Friday, March 10, 2006
Best Of Bennish
Best lede so far:
Social studies teacher Jay Bennish told Cherry Creek school leaders Thursday that he should have used a different dictator when comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler in a geography class, his lawyer David Lane said Thursday.
Background here, here, and here.
Update: He's reinstated with an admonition, Denver Post here, RMN here, and the President himself comments here. Will this quiet both sides? Stay tuned...
Where to start? This story from Miami has it all: Role reversal on all the free-speech passions we've been hearing for the last week and an anti-testing angle to boot! No time to debate controversies, gotta test! Jonathan Zimmerman call your office, you're on! Via Intercepts.
Update: Helpful reader JS also recommends Rauch's Kindly Inquisitors as your travel guide to sorting this all out.
The expansion of the voucher program in Milwaukee is on its way to being signed there today. Includes some additional accountability provisions. Two takeaways here: First, this process is further evidence that vouchers may be the stalking horse for public charter schools, not the other way around. Leave aside the religion aspect, and the constant -- and necessary -- laying on of accountability provisions -- starts to make these voucher programs look more and more like charter school laws. Second, the demand for choice is, or should be, obvious and public school supporters need to respond with serious alternatives. The self-satisfied certitude and denial is a recipe for disaster.
From NYC, via the NYT, more bad news about supplemental services (SES), the free tutoring students in low-performing schools are supposed to get under No Child Left Behind. Quick everyone to their bunker! Again lost in the back and forth about for-profits in education the issue of quality and whether these provisions make much sense from an instructional standpoint.
I'm not a big fan of SES (though I'm agnostic on the for-profit/non-profit issue) so I rise reluctantly to its defense, but someone ought to point out that, while unseemly, some this stuff is par for the course in vendor relations and not unique to SES...what makes SES different and the stakes higher is the age old problem of power relations. At the nub of many edufights is a fundamental debate about who has and who gets to wield power. In general, under SES right now the vendors and the parents have more leverage than the school districts (though because of the way the program works there are plenty of opportunities for the districts to wield influence). That power dynamic, however, more than instructional concerns or any of the rest of this is what really has noses all out of joint about SES.
One interesting note is that the districts can wield more power under SES than under a real public school choice system. Consequently, proposals to make SES the primary remedy rather than public school choice for students in low-performing schools will be an issue during No Child Left Behind's reauthorization. Be careful what you wish for.
We'll know the answer maybe today...but now the political grandstanding has started in CO...All your edulinks and background here.
Breaking News From The Department Of The Obvious
AMA: College students don't always conduct themselves with complete decorum on Spring Break!
Next Week: New Study: It's dangerous in Iraq right now...
This story v. this story, I still think this is bad strategery...
Writing in the Connecticut Law Tribune (free reg.) Laurence Cohen agrees that CT Atty General Blumenthal has really stepped in it with has anti-No Child Left Behind lawsuit:
...in all the years he has been in the saddle, he's only had one real clunker, one grotesque piece of litigation that, not only will he probably lose, but that will leave him with a rare public relations black mark...
...it makes Connecticut look ridiculous to be standing on the sidelines, yapping about how unfair it is that the state actually has to fund testing and evaluation of student performance and progress.
The testing issue, oddly enough, actually makes the public policy point for President Bush. He stands up there at the bully pulpit and says that NCLB is an important prod to force states to pay more attention to pockets of failure within their systems — and now here comes Exhibit A: wealthy, snobby Connecticut, to complain about what a burden it is to test and monitor student performance...
...What really makes all of this a special fiasco for Blumenthal is the recent initiative by the NAACP to join the lawsuit — on the side of the enemy: President Bush and his right-wing, white boys.
The NAACP argument is a clever public relations ploy that would make Blumenthal proud — if he weren't on the wrong side of it. In essence, the NAACP suggests that the dumb Blumenthal litigation is a diversion and a distraction from the real matter at hand: rescuing minority students stuck in hideous public schools. As the state NAACP spokeswoman put it so delicately: "We feel that the state is using this as an excuse to not provide equitable education for minority and poor children"...
Blumenthal is a talented pol with a bright future so people are starting to wonder, what's the exit strategy?
PS--Very inside baseball side note: The No Child attack dogs thought it would be an especially good idea to have a high profile suit in USS Joe Lieberman's backyard since he was heavily involved in the creation of NCLB and they hate him for it. 'Ol Joe looks pretty good now...and it's further evidence that Democratic pols should be wary before swallowing this sort of BS advice hook, line, and sinker...besides, aren't we supposed to be standing up for minorities? I thought so at least...
