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Preview: Education at the Brink

Education at the Brink

News and commentary on education, politics, and the intersection of the two.

Updated: 2016-10-18T09:16:59.003-07:00


A majority nobody wants to be a part of


Is this a sign that government is doing more to help or that poverty is on the rise? Maybe both are true.

I'm not sure if he's my favorite Dem candidate for '08 yet or not, but John Edwards talks a lot about the problems poverty creates. One of those problems is poor educational performance. If people are serious about improving education for all children, they must also be serious about eradicating poverty.

Two tasks


Thought-provoking article in the Dallas News today. Starts out with a story of a girl who graduated with a 3.0 or thereabouts, got to college and had to take four remedial courses. She's not alone. Not by far. Estimates range from 50% to 87% for schools that don't adequately prepare students for college.

But why?

The answer lies partly in the unique history of American education, according to Michael Kirst, an education professor at Stanford University.

"We built two mass, disconnected systems. The K-12 system built up on its own, and higher education grew away from it," Dr. Kirst said. Over time, they've developed in "splendid isolation" of each other.

In England, Germany and many other developed countries, the two systems developed together. They have a long history of cooperation. For instance, together they create tests for college admission and placement, Dr. Kirst said. And here?

Many states require students to pass a test built on their state's curriculum – in Texas, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills – to graduate from high school.

But to get into many colleges, students must take the ACT or SAT, tests that were created by national companies and that don't really reflect the skills states require for graduation.

This is a problem-- and a big one. But I think the biggest problem is holding power. We need to align k-12 with college but we've got to make sure more students finish high school at all first.

One solution to the alignment problem in Texas was to require four years of math and science. That's great for colleges but could that increase our already disgustingly low graduation rates?

We've got two tasks for our public high schools -- graduate more students and help more students get ready for college -- which are often at odds with each other. We've got to make sure those tasks enforce each other, not cancel each other out. This can't be a zero sum game.

The real education gap


There's always a lot of talk about gaps in education, but one gap isn't talked about enough: the gap in teacher quality between poor and rich schools.

States have two weeks to comply with the latest requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and come up with a solution to what U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings calls teaching's “dirty little secret”:

The disparity in teacher quality between poor, largely minority schools and their more affluent, white counterparts.


A recent Education Trust report revealed large discrepancies in teacher qualifications in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin between poor and rich schools, and between mostly white schools and mostly minority ones.

In Ohio’s poorest elementary schools, for example, one of every eight teachers is not considered highly qualified, but in the state’s richest schools, that number falls to one in 67 teachers. In Wisconsin, schools with the highest minority student populations have more than twice as many novice teachers as schools with the lowest numbers of minority students.

Anyone who has read this blog regularly -- or did before my most recent sabbatical -- knows how much I deplore NCLB's high stakes testing. But -- and I have to pause here to think about how long it's been since there's been anything nice to say about anything even remotely related to the Bush Administration -- this emphasis on the gap in teacher quality is so unbelievably overdue and important. I'm ecstatic that NLCB is shining a light on this insidious problem.

Who'da thunk that the Bushies would be the cause for what could be an excellent discussion of race and class in our (apologies to John Edwards) two Americas.

¿Como se dice “shameless pander” en español?


I stole the title from Think Progress. Now that that's out, check out the story: Lamar Alexander has filed a resolution that the National Anthem should be sung only in English. He blasted Bob Dole in '95 for taking a stand against bilingual education.

Whose side are you on, Senator? Dumb question. Whosever side is most expedient, of course.

Tell it like it is


Congressman George Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee (OK, so it's education and the workforce, forgive me) has an excellent feature on the Committee website that allows students to share college funding horror stories that will be entered in the congressional record.

Have a story to tell, go here.

And be sure to spread this far and wide.

Pop out


Score one for diabetes prevention. Nice work, Bill.

Update: Here's why this is so important.

Memo to education companies



District cuts its ties with Va. companyBy Susan Snyder
Inquirer Staff Writer
The Philadelphia School District said yesterday it would sever ties with K12, the Virginia company that came under fire earlier this school year after its cofounder made controversial comments about aborting black babies.

The company's $3 million contract to provide elementary science curriculum materials expired yesterday, and the School Reform Commission will not extend it, as the administration originally had planned to do, officials said.

A majority of commission members voted in November to honor the contract - eliciting an outcry from some community members - but indicated they would review it when it came up for renewal. None of the members who supported the contract in November returned calls yesterday to explain why they opted to discontinue the relationship with K12.

"The commission considered whether to terminate the contract at that point even though it would have meant a financial penalty, and the majority said they were not willing to do that," district spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings said. "As of today, the contract is no longer in play."

Cummings declined to say why.

"I can't comment beyond that," she said.

The controversy started in September when William Bennett, cofounder of K12, said on his national radio show: "If you wanted to reduce crime... you could abort every black baby in this country."

