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Archive for the ‘Educational Policy’ Category

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Education Week reported on June 8th:

House Democrats want to put their own stamp on federal education spending by increasing Title I and other programs they favor and slashing Reading First and other priorities set by President Bush.

In the $56 billion fiscal 2008 spending bill for the Department of Education unveiled by the Democrats, No Child Left Behind Act programs would receive a $2 billion increase, with the Title I program for disadvantaged students receiving $1.5 billion of that.

But the $1.03 billion Reading First program—which the Bush administration points to as one of its biggest accomplishments under the NCLB law—would take a cut of $630 million, or 61 percent. What’s more, the administration’s latest proposals for private school vouchers and new mathematics programs would not be funded at all.

“This [Reading First] cut will not be restored until we have a full appreciation of the shenanigans that have been going on,” said Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Reports by the Department of Education’s inspector general and congressional investigators have outlined management and ethical questions involving the program.

Republicans voiced no objections to the Reading First cuts or other spending levels during the June 7 session of the appropriations panel’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. The subcommittee approved the Democratic plan in a unanimous voice vote.

“If I were chairman,” said Rep. James T. Walsh, R-N.Y., the subcommittee’s senior Republican, “I don’t know that I would have made the bill a whole lot different.”

This should come as no surprise given the recent questions about how the DoED administered the Reading First program. Surrounded by questions of improper ethics and outright fraud when it came to forcing DIBLES on school districts large and small, draining much needed funds away from the classroom, the bipartisan support of this spending cut makes a great deal of sense.

The DoED, like other embattled Bush administration departments, is keeping a stiff upper lip claiming no ethical violations and that the Democrats are undermining the ability of the urban poor to learn. What they forget is that this legislation will most likely leave the committee with full bipartisan support. Republicans as well as Democrats have simply had enough of this scandal ridden White House. Of course, it is easy to take a stand when those directly effected by that stand are not voters.

Where is this kind of bipartisanship when it comes to the blatantly political Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales? But that is for another post…

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I thought I would blog about the oxymoron of intelligent design for a while. What better place to start than with the remarks of President Bush on the subject. While Bush made these remarks in August of 2005, I am certain his position has not changed one iota–mostly because he has demonstrated a stubborn streak many times over when it comes to changing his mind.Mr. Bush argues that one must teach both sides of the controversy between evolution and intelligent design. So what could be wrong with that?

First, there is no controversy. Declaring something a controversy does not make it so. Simply declaring that a controversy exists (over fill in the blank) creates a straw man that allows the proponents of intelligent design to have talking points rather than to address the issues advanced by the FACT of evolution. The straw man argument is one of the deadly fallacies in logical argumentation.

Teaching the controversy is a favorite of Michael Behe who claims that evolution must not be taught unless one also teaches the controversy that surrounds it. There are two points I wish to make regarding this claim:

1. Regarding the fundamental tenets of evolution, the facts of common descent and natural selection there is NO SCIENTIFIC CONTROVERSY. To argue otherwise is an attempt to teach either pseudoscience in classrooms or to introduce a particular religious interpretation of creation into the classroom. Since it appears that the attempt to teach the controversy is based on not teaching bad science, the same standards that the ID proponents wish to apply to evolution should also be applied to ID. If that is the case then ID fails the test.

2. While there are controversies over details of how evolution proceeds, there is NO SCIENTIFIC CONTROVERSY over the foundational positions taken by evolutionary science. The controversies that do exist are not appropriate for beginning level science but, rather, are appropriate for debate among advanced students in biology or related subjects. The only controversy that exists regarding evolution is in the precise details of how relative contributions of sympatric versus allopatric speciation. The scientific controversy is not between differing creation myths versus observable science which is what the ID proponents would have us believe.

Once again the president fails to articulate a clear understanding of a fundamental issue relying, instead, on the Michael Behe straw man. the manufactured controversy, to make his case.

clipped from www.washingtonpost.com
President Bush invigorated proponents of teaching alternatives to evolution in public schools with remarks saying that schoolchildren should be taught about “intelligent design,” a view of creation that challenges established scientific thinking and promotes the idea that an unseen force is behind the development of humanity.
“Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about,” he said, according to an official transcript of the session. Bush added: “Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. . . . You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.”
These comments drew sharp criticism yesterday from opponents of the theory, who said there is no scientific evidence to support it and no educational basis for teaching it.

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Just a little tidbit I found on YouTube. If it weren’t so sad it might actually be funny. As the anti-evolutionists seek to introduce biblical mythology, call it what you will–creation science, intelligent design–into the classroom, they seem willing to turn back the clock to a time more reminiscent of the dark ages and the Inquisition than bring it to the light of the 21st century. Just because the human mind cannot conceive of the possibility of evolution does not mean that evolution is not true. It is all about evidence. The scientific FACTS based on evolutionary theory point to the validity of the theory. Other than a few scribbles in some sacred texts written 3000 years ago, and other than personal revelation (which is not rigorous evidence) there simply is no evidence to support what Richard Dawkins calls the God delusion. I think I’ll put my faith and trust in FACTS and not in the mythology of creation. If I wanted to put my faith in the mythology I would then be forced to choose from among thousands of FACTUALLY unsupported creation myths–what if I pick the wrong one? What then…

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Alleged conflict of interest charges now swarm around the DoED’s sponsorship and use of the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS). DIBELS serves as the flagship assessment instrument for the billion dollar a year Reading First program administered by the DoED.In addition to significant charges of not properly screening consultants, many of whom had financial ties to DIBLES, the DoED appears to have promoted the use of DIBELS over any other early literacy indicator.