Regardless of how the case of CO teacher Jay Bennish is resolved in the next few days, look for one side or the other to go bananas. Eduwonk flashback here. Meanwhile, things thankfully seem to be quieting down in NJ though not entirely.
Andy Smarick turns-in an interesting essay on Intelligent Design. Surprise ending! Makes some good points and I, like many others, have probably been a little too dismissive of the ID crowd.
But while he makes some provocative points, where I think Smarick slips is that (a) I don't think the IDers are ultimately seeking to have ID seriously taught through or examined with the scientific method. Doing so creates a perpetual collision between method and faith that continually brings one back to the same impasse. They know that, and Smarick notes that some of the claims wither under scientific scrutiny now yet that's done little to tamp down the enthusiasm. And, once you peel those away I have trouble seeing the there there anyway. I can understand the IDers desire to get their views on the agenda but they don't have the evidence to pull it off under the rules of the game today so they're really seeking to change them (b) Even Smarick then likens ID to caulk for holes in the scientific web of evidence about this issue. But that's not how the scientific method works. Generating questions is fine, generating answers based on faith is not. (c) There is a real difference between interpretation in literature and the arts (even where distinct methods of interpretation are involved) and science so I don't think Smarick's analogy holds (d) Schools can, and I think should, teach about religion but from a comparative point-of-view. Smarick's exactly right that you can't understand Western history without understanding the role of religion but that can be taught in a third-person way in public schools. That's not what most ID'ers are proposing, however. And finally (e) I think we cheapen rather than enhance faith when we try to shoehorn it into secular settings like this anyway.
It's good that he put the issue out there though because how we discuss these controversial and loaded issues is often as important as the issues themselves.
Teachers' Unions v. Stossel, Round II
Teachers' unions in several cities are now launching protests against ABC's John Stossel over his recent special. Let's stipulate that Stossel's coverage of education is entirely agenda driven. It's not even "fair and balanced" in the wink wink way and there's a punchline before he even starts: School vouchers. Regardless, I still think that demonizing him like this is exactly the wrong way to deal with it. Isn't this the exact reaction he sought? It gives him a platform to keep punching back, turns him into a martyr, and surely can't hurt ratings. In other words, seems like this strategy just fans the flames rather than putting them out. And, the further they push this the more they have to get some kind of result or lose face, what does it mean if nothing happens? What's the end game?
Besides, does anyone even remember the original special at this point? Why bring it back up?
Update: Chalkboard's Williams doesn't get it either: It's getting hard to believe the UFT and ABC's John Stossel aren't in cahoots somehow. This afternoon's teacher protest of ABC creates better publicity than the cheesily mustached Stossel could have ever hoped for...
Update II: NYC Educator agrees, too, tartly noting "...[I work] in a DoE trailer 5 times a day, 5 days a week. Yet you don't see me organizing marches protesting The Jerry Springer Show."
Update III: In case there was any doubt who will win the PR war, the NY Sun lays it rest. Via Intercepts.
Great Michael Winerip column on student newspapers in today's NYT.
Couple of housekeeping matters. First, we're still #1 here. But more seriously, very nice and flattering to be named the Best K-12 Administration blog (pdf) by eSchool News and Discovery Educator Network. So thank you to the good folks over there. The other three winners are Assorted Stuff for Best Classroom Instruction Blog, Applied Science Research for Best Classroom Instruction Blog for Students, and Moving At the Speed of Creativity for Best Education Theory Blog. Congrats to them, as well, very cool blogs all. I especially read Assorted Stuff regularly and not just when he says nice things about my work.
Also, Eduwonk was flattered to be asked to join the WSJ's Blog Federation which launched a few weeks back. It's a range of blogs from Iraq the Model and the quotamatic Larry Sabato of UVA to biggies like Instapundit and Dynamist to some of the regulars on the political right you'd expect from the WSJ. I was impressed they invited Eduwonk since I don't share their editorial positions on many issues within education and most without so kudos to them for some much needed point-of-view diversity in today's polarized climate. And, it was great to see an edublog included since, let's face it, ours is not yet an A-list issue like it should be. So check that out, too.
New Education Sector Interview with Ted Sizer and his wife Nancy. Far ranging from the past to the present. Essential blog weighs-in here. Background on Sizer's most recent book here.
