Flypaper

Today at a big wing-ding on federal education research sponsored by Education Sector and several other groups , former Deputy Secretary of Education Marshall (Mike) Smith agreed that it was probably a mistake to have carved the Education Department (ED) out of the old Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

I was half-serious when I first said this, citing Moynihan and Califano (celebrated opponents of ED's creation, both) and teeing off Russ Whitehurst's comment that the Department of Health and Human Services now spends a vastly larger fraction of its discretionary budget on R & D than does ED. Smith was serious, citing evidence that one of the largest contributors to weak student achievement and even worse problems for kids and school systems is health issues (he focused on tooth decay leading to rampant infection leading sometimes to death) besetting American children, especially poor ones.

The Ed in '08 chairman told ABC News:

My reasons are that the party needs to get on right now with a lot of business, including figuring out what to do with Michigan and Florida. It's important to make known right now not only my vote but as many superdelegates as possible.

Asked if this endorsement was a problem for Ed in '08, he said:

My partner here, Marc Lampkin is a Bush Republican, a McCain Republican, so we are still one Democrat and one Republican who will be working even handedly.

ABC News implied that his motives might not have been entirely pure:

By making his announcement, Romer may have enhanced his clout in an Obama White House. Plouffe said the Obama campaign will seek the counsel and advice of Romer on education issues.

"Secretary Romer" doesn't have a bad ring to it--though he'll be disappointed to discover that the U.S. Department of Education's discretionary budget is much, much smaller than Ed in '08's $60-million bank account.

Liam Julian

Malcolm Gladwell, kicking-off last week's New Yorker Conference, spoke about the mismatch problem--i.e., the hiring of people based on qualities or characteristics that have little or nothing to do with what delivers success in the position being filled.

For example, Gladwell discussed how scouting combines--at which??the best college players must jump high, run fast, be strong in front of professional scouts--is a lousy predictor of athletes' eventual success.

Another profession that Gladwell thinks suffers from the mismatch problem: teaching. "So teaching is a profession that is every bit as screwed up as professional sports," he said. (He addresses teaching about halfway through his talk.)

Liam Julian

Flypaper does not relish the role of policing The Quick and the Ed, but that blog's latest item simply demands rebutting.

Kevin Carey comments on a piece, written by an adjunct professor, in the most recent Atlantic that supposes that perhaps pushing all students to college is a bad idea. (We commented on the article here.)??Carey writes:

One thing's for certain: this piece will be catnip for those who like to adopt the contrarian too-many-people-are-going-to-college-these-days position. This is an especially attractive stance for elitists and/or people who spend a lot of time searching for opportunities to loudly begin sentences with some variation of the phrase "I know it's not politically correct to say this, but..." as if this denotes intellectual bravery of some kind.

Why this impugning of motives, this name-calling? Beyond being trivial, beyond being unspecific, it is also logically suspect. One can (and many do) make the point that to assume everyone needs college, that jobs that don't require college??degrees are plain undesirable, is??the??elitist stance. Carey bolsters this claim when he writes:

After all, without college, what are Ms. L and her struggling classmates supposed to do? Live out the rest of their lives hardly able to read and write? Find some menial job quietly providing service to the likes of Murray, Bennett, and Wolfe, who enjoy three PhDs and a J.D. between them?

This paragraph, inter alia, overlooks the fact that most Americans do not currently possess college degrees, that a majority...

"No Child Left Behind Lacks Bite."

This is not exactly news to Flypaper readers, but it's great that the Wall Street Journal is spreading the word:

Critics of the federal No Child Left Behind law, including Democratic presidential candidates vowing to overhaul or end it, have often accused it of being too harsh. It punishes weak schools instead of supporting them, as Sen. Barack Obama puts it. But when it comes to the worst-performing schools, the 2001 law hasn't shown much bite. The more-radical restructuring remedies put forth by the law have rarely been adopted by these schools, many of which aren't doing much to address their problems, according to a federal study last year.

To solve a problem first you have to diagnose it correctly. And calling NCLB "too harsh" is surely not the right diagnosis.

Liam Julian

The Wall Street Journal reviews Mark Bauerlein's new book, The Dumbest Generation, and Marion Barry defends vouchers for D.C.

While Americans feel no particular love for the U.S. Department of Education (see this graphic from Sunday's New York Times Magazine), I have found that, in education circles at least, particular scorn is heaped??upon state departments of education and their civil service employees. Colonized (in Paul Hill's term) from federal programs above, and distant from the real action of schools and districts below, they are the consummate middle-men (and women) of America's education system. Conventional wisdom says they are capable of little more than pushing paper: performing audits, writing regulations, and filing reports.

What sweet relief it is, then, to read Shepard Barbash's Education Next piece about the implementation of the Reading First program, and the heroic role played by state departments of education.

The most enduring achievement of Reading First may be that it has nurtured a group of state leaders who have developed deep expertise in the science of reading instruction and have been able to get steadily better at helping the districts teach more children how to read. In states where Reading First is working, districts look not to their long-standing networks of consultants and colleges for expertise, but to their state administrators. This is a bureaucratic revolution.

Imagine that: state bureaucrats turned instructional leaders. Regardless of what you read about the program's effectiveness (and if you must read something about that, read this or this), its implementation marks a milestone in the annals of federal-state relations. It's a prescriptive, top-down,...

Megan McArdle reflects thoughtfully on teachers unions today at Atlantic.com. I found this bit especially interesting:

Unions also give teachers power to resist changes that make their jobs less fun. I think the teachers genuinely believe that these changes are bad; but I also think that they strenuously resist learning anything to the contrary. There is really good evidence for the benefits of direct instruction in teaching disadvantaged children. But direct instruction moves the teacher into being more of a technician and less of a creative professional. Ian Ayers talks about this in Supercrunchers, giving the example of bank loan officers, which used to be a skilled, prestigious jobs, and are now almost a clerical role. Doctors and teachers are resisting an attempt to do similar things to their jobs through, respectively, evidence based medicine and direct instruction.

I started my career teaching British, American, and world literature to high school kids. So I'm not thrilled to see the steady decline in the number of books read by middle and high school students. We're told that last year, on average, 2nd graders read roughly 46.2 books compared to 4.5 books for 12th graders. That has me depressed. But before I cry in my beer (read: Starbucks Chai Latte Nonfat Extra Hot), I decided to download the study.

Yes, as a former program evaluator (another post-teaching vocation), I actually like to review the methodology of studies as opposed to relying upon the "bottom line" message often reported in the news media. As alluded in the Toledo news report, the study's data are collected from a database at Renaissance Learning, a company that markets Accelerated Reader (AR)--a popular reading program in schools. Turns out, though, that the number of books students read is calculated by the number of quizzes that any particular student completes (each AR book title has an accompanying quiz). A caveat explaining such is included in the introduction to the report, which reads:

Please note: Renaissance Learning recognizes, of course, that not all book reading that happens in or outside of the classroom is captured through the Accelerated Reader software. However, it is reasonable to assume that for users of Accelerated Reader much book reading is captured in this way. AR quizzes number

...

Pages