Wednesday, February 28, 2007

National Teacher Ed Standards?

From Education Week:
National Standards Urged for Math, Science Teachers
By Sean Cavanagh

A federal commission has issued draft recommendations calling for the creation of national licensing standards for teachers in mathematics and science, in what would mark a clear shift away from a system controlled by individual states and universities.

Either the federal government or a national policy organization would establish guidelines for certification and teacher training, under the proposal. States and school districts could be given federal financial incentives to follow those standards, according to the report’s recommendations.

Read the rest here (requires registration).
I think it's unlikely this idea will become law, but if it does, it's hard imagine it won't happen to English as well.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bracey on NAEP

The 2005 NAEP scores were released last week. I was going to post something when they first appeared, but I never got around to it, so here's Gerald Bracey's interesting take on them from The Huffington Post.
"Study: Despite Hard Courses, High Schoolers Learn Less." That paradoxical headline ran over a story in the Los Angeles Times February 23. Similar headlines appeared in the New York Times and papers all over the country. The stories under the headlines reported two related studies. One study found that high school students were taking more and tougher courses in math and science and getting better grades. Another found that NAEP reading scores of high school seniors had declined a bit since 1992.

So why did the reading scores dip? Well, when was the last time you heard a Right Honorable and Self-Important School Reform Commission say that the problem with schools is that kids don't read enough Shakespeare? Or Faulkner? An occasional lament is heard that the western canon now includes Steinbeck, Morrison and Angelou, but no reform commission that I know of has ever laid the blame--the blame for whatever the commission is blaming the schools for--at the feet of English teachers. "A Nation At Risk" mentioned what English courses should teach, but its major concerns were science and technology.

The perpetual cry for the last 50 years has been more math, more science, more math, more science. "A Nation at Risk" called for adding computer science because "computers and computer-controlled equipment are penetrating every aspect of our lives" (no doubt the only image in a reform report to evoke simultaneously both a sex act and Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

It is quite possible that reading scores are down because the kids are taking more math and science courses. Sure there are other more familiar villains to charge: television, video games, the strange spelling and syntax of text messaging, even multitasking. But the number of courses the average high school student takes in mathematics, science, and computer science enroute to a diploma have all increased since 1990 (English classes have not). The time for these courses has to come from somewhere. Reading about quarks or taking derivatives jeopardize Jane Austen.

Mostly, though, I think the kids just don't give a damn about NAEP and I bet they give less of a damn now than they did 15 years ago. Nor should they care. I once said to then-NAEP Executive Director, Archie Lapointe, that NAEP systematically underestimates achievement because kids don't take it seriously. Yes, he laughed, the major challenge for NAEP was keeping the kids awake during the test.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The "Reading First" Story Continues

This is from ABC News:
Study: Bias by the Billions in Flawed Ed Program

February 23, 2007 11:16 AM

Justin Rood Reports:

Top Education Department officials, including former Secretary Rod Paige, allowed specialists to improperly encourage state and local officials to spend billions of dollars in federal grant money with a small group of companies, government investigators have concluded.

In educating state and local officials about the department's Reading First grant program, officials loaded expert panels with speakers who overwhelmingly preferred products from a handful of educational companies, according to a report released yesterday by the Education Department's inspector general.

"It sounded like a sales job," one attendee complained in comments to the department which were reviewed by IG officials. "Why are certain approaches disregarded[?]" asked another. "We did not get the whole picture," wrote a third.

"Arrogant! You must think us stupid and uncaring," wrote another. "What else would explain how you talk down to us, preach to us, treat us like morons. I don't experience this level of a 'sell' job when I buy a car." The sessions, known as "the [Education] Secretary's Readership Language Academies," were largely controlled by senior Education Department officials, the investigators found.

The department is barred from interfering with curriculum decisions by state and local education officials.

What's more, the department appointed certain advisors to help state and local officials make spending decisions with their grant money, despite the fact that they had financial ties to the companies whose products were under consideration by those officials, the report found.

Read the rest here, and a different account from Education Week (via Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

In the News

The much-anticipated report by the Commission on No Child Left Behind sponsored by the Aspen Institute was released last week. It recommends the reauthorization of NCLB along with a laundry list of new accountability measures. Some have already begun calling it "NCLB on steroids," but to me it looks more like the kind of document that results when each committee member gets to toss something in and no one sets clear priorities. You can read the executive summary or download the entire thing here. One of the better comments I've seen about it comes from Jay Matthews in his analysis at the Washington Post: "Bottom-up reform, I realize, is often slow and uncertain. But is top-down reform any better? A little bit more of the former, and a bit less of the latter, might be the way to go."