This ain't your momma's Kindergarten


A great article about the changes in kindergarten. The upshot? Naps are out.

Just begging for a court case


Odessa school officials are moving forward with their plans for a Bible class. Now, I've said many times on this blog that I'm all for teaching religion in schools if it's done in an, ahem, fair and balanced kind of a way -- that is, if it is comparative religion, or religion as literature. But if it's going to be done successfully, we need some model classes that are prepared by religion professors at the highest levels, that can bring perspective and evenhandedness to the teaching approach.

So where better to kick things off? Why, Odessa, of course!

ODESSA — Dozens of students have already signed up and district administrators are testing a pilot course as a West Texas school district prepares to offer a high school class on the Bible, officials said.

The Ector County Independent School District approved the elective course in December, despite opposition from critics who condemned the course as Christian proselytizing instead of education.

About 60 students from two high schools have signed up for the course, which will be offered next fall, district spokesman Mike Adkins said. The semester's schedule includes the class for each period of the day, but that could change depending on demand, he said.


Ian Roark, the district's social studies coordinator, is taking the online version of the course to test out the curriculum. He described the course as "non-devotional" with a focus on history and culture related to the Bible.

The district selected a course developed by North Carolina-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools that uses the King James version of the Bible.

Critics said the selection showed favoritism toward Protestant Christianity.

Roark, who will oversee the implementation of the course, said students can use any version of the Bible they're comfortable with.

"Basically you are free to use whatever version of the Bible you and your family would like for you to use as a student," he said.

I definitely would like to know what this National Council on Bible Curriculum is all about, but the use of the King James version -- even if it is optional -- raises red flags all over the place. When I took religion courses in college, no professor would ever use the King James version, except to point out its flagrant distortions.

$2,000 for this?


Watch out, Texas teachers. The Texas Legislature has you in their crosshairs. While a $2,000 across-the-board pay raise is bandied about (that would put Texas within $5,000 of the national average-- whoopee!), there could be a steep tradeoff:

Sen. Florence Shapiro, the Plano Republican who heads the Senate's education committee, said she plans to attach a proposal that increases accountability for Texas schools to her chamber's version of a tax overhaul.

One proposal — to reconstitute campuses deemed academically unacceptable two years in a row — is tougher than what the federal law requires. Under Shapiro's plan, a campus intervention team would decide which, if any, of the existing faculty could remain.

If the school has had the same principal for the past two years, that principal must go.

The school also could be subject to management from a private, nonprofit company or face being closed.

"How can you leave a school open that's failing our children?" Shapiro said. "If a school has been low-performing for at least two years, in my view, that's a bad school."

There it is. Privatization. Privatize everything. This is the answer to all of our nation's ills, to the drown-our-government-in-a-bathtub crowd. It's worked oh so well in so many other areas, right? Yeah, right.

And further, this is a great incentive for teachers to go to the hard-to-staff schools. Hey, go here, work your but off for two years and then you, too, can be unceremoniously fired!

This is clearly the stuff of genius.

Can you spell overreaction, boys and girls?


Disgusting. Literally.

Calling bullshit


Getting sick of seeing report after report from right wing think tanks go unanswered? Well, the Think Tank Review Project is for you (and me). ASU and CU researchers are teaming up to provide a counterpoint to ideological bullshit trumpeted as scholarship. It's often anything but and the TTRP will expose them when they're... shall we say, stretching the truth.


“Calling these reports to account brings more discipline to what's become kind of a 'wild west' of scholarly writing," said University of Illinois education professor Christopher Lubienski, one of the participants in what is being called the Think Tank Review Project.
It plans to provide policymakers and the news media with "expert reviews" of major education studies within two weeks of a report's release.

Think Tank Review Project co-director Kevin Welner, who also heads the Education and Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said the reports that will be scrutinized are generally generated by private think tanks. While they often gain media attention and influence policymakers, they have very little credibility among academic researchers, he said.

Many think tanks were founded to advance particular political agendas and have become adept at presenting ideological arguments disguised as research, Welner said.

"Reporters and policymakers are not in the position to do their own detailed analysis of the methodology and data when they read these reports, so they're left to just trust the institutions that produce them," Welner told

"Think tank" usually refers to an organization that claims to be a center of research and analysis of public policy issues, according to, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. But it said "many think tanks are little more than public relations fronts... generating self-serving scholarship that serves the advocacy goals of their industry sponsors."

There really is too much of this going on. It's fine for think tanks to produce PR materials and to lobby policymakers, but when they pawn their materials off as "science" and "research" they're being disengenuous. They rarely use peer review processes or accepted academic methodologies and so they shouldn't be allowed to claim the mantle of science or scholarship.

Donors Choose


I've heard of this before but was reminded of it by the incomparable Al Franken Show.
Check it out. It's a great way to do something for a classroom or school in a very directed, consumer-oriented sort of way.

As Jonathan Alter described it on the show: "At this not-for-profit web site, teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn. These ideas become classroom reality when concerned individuals, whom we call Citizen Philanthropists, choose projects to fund."