Furthermore, DIBELS does not appear to be a good indicator of whether or not children understand what they read. DIBELS also tends to be biased in favor of children that come from literacy-rich environments according to Samuel J. Meisels, president of the Erickson Institute for Advanced Study in Child Development.

One study found:

That DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency scores did predict performance on the TerraNova, a standardized achievement test, although students’ performance on DIBELS accounted for less than 20 percent of the variability in those scores. The study also found that students scored poorly on their ability to retell stories they had read, suggesting the tests may be sending a message that reading rapidly is more important than reading for comprehension.

So it seems than not only is there a significant scandal brewing surrounding the use and implementation of the DIBELS instrument, it also seems that the administration that insists on research based teaching and learning eschews research when it comes to promoting their pals and their profits. The emperor has no clothes.

clipped from www.edweek.org
Although teachers in the Moriarty, N.M., public schools report positive experiences with the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS, the assessments have generated a lot of controversy nationally.
The assessment tool, developed by researchers at the University of Oregon, is now approved for use under the federal Reading First program in 45 states to monitor student progress on reading fluency and other measures.
But a contentious hearing before the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee probed allegations that the widespread use of DIBELS may stem, in part, from inappropriate promotion of the tests by federal officials as part of the rollout of the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program.
A report by the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general, released in March, suggested that a federal contractor did not appropriately screen consultants, some of whom had financial ties to DIBELS, for conflicts of interest.

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The life of Allen Lee still hangs in the balance as Community High School District 155 officials fail to take any action in the case of Allen Lee, the student accused of disorderly conduct for writing what his teacher and other school officials considered to be a disturbing paper in response to a “free” writing assignment.At no time has the school or the district taken appropriate action in this case. Before involving the police options like counseling, social service intervention, or simply making parents aware of the situation should have been taken. The more appropriate actions would, then, have never been news. No one would even know Allen Lee’s name, which is as it should be. Had this young man been found to be a danger to himself or others then, and only then, should authorities be notified.

The chilling effect this story has on teaching creative writing is enormous. I spoke with several high school seniors who clearly understood Lee’s side of this controversy. One of the seniors told me that were she to be assigned a free write she would simply write “I can’t think of anything to write.” She would do this until the time for writing was over to assure that she would not have her life disrupted. What I find interesting in this student’s case is that she is a top-student, involved in many school activities, maintains a top grade point average and is headed for an elite school. While I have not seen her writing, her teacher assures me that she is creative and thoughtful. Now this…she is turned off and the incident didn’t even occur in her school.

Somewhere, somehow, there is an adult that will do the right thing in the case of Allen Lee. If not NOW–WHEN?

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
After listening to two Cary residents speak in support of a Cary-Grove High
School senior whose essay resulted in a disorderly-conduct charge and his
removal from school, the school board met in closed session Monday evening
without taking any action on his future.
After the two-hour closed session, Community High School District 155 board
President Ted Wagner refused to answer any questions about Allen Lee, 18,
whose lawyer said earlier that he hopes the student can return to school as
quickly as possible and graduate as scheduled May 26. Lee is being tutored in
a district office away from the school.
During a creative-writing class April 23, students were given a “free
writing” assignment in which they were told not to censor or judge what they
wrote. Lee’s stream-of-consciousness essay included references to “shooting
everyone” and “having sex with the dead bodies.”

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David Berliner and Sharon Nichols, both well respected educational researchers, claim that NCLB is causing substantial harm to children, to schools, to teachers and to administrators of those schools that has the chilling effect of placing the Nation at Risk.

Limiting their remarks to only the high-stakes testing requirements of NCLB, Berliner and Nichols said:

The stakes are high when students’ standardized-test performance results in grade retention or failure to graduate from high school. The stakes are high when teachers and administrators can lose their jobs or, conversely, receive large bonuses for student scores, or when humiliation or praise for teachers and schools occurs in the press as a result of test scores. This federal law requires such high-stakes testing in all states.

More than 30 years ago, the eminent social scientist Donald T. Campbell warned about the perils of measuring effectiveness via a single, highly consequential indicator: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decisionmaking,” he said, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” High-stakes testing is exactly the kind of process Campbell worried about, since important judgments about student, teacher, and school effectiveness often are based on a single test score. This exaggerated reliance on scores for making judgments creates conditions that promote corruption and distortion. In fact, the overvaluation of this single indicator of school success often compromises the validity of the test scores themselves. Thus, the scores we end up praising and condemning in the press and our legislatures are actually untrustworthy, perhaps even worthless.

