5/23/09

Saturday Cartoon Fun: Gitmo Edition










5/22/09

Teacher Unions: Useful? Um, Yes!

Back and Forth and Back on Teacher Unions

by Doug Noon

Before I fill in a missing piece from a wide-ranging discussion about teacher unions, we should review:

Diane Ravitch:
If getting rid of the unions was the solution to the problem of low performance, then why…. do the southern states — where unions are weak or non-existent — continue to perform worse than states with strong unions? And how can we explain the strong union presence in Massachusetts, which is the nation’s highest performing state on NAEP?
Mike Petrilli:
I’ve concluded that no, Diane isn’t right…. [W]hen it comes to union influence on the ground, at the district level, it’s not at all clear that the “strong states” versus “weak states” distinction makes any sense…. As Jay Greene told me, the unions’ goal “is to ensure as little policy variation across states as they can on their core issues.”
Jay Greene:
Many factors influence student achievement, so isolating the effect of teacher unions would require a rigorous social science research design that could identify the influence of unionization independent of other factors.

Rather than point to a state or district, which proves nothing, I would point people to a rigorous study [pdf] by Caroline Hoxby in a leading economics journal. The abstract states: “I find that teachers’ unions increase school inputs but reduce productivity sufficiently to have a negative overall effect on student performance.
Leo Casey:
Greene is up to his old “cherry picking” tricks here, citing the one study which supports his position while ignoring the many which do not. There is a small body of scholarly literature on the subject, and Hoxby’s essay is clearly the minority view; there are more noteworthy studies showing a positive relationship between teacher unionism and educational achievement.
Casey mentions a study by Lala Steelman, Brian Powell and Robert Carini, “Do Teacher Unions Hinder Educational Performance? which examines correlations between the presence of teacher unions and high SAT/ACT scores. Additionally, Casey cites F. Howard Nelson and Michael Rosen, “Are Teacher Unions Hurting American Education? [pdf], which makes a similar argument.

Casey also points to a couple of literature reviews on the topic, one of which comes from the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University, “School Reform Proposals: The Research Evidence,” by Robert Carini [summary pdf], [full report pdf].

Jay Greene:
Caroline Hoxby’s study, upon which I base my claims, employs a vastly superior research design…. But even if Leo insisted upon relying on the literature reviews he cites rather than the higher quality research, he would have to accept some results that aren’t very flattering to teacher unions. Those lit reviews find that unionization raises the cost of education by about 8% to 15%. In addition, they find that unionization tends to hurt the academic achievement of high-achieving and low-achieving students while benefiting more typical students found in the middle of the ability distribution.
Green likes Hoxby’s methodology because he believes that it separates causes from effects. But Greene ignores a criticism of Hoxby mentioned in the Carini paper:
Hoxby found that unionized districts had higher dropout rates than non-unionized districts from 1970 to 1990. Of the five studies examined in this section, Hoxby’s may offer the strongest evidence, although like the others, it too can be challenged on methodological grounds. In particular, Hoxby reported that she analyzed 10,509 school districts, and asserted that her sample constituted 95% of all districts in the United States in 1990. Given that there were 15,552 school districts in 1990, Hoxby’s research only covered 68% of the districts, not the 95% that she reported. It is not clear why nearly one in three districts were lost. More important, the missing districts were likely fiscally dependent districts, the bulk of which are located in strongly unionized Northeastern states. This is a potentially critical omission that may completely change her findings, particularly given the small gap in dropout rates that she found.
And even more significantly:
Further, Stone has argued that Hoxby’s finding that unionism led to higher drop-out rates is not necessarily inconsistent with research documenting favorable union effects. The argument is that, with a focus on high school dropouts, Hoxby essentially limited the scope of her study to lower-achieving students. In any case, three other studies discussed previously have reported that unionism did not increase dropout rates.
Nowhere do I see delusional people harder at work than I do when I read the contorted ravings of education policy wonks discussing harebrained ideas for how to fix schools. Choose your swamp. Then wade around in it. This is the beauty of the internet. Green reports about the achievement gap, which is attributed to the standardization of instructional settings that comes from unionization. But he ignores the obvious fact that this is precisely what the standards movement is all about, and which teachers recognize as exacerbating the problem.

The anti-union pro-corporate education reformers don’t have any actual solutions. Instead, they resort to changing the subject by criticizing unions for tying the hands of administrators. They don’t acknowledge the fact that administrators haven’t the slightest clue about how to stimulate academic progress for disadvantaged students without resorting to heavy-handed “motivational” approaches devoid of any educational merit.