A very different take on NCLB is in a recent letter from ten senators, including some heavy-weights like Patrick Leahy and Carl Levin. In the letter (to the Senate HELP committee, where the reauthorization of NCLB will begin), the lawmakers state:

"We have concluded that the testing mandates of No Child Left Behind in their current form are unsustainable and must be overhauled significantly during the reauthorization process beginning this year."

"While we all agree that states and districts should be held accountable for academic outcomes and continue working toward closing the achievement gap among their students, federal education law should not take the form of a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach."

It's posted on the NEA website.

Finally, in case you haven't heard, there's a great debate going on in the world of children's literature about the appearance of the word "scrotum" in The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, this year’s winner of the Newbery Medal. You can read about it in the NY Times.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Low-Overhead Education?

Here's a piece from the New York Times about the University of Phoenix. It appears that for-profit institutions may not look so good when they're held to the same standards as public institutions (regarding such things as graduate rates and number of part-time faculty).

February 11, 2007

Troubles Grow for a University Built on Profits

By Sam Dillon

PHOENIX — The University of Phoenix became the nation’s largest private university by delivering high profits to investors and a solid, albeit low-overhead, education to midcareer workers seeking college degrees.

But its reputation is fraying as prominent educators, students and some of its own former administrators say the relentless pressure for higher profits, at a university that gets more federal student financial aid than any other, has eroded academic quality.

According to federal statistics and government audits, the university relies more on part-time instructors than all but a few other postsecondary institutions, and its accelerated academic schedule races students through course work in about half the time of traditional universities. The university says that its graduation rate, using the federal standard, is 16 percent, which is among the nation’s lowest, according to Department of Education data. But the university has dozens of campuses, and at many, the rate is even lower.

More here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Question about AP

The College Board has just released its third annual Advanced Placement Report to the Nation. It includes plenty of facts and figures showing that more students are taking AP courses and more students are getting higher scores, but also that an "equity gap" persists. Much of the debate around AP courses has to do with whether or not students who take AP courses are more successful in college than those who don't. (The College Board is trumpeting the results of two new studies--which they funded--that show AP-taking students are more successful.) But the question I have is somewhat different. Given that AP courses seem to be playing a larger role in the secondary school curriculum, what are the implications for English educators? More and more frequently, I'm seeing the AP curriculum being held up as a benchmark for what an outstanding literature or composition course should be. Is that perception having any impact on our work with preservice and experienced teachers? What is your view of the AP English curriculum and/or of the role AP coursework and the College Board are playing in shaping English studies?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Anyone with an Ounce of Brains?

The get-tough view of school reform continues to have advocates. From Newsweek:
Stop Pandering on Education
It's time to move from identifying failing schools to identifying failing teachers. Sounds obvious, but it hasn't happened in American education.
By Jonathan Alter

Feb. 12, 2007 issue - The crazy thing about the education debate in the United States is that anyone with an ounce of brains knows what must be done. Each political party is about half right. Republicans are right about the need for strict performance standards and wrong in believing that enduring change is possible without lots more money from Washington. Democrats are right about the need to pay teachers more but wrong to kiss up to teachers unions bent on preventing accountability.

More here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Testing Comes to College

Although the Spellings Commission refrained from recommending graduation tests for college students, it doesn't look as though the issue is going away. From Inside Higher Ed:

Feb. 2
Texans and Their Tests

When the Education Secretary’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education started meeting, many professors and college leaders feared it would push for some sort of mandatory standardized testing of graduating college seniors — a prospect they saw as inconsistent with the values of liberal education. In the end, the Spellings Commission didn’t make such a recommendation. But in Texas — home to the education secretary and the panel’s chair — mandatory standardized testing for graduating seniors may now be on the way.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, on Thursday proposed a major expansion of state support for public higher education and for student aid. He also proposed one of the broadest testing requirements for graduating college students to date. Seniors would be required to take either licensure exams in their fields or Education Testing Service exams for various college majors. While students would not be required to pass the exams to graduate, colleges’ state funds would be linked to students’ scores, so institutions where many students did well on the standardized exams would get more money.

Perry says that the exit exams are needed “to protect integrity” in higher education and the tax support going to colleges. Many higher education leaders in the state are thrilled with the attention he’s paying to their institutions, and his willingness to provide real increases in financial support.

But faculty groups and advocates for Latino students are concerned about the testing requirement. Many fear that the exams will encourage a “teaching to the test” approach that’s not appropriate in higher education, that colleges will have incentives to place more emphasis in admissions on standardized tests, and that the new system will encourage uniformity and discourage creativity in undergraduate education.

More here.