Flipping through the channels last night I caught a segment on one of the cable yell shows (and was apparently also on the Today show this morning though I didn't see that) about this Bush-bashing in the schools issue. The Righties are happily conflating the Jersey situation and the Colorado one to put forward the macro storyline that liberals are destroying the public schools while committing treason. Unfortunately, it seems like the Left is out of position to effectively respond because having championed this nut in CO and his "right" to free speech in the classroom, it's now hard to pivot and defend -- with more nuance -- the teacher in New Jersey even though what he did is quite defensible.
Soon all eyes will be on Indy...but there is more there than college hoops: The mayor in Indianapolis, Bart Peterson, is quietly leading an education revolution there. He's the only mayor in the country with the authority to charter schools and he's using it judiciously but aggressively to open new public schools there (pdf).* He's been willing to say no to friends, yes to political adversaries, and keep relentlessly focused on what works for kids. It's an interesting political story that has almost entirely escaped the attention of the press outside of Indy. Substantively it's driving change in the community there and it's helped make him wildly popular in a state and city that isn't easy for Democrats (he's the first D mayor since '67). From his state of the city speech:
Our existing charter schools are already transforming lives. I recently met Desmond Williams, a seventh grader at Andrew J. Brown Academy. As Desmond tells it, before he started at Andrew J. Brown, he had a lot of problems at school. Academically he was way behind and he was often in trouble. Today Desmond is a model student. And after just 2 and a half years, his test scores show that he is on grade level in both reading and math. Overall, the progress at Andrew J. Brown is extraordinary - the average two year increase in ISTEP scores among Andrew J. Brown Academy fifth graders was 48 percent!
The percentage of students in all mayor-sponsored charter schools passing the ISTEP test from 2003 to 2005 increased, on average, by 25 percent! By contrast, statewide scores increased by about 1 percent.
A key to the success of Indianapolis' charter schools is the rigorous review all schools that apply undergo, and our accountability system that is regarded as among the nation's very best. Decatur Township Superintendent Don Stinson, who partnered with my office to launch a mayor-sponsored charter school, described the expert site team review his school recently went through as the most useful, results-focused school review he's been a part of.
*The data in this report are now dated. Current data at the mayor's website.
Hey Mr. AG, sue the feds over No Child Left Behind, everyone will love you and you'll get boffo press!
The NAACP, in asking court permission to intervene on Spellings' behalf, said it best: "Connecticut's action in bringing this lawsuit is analogous to a polluter claiming to support the Clean Water Act while petitioning for the ability to dump hazardous waste in to the Connecticut River."
Update: The NAACP intervention really seems to have discombobulated the state. In their response to it they basically try to kick the can down the road rather than saying yes/no to having the NAACP in the case...
Russo has Sunday's hilarious Doonesbury strip up over at his place.
Update: While you're there check out this Russo interview with Fordham Foundation Crown Prince Mike Petrilli.
Hey, look at us! Hey jerk, over here!
OK, I'll bite.
Per this post, today's Oscar flavored grenade lobbed over the wall from the bunker at the AFT's anti-No Child Left Behind on the specifics but pro-on the vauge statements of support blog argues that teacher collective bargaining contracts are actually readily accessible everywhere! Why? Well again, they have anecdotes! Some contracts are online!
In fact, it's a question that can be answered with more precision than their Google: For the fifty largest districts in the country the contracts are available on seven of the teachers' union websites in those districts. So it's really semantics. Seven in fifty, you decide if that's noteworthy or exceptional or if as one of that seven the UFT, which, to their credit, posts their contract prominently on their site, constitutes a noteworthy exception. To be fair, an additional 31 contracts in those districts can be found online somewhere, just not at the teachers' union site.
Worth noting five other things:
First, if you have any question that the contracts can be hard to find ask journalists, it's a frequent complaint. In fact, in the Collective Bargaining in Education Frederick Hess and Andrew Kelly note that of the twenty large districts they examined for media coverage, "Eight districts had no news articles written about the most recent contract negotiations and another four had no more than one newspaper article published." And it doesn't just mean that if it's not contentious it doesn't get coverage. Even districts with contentious negotiations saw few stories. Some of that is because most of the action happens behind closed doors, some of it is just sloppy work, but some of it is also because it's hard to write about documents you don't have.
Second, the figures above are the contracts for the very largest districts in the country. Overall, public availability is uneven but as with many things it gets harder to find them as you get toward smaller districts though the increasing emphasis on transparency will likely change that before too long.
Third, if you're really
Fourth, some of the contracts the AFTies link to are expired (though I didn't have time to check if new contracts are in place in those cities -- DC, Duval, San Fran. and Newark, readers?). Maybe they're for lifetime achievement Oscars?