Teacher unions haven’t been vocal enough in opposing these so-called reforms. But we can look to the teachers in Los Angeles for an example of teacher solidarity and activism. This is important because corporations are getting more militant and punitive in their efforts to prevent workers from unionizing. The “reformers” know that if the unions don’t slow them down, nobody will.
h/t Borderland

White House Counsel Gonzalez Signed Off On Torture?

Tail wags dog; Gonzales approved torture before OLC memos

The timelines have never matched up; the OLC memos were written subsequent to the onset of the reported harsh interrogations of Abu Zubaydah. The obvious question then is with what "legal" (using the term for the sake of argument) justification was waterboarding used on Abu Zubaydah?

New evidence suggests then counsel to the president, Alberto Gonzales, allegedly approved the use of torture well before any hack OLC opinions that justified its use.
An anonymous source told NPR that in April and May of 2002 CIA contractor James Mitchell sought approval on a daily basis for so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” via top-secret cables to the CIA’s counterterrorism center. The CIA forwarded those cables to the White House, according to National Public Radio, and Gonzales would approve the technique, thus granting a legal basis for Mitchell’s actions – in theory at least.

“I can’t believe the CIA would have settled for a piece of paper from the counsel to the president,” (a) former government official told NPR. “If that were true,” says the former official, “then the whole legal and policy review process from April through August would have been a complete charade.” (Link)
This is what will continue to happen in the absence of any investigation of the Bush Administration interrogation policies. The slow drip of damning evidence that the program was, indeed, a lawless sham.
h/t Jay McDonough

5/21/09

Thursday Cartoon Fun: Republican Big Tent Edition




5/19/09

What The Reformers Really Mean

This is pretty funny, and accurate!
Ed Reform Devil’s Dictionary
Published by Robert Pondiscio

Flypaper’s Mike Petrilli laments the tendency of both opponents and proponents of “school reform” to vilify the other side with caricatures. “I think both sides care about improving children’s lives, want an education system that works for all kids, and think they are on the side of the angels,” Petrilli writes. “So let’s keeping fighting the good fight, but by engaging over ideas, not by demonizing our opponents.” Mike is right, of course. But assuming old habits die hard, it might help to have an ed reform Devil’s Dictionary. This handy device will help you keep track of who is saying what about whom and why.

It’s easy to use. When you read one of the following phrases, simply substitute the definition provided for maximum clarity!

“Education reform”
My cause or idea.

“Real reformer”
Someone who agrees with me.

“Champion of reform”
A powerful, rich or influential person who agrees with me

“Distraction”
A colossal blunder made by a champion of reform.

“Puts the interest of adults ahead of what’s best for kids”
People who disagree with me; cf. “status quo”

“It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
The data doesn’t support my pet reform.

“More study is needed”
The data says my pet reform has a negative effect.

“I support merit pay”
Teachers are fundamentally lazy

“Data-driven accountability”
Children frighten me.

“Children are not data.”
Accountability frightens me.

“It’s important to listen to teachers”
I will sit in the room while teachers vent, then go back to ignoring them.

“It’s important to listen to parents”
Everyone knows parents want what’s best for their kid and no one else

“Bad schools threaten America’s economic competitiveness”
I will never see a social security check .

5/18/09

Jesus Rumsfeld And The God Brigades

The war was a religious war. All the claims that we are fighting religious extremists is a lie. We were (are?) fighting Islam. Can we stop now?

video





Toobin On Roberts: He's A Jerk

From The New Yorker:
His jurisprudence as Chief Justice, Roberts said, would be characterized by “modesty and humility.” After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.[emphasis mine] Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

Obama's Health Care Failure

Reich on Obama's most recent failure; health care.
On the campaign trail, Barack Obama pushed a compromise -- a universal health plan that would include a "public insurance option" resembling Medicare, which individual members of the public and their families could choose if they wished. This Medicare-like option would at least be able to negotiate low rates and impose some discipline on private insurers.

But now the Medicare-like option is being taken off the table. Insurance and drug companies have thrown their weight around the Senate. And, sadly, the White House -- eager to get a bill enacted in 2009 rather than risk it during the mid-term election year of 2010 -- is signaling it's open to other approaches. What other approaches? One would create a public insurance plan run by multiple regional third-party administrators. In other words, the putative "public plan" would be broken into little pieces, none of which could exert much bargaining leverage on Big Pharma and Big Insurance. These pieces would also be so decentralized that the drug companies and private insurers could easily bully (or bribe) regional third-party administrators.
I get more disappointed daily by this guy.