Campbell’s law is ubiquitous, and shows up in many human endeavors. Businesses, for example, regularly become corrupt as particular indicators are deemed important in judging success or failure. If stock prices are the indicator of a company’s success, for example, then companies like Enron, Qwest, Adelphia, and WorldCom manipulate that indicator to make sure they look good. Lives and companies are destroyed as a result. That particular indicator of business success became untrustworthy as both it and the people who worked with it were corrupted.

Similarly, when the number of criminal cases closed is the indicator chosen to judge the success of a police department, two things generally happen: More trials are brought against people who may be innocent or, with a promise of lighter sentences, deals are made with accused criminals to get them to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

When the indicators of success and failure in a profession take on too much value, they invariably are corrupted. Those of us in the academic world know that when researchers are judged primarily by their publication records, they have occasionally fabricated or manipulated data. This is just another instance of Campbell’s law in action.

We have documented hundreds of examples of the ways in which high-stakes testing corrupts American education in a new book, Collateral Damage. Using Campbell’s law as a framework, we found examples of administrators and teachers who have cheated on standardized tests. Educators, acting just like other humans do, manipulate the indicators used to judge their success or failure when their reputations, employment, or significant salary bonuses are related to those indicators.

clipped from www.edweek.org
In his 2007 State of the Union address, President Bush claimed success for the federal No Child Left Behind Act. “Students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap,” he said
But, as with Iraq, a substantial body of evidence challenges his claim.
We believe that this federal law, now in its sixth year, puts American public school students in serious jeopardy. Extensive reviews of empirical and theoretical work, along with conversations with hundreds of educators across the country, have convinced us that if Congress does not act in this session to fundamentally transform the law’s accountability provision, young people and their educators will suffer serious and long-term consequences.
We note in passing that only people who have no contact with children could write legislation demanding that every child reach a high level of performance in three subjects, thereby denying that individual differences exist.

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The Chicago Tribune finally addressed the issue of the Cary-Grove High School response to Allan Lee’s response to a senior English writing assignment. I add some additional quotes from the article below:

Involving the police struck Jim Barnabee as overkill. He is a creative-writing instructor at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and, like most teachers, has been trained to alert counselors or administrators if he thinks students might harm themselves or others.

He referred a student to a school social worker this year after she turned in a poem about suicide. It was a poorly written “emotional spew” that paid little heed to the assignment—all hallmarks of potential trouble, he said.

He added that Lee’s essay, by contrast, seemed more like the product of an annoyed senior, deserving perhaps of school discipline but not police intervention.

“If you refer someone to the police, all you’re going to do is teach kids to hide their feelings, to shove it down and not let it out there,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s what we want to teach young writers.”

The point here is that the CGHS teacher and administrators over reacted rather than practice appropriate measures.

Mary Kay Albamonte, a 22 year veteran teacher said:

“There are some rights that stop at the schoolhouse door,” she said. “Kids can’t just say or do anything. We’re responsible for them, and we have to be vigilant about it. When it’s staring you in the face you have to take it seriously.”

She and other teachers talk about limits with their students at the beginning of their courses. But some say that with violence and sex pervading American pop culture, teens don’t always understand what’s appropriate.

The issue is not one of rights or the lack of rights. It is one of the appropriateness of adult behavior when faced with perhaps inappropriate behavior on the part of one or more students.

If a student is engaged in a criminal act it is fully appropriate to arrest that student and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. When did completing a school assignment become criminal. My goodness, would that we could get more students to complete their assignments. What may have been inappropriate was the content of Lee’s essay which you can read for yourself by clicking on the link. The language of the essay is not, even in the wildest stretch of ones overactive imagination, criminal. Disturbing, perhaps, but criminal, not in a million years.

As an English teacher, I read the essay in the context of the assignment, and through the lens of adolescent pop-culture. I read the words of a senior about to graduate and get on with his life. I read words that reference music, events, and even conditions in the classroom. I read the words of a very typical free writing exercise, one that is neither intended to be finished work nor coherent and cohesive in form.

Lighten-up CGHS. Give this kid some rope.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
A high school writing exercise that ended with the arrest of a McHenry County student last week was a dramatic illustration of a dilemma faced by young authors and their teachers: Where is the line that separates provocative from alarming?
The answer, many say, depends on far more than the words on the page.
A student’s demeanor, disciplinary record and relationship with the teacher all relate to whether a bloody piece of work is viewed as a bold, boundary-pushing statement or a thinly veiled threat.
“Judgment calls are required on all of this,” said Chris Meade, an English teacher at Glenbard North with 30 years of experience. “Nothing happens outside of a context.”
Allen Lee, 18, a straight-A senior at Cary-Grove High in Cary, was charged with disorderly conduct after he turned in an assignment that had called for him to write continuously for 30 minutes without making corrections, and without judging or censoring what he produced.

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