ?rule of law.??It's not much different in school districts, especially those?with sizeable minority student populations,? few minority teachers or administrators, and poor academic standards. Black kids take it on the shins when the Code is long and dense and intricate. The word ?targeted? is no joke. However well-intentioned?the school policies, most of them are impossible to enforce in any equitable or fair manner -- which means that they are enforced in the breach.

Now comes research to document the social status implications of our anti-bullying binge -- and will, hopefully, sound the alarm about our latest witch hunt.? First reported in Education Week last week, the new studies are also discussed in this morning's New York Times by...

Yesterday, at the end of a bang-up Education Writers Association conference on improving teaching quality, at the Carnegie Corporation?in New York City, I was approached by a newspaper education editor who asked whether I thought charter school test results were real.? ?Are they cheating?? she asked, more pointedly.

The question followed what had been a bruising roundtable discussion between journalists and educators about the value of testing ? good or bad?? High-stakes or benchmarking?? Standards-driven or curriculum-driven?? And the newspaper editor's question was whether the pressure to perform isn't causing some testing impotence among our educators.? Another reporter, from another state, at this quiet corner conclave, admitted that he had been wondering the same thing.? ?Who scores these tests?? he wondered.?

The testing/cheating question reminds me of the military-industrial complex conundrum (or the public employees union contradiction):? do we have a phalanx of foxes guarding?our hen houses?? To paraphrase President Dwight Eisenhower, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the educational testing complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Though the cheating scandal du jour is in Atlanta (not to be confused with the education leadership forum Checker is moderating there on Monday), the range and depth of the problem, especially given the improbability of a conspiracy, is troubling.? Lacking a conspiracy, we are left with an explanation of ?moral and ethical breakdown of epidemic proportions.? And the...

The headline in the Daily News was a shocker: ?New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl? Tisch blasts Mayor Bloomberg's school reforms: Calls some schools `warehouses' for poor-performing students.?

It's too early to know whether Tisch's visit to Automotive High School in Brooklyn, where, says the News report, ?just 1 % of students graduated ready for college last year,? will lead to anything.

But the Times gave the story a slightly different twist: ?Regents Chief Says No to a Run for Mayor.?? Interesting.

Times reporter Fernanda Santos says that ?the buzz? about the outspoken (and rich) chancellor running for NYC mayor had been around for weeks.? The last time Tisch was asked about rumors of? an education shakeup in the Empire State, last summer, on an Albany radio show, she dropped the bomb that David Steiner was resigning as commissioner of education. (See my Ed Next story from this summer.) ?Not this time.? Tisch ?categorically denied? the rumors, says the Times.

More interesting, perhaps, is the story of Tisch's visit to Automotive High, during which she was accompanied by the state's new commissioner of education, John King. The visit actually took place a couple of weeks ago. ?And Tisch remarked:

Where do you think these kids are going? They have no education and they aren't getting one?? I'm not saying they're going to be college- and career-ready; I'm not a fool. So put a G.E.D. program in there; teach them skills.

...

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Feeling worried for me after reading my post suggesting that Mark Zuckerberg hand out his $100 million to Newark parents, a friend alerted me to a study about a similarly ?crazy idea? ? by none other than University of Chicago economist John List.? (Full disclosure: I have a masters in history from UC and my son is now a student there.)

According to last February's Bloomberg news report on List's idea, it's ?one of the largest field experiments ever conducted in economics.?? List ?? with the help of fellow economists Roland Fryer of Harvard and Steven Levitt, also of the UC -- is following more than 600 students in several Chicago schools to ?find out whether investing in teachers or, alternatively, in parents, leads to more gains in kids' educational performance.? (See also here.) The experiment includes a ?parenting academy? and scholarships worth up to $7,000 a year.? (A control group of 300 kids receive nothing.) ?Local families with kids 3 to 5 years old were encouraged to enter a lottery and were randomly sorted into three groups.

Whether the List research will help in Newark, I'm not sure, but according to the Bloomberg report, ?List says that his experiments will give policy makers, executives and investors much greater certainty about why students, donors and shoppers make the decisions they do? and ?may show that the U.S. doesn't spend enough on helping parents.?

?We have too many eggs in the kid...

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According to Sharon Otterman, writing in today's New York Times, the New York State education department has been documenting cheating allegations in the state's schools for almost a decade ? and no one seems to have known about it, until now. Writes Otterman,

The previously undisclosed database containing the allegations, a 62-page printout of which was obtained by The New York Times in October, provides a window onto the ways that high-stakes testing is roiling school communities, with principals accusing teachers, teachers accusing principals, and teachers accusing other teachers.

The story has been simmering since last summer (see here), when it was reported that cheating allegations in New York City had increased dramatically since Michael Bloomberg had taken over the schools in 2002: ?there had been 1250 test-tampering and grade-changing accusations, with the numbers rising as test scores took on more meaning.

The new statewide cache, reports Otterman, includes 670 tampering allegations, half of them ?verified.? ?Twenty-four of the 146 allegations against Gotham schools were verified. Also this morning Yoav Gonen of the New York Post reported that, ?The investigative arm of the city's Department of Education has confirmed 106 cases of cheating since high-stakes testing expanded to nearly all public- school grades in 2006?. That's in response to 909 allegations of cheating that were reported to city officials in the past six years -- a confirmation rate of about 11 percent.?

Do we have a cheating scandal here or not?

We may...

When he's good, New York Times education columnist Michael Winerip is very good (see his report on Atlanta cheating).? When he's bad (see here and here or just go to Flypaper's very own Michael Winerip Archive), he's very bad.? The difference between the good and the bad can be easily ? and predictably -- traced to Winerip's inability to match his reportorial skills to his ideological beliefs; the latter seem to completely disarm the former.

In this morning's report, on a New Hampshire school, tellingly headlined ?In a Standardized Era, a Creative School Is Forced to Be More So,? Winerip is at his reportorial worst as he strains to make the point that No Child Left Behind is forcing another great (?creative?) school to ?teach to the test.?? Given that NCLB has become everyone's favorite punching bag of late, Winerip's whines have become something of a yawn.? However, it is instructive to read this piece because it perfectly illustrates the reasons the public is so misinformed about the best education reform efforts: bad reporting.

To start, we need to be aware of what Winerip leaves out, beginning with the facts. How many students go to Oyster River Middle School, the subject of his story? How many are minority, Free and Reduced lunch?? We don't know. Has the school's proficiency rate ? which Winerip says is ?about 85 percent? ? gone up or down?? Which grades does it apply to? Which subjects? We also...

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