5/17/09

The End Is Near For Public Education

I am afraid we are witnessing the privatization of public schools. I thought for sure, when I voted for Obama, this kind of thing would not happen, but instead we would address poverty, the only correlate of student achievement. But, as Schools Matter keeps pointing out, Obama's Duncan would rather toss up bricks.
Philanthrocapitalists Speak, Duncan Listens

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently announced his hope to see 5,000 schools turned around during the next five years. Increases in federal spending directly tied to school restructuring (firing entire staff; closing the school; turning the school over to charter operators; or new curriculum materials) will drive this intended reform. Duncan's plan for school turnarounds should not be a surprise given his tenure in Chicago, the current DOE's connections to various philanthrocapitalists, and the political climate in Washington.

Take, for example, this recent document put out by the Coalition for Student Achievement, a group funded by (among others): Business Roundtable, Center for American Progress, Democrats for Education Reform, NewSchools Venture Fund, Stupski Foundation, Gates Foundation, Business Coalition for Education Excellence, Commission on No Child Left Behind, Broad Foundation, Fordham Institute, and Center on Reinventing Public Education. The reform agenda pushed in "Smart Options: Investing the Recovery Funds in Student Success," was constructed during an early 2009 meeting in Washington, D.C (p. 2). Many notable education entrepreneurs, philanthropic foundations, think tanks representatives, and a number of the most noteworthy education reformers attended the meeting: TFA representatives, NewSchools Venture Fund CEO and California State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell, NewSchools Venture Fund partner Jonathan Schorr, Green Dot CEO Steve Barr, and New Teacher Project CEO Timothy Daly; four Gates Foundation representatives, two Broad representatives (although Andrew J. Rotherham is not listed as representing the Broad Foundation even though he serves on their board); Thomas B. Fordham's Chester Finn, and Education Sector's Chad Alderman and Rotherham; Michelle Rhee, NYC Chancellor Joel Klein and the NYC COO, and the Louisiana Superintendent Paul Pastorek. And don't forget to throw in two McKinsey & Co. representatives for a touch of global management flavor. Their cumulative thoughts were summarized in "Smart Options" and proposed as a blueprint for education reform.
There's more at the link.

Blame Rummy For Everything


KATRINA REVISITED.... I'm reluctant to highlight just one anecdote from Robert Draper's GQ piece on Donald Rumsfeld, because there's an awful lot of information in the article that deserves to be read, but the story about Rumsfeld during the Hurricane Katrina crisis is remarkable.

As Draper explained, there were search-and-rescue helicopters available for New Orleans, but Rumsfeld refused to approve their deployment, despite the belief from the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina that they were needed.

[T]hree years later, when I asked a top White House official how he would characterize Rumsfeld's assistance in the response to Hurricane Katrina, I found out why. "It was commonly known in the West Wing that there was a battle with Rumsfeld regarding this," said the official. "I can't imagine another defense secretary throwing up the kinds of obstacles he did."

Though various military bases had been mobilized into a state of alert well before the advance team's tour, Rumsfeld's aversion to using active-duty troops was evident: "There's no doubt in my mind," says one of Bush's close advisers today, "that Rumsfeld didn't like the concept."

The next day, three days after landfall, word of disorder in New Orleans had reached a fever pitch. According to sources familiar with the conversation, DHS secretary Michael Chertoff called Rumsfeld that morning and said, "You're going to need several thousand troops."

"Well, I disagree," said the SecDef. "And I'm going to tell the president we don't need any more than the National Guard."

After the president had returned to the White House, he eventually convened a meeting in the Situation Room to discuss the government's response. Bush barked, "Rumsfeld, what the hell is going on there? Are you watching what's on television? Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I'm watching? What the hell are you doing?"

When Rumsfeld mentioned his concerns about "unity of command" issues, Bush stopped talking to his Defense Secretary and directed all inquiries to Lieutenant General Honore, via video screen, who was on the ground in Louisiana.

But still the troops hadn't arrived. And by Saturday morning, says Honore, "we had dispersed all of these people across Louisiana. So we needed more troops to go to distribution centers, feed people, and maintain traffic." That morning Bush convened yet another meeting in the Situation Room. Chertoff was emphatic. "Mr. President," he said, "if we're not going to begin to get these troops, we're not going to be able to get the job done."

Rumsfeld could see the writing on the wall and had come prepared with a deployment plan in hand. Still, he did not volunteer it. Only when Bush ordered, "Don, do it," did he acquiesce and send in the troops -- a full five days after landfall.