Finally, the AFTies conveniently duck the more central part of the post in question, why don't we have the negotiations themselves in a more public fashion?
What's more interesting than the specifics is why the AFTies even want to pick this fight? Privately many teachers' union leaders agree that there needs to be more transparency with the contracts and don't see it as a big issue. There are smarter fights for them to pick. They seem to be onto one because while they first attacked I'm Rick Hess Bi*ch about his chapter for the teacher collective bargaining book, now they're embracing it with almost Blogback enthusiasm...Prediction: That won't last long...
PS--The AFTies also trot out the usual standby: All criticism of them comes from people who just hate unions. Does Andy Stern hate unions? Does Bill Taylor? Does anyone even take that charge seriously anymore? And, considering that there really are people out to get unions, is it really wise to cry wolf all the time and should they be insisting that everyone be a 100 percenter anyway? I don't cross picket lines, I try to buy union and use unionized services when I can etc…if I'm a union-basher then they're really in trouble…
More from Dr. Diabolical's evil lair in Seattle: Minion Robin Lake offers up a really interesting thought piece (pdf) about charter school authorizing and new directions there. Important area of policy for states to think through going forward.
New report on college prep coming from the Chronicle of Higher Education this month and they'll give it to you for free if you click here.
Title I Monitor jumps on the Title I comparability issue: Marguerite "Commodore" Roza and Paul "Dr. Diabolical" Hill lay out why it matters and Andrew Brownstein and Charles Edwards give a longish insidery view of the history and status quo. All well worth reading. The devil is in the details of how Title I money is allocated. Title I is supposed to come after local school districts have equalized funding among schools but it doesn't always happen that way. Roza and Hill: "Districts routinely spend a larger share of state and local funds intended to support basic instruction on schools with fewer poor students."
Bush bashing is rampant in the high schools! This case in Colorado got some attention and now everyone is looking at this one in New Jersey. In both cases teachers taught/said controversial things about President Bush. The Lefty bloggy storyline basically goes like this: Say something critical of Bush, get in big trouble because we live in an Orwellian dystopia under the Bush Administration. The Righty bloggy storyline basically goes like this: More evidence that liberals are traitors and have ruined the public schools.
But as these things usually do, this is taking on a life of its own divorced from the more basic issues:
What the Colorado teacher did was pretty ridiculous, listen to the audio yourself. It's not a lesson or even a lecture, it's a wild rant and it's inappropriate for a public elementary and secondary school.
The New Jersey case, however, is a lot different.
There, a teacher in an AP government class was holding a mock trial arguing both sides about whether President Bush was guilty of war crimes because of the events of the past few years. It was a lesson for students, not a rant at them. A mock trial is a great way to engage kids in thinking about a question from multiple perspectives (and there is no evidence that arguing multiple perspectives wasn't the point of the lesson or was not, in fact, happening) and to use contemporaneous events to get students to think critically about larger issues. Remember, these are advanced students taking a college level course and no one, especially not the president, is above having their public actions and policies debated. The timing is unfortunate though because the New Jersey teacher is getting unfairly painted with the Colorado brush and the back and forth it has kicked up. It looks though like cooler heads may prevail there on the ground, though not necessarily on talk radio and around the blogs.
On the larger issue of "academic freedom" for elementary and secondary teachers, it's pretty much a non-issue. The federal courts have been clear on the point and have upheld adverse employment actions against teachers terminated for expressing their own views contrary to the guidance/regulations of their local boards of education (in fact, it's not even an unfettered right at public colleges and universities either).
In the public schools Liberals should be cautious about jumping on the academic freedom bandwagon anyway. While it might sound like a great idea to let people like this clown in Colorado rant and rave about the President, the reason he can't do it and expect legal protection is the same reason school boards can prohibit things like Intelligent Design: Local school boards get a say in what gets taught. In fact, most of the "academic freedom" cases at the elementary and secondary level deal with various kinds of religious proselytizing. So, jumping up and down about absolute academic freedom in our public schools is actually a dopey idea and at odds with more fundamental liberal principles like not putting kids in the position of being indoctrinated in the public sector.
Update: Leo Casey weighs-in here. Long but worth reading all the way through.
PEN's Newsblast weighs-in on this controversy. Read it for yourself but it seems a tendentious view of Hess' argument(s). Very unusual in our business for someone to have views ascribed to them that they haven't necessarily expressed...