And here I thought Rumsfeld was a nightmare at the Pentagon before reading the Draper piece.

h/t Political Animal

Happy Anniversary

Brown v Board of Education after 55 years

Fifty-five years ago today the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously issued Earl Warren's opinion in Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, in which it stated unequivocally that
Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
And yet even after 55 years the promise of the Brown decision we still have not overcome what is effectively a system of educational apartheid.

Below the fold I am offering the text of a piece by Sam Chaltain, the National Director of The Forum for Education and Democracy. I am going to urge you to read carefully his words. I will offer a few additional comments of my own, but the primary purpose of this diary is to make Sam's statement more widely known.
Doesn’t Every Child Deserve a High Quality Education?
By Sam Chaltain


On May 17, America will mark the 55th anniversary of Thurgood Marshall’s historic victory in Brown v. Board of Education. If Marshall were alive, however, he would urge us to stop celebrating 1954 and start accepting responsibility for our complicity in the creation of a “separate but equal” education apartheid system – with one method of instruction for the poor, and another for the privileged.

In theory, the Brown decision represents the most hopeful strains of the American narrative: working within a system of laws to extend the promise of freedom, more fairly and fully, to each succeeding generation. “In the field of public education,” the unanimous Court wrote, “the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” and the opportunity to learn “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” The Chicago Defender proclaimed May 17, 1954 as “the beginning of the end of the dual society in American life and the system of segregation that supports it.” Marshall himself remembered feeling “so happy I was numb.”

In practice, integrated schools today are as much of a dream now as they were then, and the subject of segregation has all but disappeared from the national conversation about education reform. Worse still, many of the newest and most promising schools in our nation’s cities are actually increasing the racial stratification of young people and communities – not lessening it.

Providing ‘separate but equal’ facilities, it seems, has once again become an acceptable justification for allowing an inequitable schooling system to exist. In this system, some schools receive ample funding, while others scrape by. Some schools are filled with passionate, experienced educators, while others are flooded with passionate, inexperienced rookies. And while one child is being taught that the key to success is finding the right (multiple-choice) answer to other people’s questions, another is learning that success comes from finding his voice and discovering his rightful place in the world.

Which child is more likely to do well in life, and in a democratic society?

Ostensibly, this inequity was what the Court ended in 1954. But legal changes tend to outpace social changes, and so in 1973 the Court was again asked to intervene, this time when a group of poor Texas parents claimed that their state’s reliance on local taxes to determine per-pupil expenditures violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. A state court agreed, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, reversed.

The unfair distribution of resources, Justice Potter Stewart conceded, “has resulted in a system of public education that can fairly be described as chaotic and unjust. It does not follow, however, that this system violates the Constitution.”

Justice Lewis Powell agreed. “Though education is one of the most important services performed by the state, it is not within the limited category of rights recognized by this Court as guaranteed by the Constitution.” If it were, Powell conceded, “virtually every State will not pass muster.”

For Justice Marshall, a sitting member of the Court he had stood before two decades prior, that was precisely the point. “The Court concludes that public education is not constitutionally guaranteed,” he wrote, even though “no other state function is so uniformly recognized as an essential element of our society’s well being.”

Marshall understood that without equal access to a high-quality public education, democracy doesn’t work. “Education directly affects the ability of a child to exercise his First Amendment rights,” he explained. “Education prepares individuals to be self-reliant and self-sufficient participants in society. Both facets of this observation are suggestive of the substantial relationship which education bears to guarantees of our Constitution.”

After so many years and so little real change, something new – perhaps even something drastic – needs to be done.

What if Powell and Stewart were wrong? What if we made the guarantee of a high-quality public education our nation’s 28th Constitutional Amendment? Is that the game-changer we need to make the promise of Brown a reality, 55 years later?

Sam Chaltain is the National Director of The Forum for Education & Democracy, a national education “action tank” committed to the public, democratic role of public education — the preparation of engaged and thoughtful democratic citizens.
(follow Sam on Twitter)

Let me start by noting again the words of Justice Powell, that Though education is one of the most important services performed by the state, it is not within the limited category of rights recognized by this Court as guaranteed by the Constitution. And still today, more than a quarter century after that opinion in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, it is still true, as Powell wrote in 1972, that virtually every State will not pass muster.

Some states guarantee a free and appropriate public education in their state constitution, although such guarantees were often from a time when such education was only through the 8th grade.

We have come out of a two-term presidency where the focus on No Child Left Behind as the supposed means of addressing the inequity that is still pervasive in America's schools has had the unfortunate effect of narrowing the educational opportunities for many children of color. The recent scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) show that while scores at the elementary level have risen somewhat (albeit less than in the previous periodic assessment covering a time when NCLB had only briefly been in effect), the gap between white and black had not closed and at the high school level there had been no significant change in performance. In short, we are still leaving many children behind. And in the meantime we are robbing them of access to the arts, which are not tested, and incredibly to history and civic education, which also are not part of the calculation of Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB, and hence get ignored inr restricted in favor of more time to raise scores on those tests whose results do get included.

I teach government. Thus the words of Thurgood Marshall in dissent are to me quite relevant: Education directly affects the ability of a child to exercise his First Amendment rights. Our students need to understand those writes to be fully participating citizens helping shape their own future and the future of this nation. Marshall recognized this: Education prepares individuals to be self-reliant and self-sufficient participants in society. Both facets of this observation are suggestive of the substantial relationship which education bears to guarantees of our Constitution.

But these ideas are not new now, nor were they when Marshall expressed them in 1972. Let me offer a selection from Warren's opinion in Brown that remains as relevant today as it was 55 years ago:
Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.
We must remember that despite the unanimity of the Brown decision there was strong resistance. I write these words from the Commonwealth of Virginia, which after the succeeding Brown 2 decision of 1955, which said that segregated school systems must be integrated with all deliberate speed chose a path of "massive resistance" repeatedly articulated in the editorial pages of a major newspaper, the Richmond News Leader, penned by the very articulate editor James Jackson Kilpatrick. We often forget that Topeka was only one of 5 districts involved in the Brown case. There were two parallel decisions, because one case came from our national capital which since it was note a state had to be decided on somewhat different legal grounds as it was in Bolling v Sharpe. The other states, besides Virginia, included South Carolina and Delaware. The Virginia situation is illustrative of how difficult it has been to achieve racial equity in public schools. The General Assembly had allowed the closing of public schools that were to be integrated, but this was ruled unconstitutional in 1959, whereupon the General Assembly repealed compulsory school attendance and left it to local option. That meant either integrated public schools or no public schools. Prince Edward County, which had been the subject of the Virginia case combined into Brown, chose to be the sole Virginia district that abandoned public education. From May 1, 1959 until in 1964 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unconstitutional governments making grants to private (segregated) schools, Prince Edward County had no public schools.

Too many do not know the history of that time. The decision 55 years ago today did not magically erase an era of racial discrimination in education. While it might no longer be de jure on racial grounds today, the inequity of schools serving primarily or exclusively minority populations is not so much better, despite the various federal and state efforts that have been made. The process of of addressing the failures of such schools has inextricably become a political football used by some to advance causes that have little to do with the meaningful education of children whose economic situations give them less access to educationally related activities outside of school, and whose in-school education has increasingly been narrowed to preparation for tests to "prove" we are offering an education, even if the unstated purposes on the part of many advocates are things like destroying the legitimacy of (and hence the support for) public education and destruction of teachers unions as a force both in educational policy and in politics.

Education is essential if we are to remain a liberal democracy. It is one of the few ways we can empower all of our citizens to something beyond a dependence on the whims of corporations whose sole purpose is maximizing their profits. Education should prepare people for a future that is more than merely for the workforce, but also for civil society, for the body politic, for the future of America.

We have come 55 years since the Brown decision was issued. We have not yet come close to fulfilling the promise contained in Warren's sweeping opinion. Despite the unanimity of the Court in 1954, we have never achieved a consensus on the purposes of public education, nor do we have a willingness to make the commitment necessary to achieve the promise of the right to a high quality public education.

Perhaps pursuing a federal Constitutional Amendment is the only way of refocusing our attention as a nation to what Brown was supposed to help us achieve. Certainly the public discussion that would ensue from exploring that option would benefit the nation, whether or not we ever ratify such a proposal.

Warren wrote in Brown that
To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.
Allowing clearly inferior educational opportunities, even if nominally not done specifically on racial grounds, nevertheless still has the same impact. Students are not idiots - they quickly realize that the inferiority of their facilities, in some cases teachers, and in many cases quality of instruction indicates that society does not truly care about them despite the rhetoric about leaving no child behind, of overcoming the disparity that is apparent when we look even at gross indicators like test scores. Their hearts and minds are still battered by the inequity a continuing part of the experience of far too many children of lesser economic circumstances. They may be children of color in inner cities. They may be whites in economically distressed rural communities. They are often children in schools on the reservations in which many Native Americans still grow up.

Regardless of race or location, when we do not offer them a high quality education, we betray the basic principles of our Constitutional system and give lie to the promise of the Brown decision.

Fifty-five years. We have come somewhat. We have not come far enough.

Peace.

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