Reverse the Raid


Sen. Durbin and Rep. Miller have introduced the Reverse the Raid on Student Aid Act of 2006.

Republicans have cut $12 billion in student aid. They're trying to rein in the deficit -- how's that been going lately? -- by screwing students. Nice. Fits right in with their vision for America. Screw everybody (except the rich, give them tax cuts).

If you're pissed off, sign the petition. If you're not, what the f%$# is wrong with you?

We jest because we care


Tom DeLay To Pursue Corruption In Private Sector

April 5, 2006 | Issue 42•14

STAFFORD, TX—Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is facing several ethics violations and felony charges, announced Tuesday that he will resign from Congress in order to concentrate on corruption in the private sector. "I can say with a clear lack of conscience that, after 21 years of public disservice, I have done everything I could to the American people," DeLay said in a televised statement to constituents. "I have a lot to offer the corporate world, such as money laundering and influence-peddling." DeLay added that, before assuming his new irresponsibilities, he looks forward to spending more time alienating his family and cheating on his wife.




The drug war sucks. But a dozen students in South Dakota just made a mil from it. Here's a more mainstream news article about the same unbelievable story.

That Fourth Amendment seems to be hanging on for dear life.

(Via Crooks and Liars.)

The new math


Kids need financial literacy. The rates of young people racking up credit card debts and declaring bankruptcy are going through the roof. And with the recent cuts in student financial aid, that problem will get far worse before it gets better.

So what's a school to do? Already cash strapped and struggling to pay teachers adequate salaries and buy textbooks for traditional subjects, many schools are accepting financial materials from banks and investment houses free or charge. This raises serious potential problems. It reminds me way too much of the Channel One fiasco that was part of the reason Mr Abramoff is looking at 5 to 10.

From the Wall St. Journal:

All of this is fueling a debate over the appropriateness of using educational material developed by banks, financial advisers and credit-card issuers, since they have a vested interest in getting their marketing message in front of future customers. "Teachers become suspicious when materials have a logo," says Robert Duvall of the National Council on Economic Education, a New York nonprofit, nonpartisan group for improving economic literacy.

Troy Krogman, a high-school economics teacher in Spearfish, S.D., didn't pass out any branded handouts when a Wells Fargo banker guest lectured last year about bad check-writing among college freshman, because he was concerned the company was trying "to involve itself in the lives of kids before they get banking assistance."

Companies like Citigroup and Merrill Lynch & Co. say they are sensitive about issues like these, but hesitate to remove their names from materials they invested time and money developing.

I can understand that, too. This isn't exactly charity but it can't be bald marketing either. There's a very fine line between the two. I think the companies -- and I'm sure this will sound out of character for me -- should be allowed to develop brand awareness by putting their logos on materials they develop and pay for, but I don't think they should be able to advertise particular products, like free checking accounts or no-fee mutual funds or whatever. Part of the reason I think they should be allowed to use their brand -- no, all of the reason -- is that I feel so strongly that this should be an absolutely necessary component of any education.

I like the compromise struck in the last graf of the WSJ article:

Companies and educators are starting to develop some solutions. The Idaho Financial Literacy Coalition asks corporate speakers to sign a so-called nonmarketing agreement, stating they will maintain a "nonselling approach" and "will not solicit clients" during presentations.

In a perfect world, schools would have all the money they needed to develop their own materials. Need I remind anyone, this is decidedly not a perfect world. And it'll be a lot less perfect for a lot of people without adequate financial education.

Student protests


Austin school officials are insisting that students not walk out on April 10. I can understand their position, but I think it's wrong. As an Austin Statesman reporter put it:

As the debate over federal immigration laws and the student walkouts continue around Central Texas and nationwide, school administrators and civic leaders are facing a conundrum: After years of telling young people they can change the world, what do you do when they try to prove you right?

It's a great point. Here's another from Drive Democracy, a liberal Texas blog:

We shouldn’t expect school administrators to just say, “Go ahead, skip school.” But, at the same time, effective civil protest must always be of a form that can’t be ignored. Peaceful? Absolutely. But rendered harmless, conducted in a way the authorities can simply ignore and smile weakly at, protests become invisible. These students are too smart for that. The invisible become easy victims.

Students should protest. Aren't we constantly teaching them that when we crack open the history books to the 1950's and 60's. Injustices, if ignored, will persist. So punish the students, but do it in a way that they understand that what they are doing is a vital part of American political life, not in a way that will scare them into the apathy that most Americans practice so assiduously.

Petition request


Some progressive Texas groups want you to sign a petition. Consider these three facts:

(1)Texas has declined from 32nd to 40th in spending on education in the last 5 years
(2)Texas now spends $1500 less per student per year than the national average
(3)Texas teachers now are paid $6800 less per year than the national average

If that doesn't make you mad, I don't know what will. Sign the petition here.

Turn 'em over... but to whom?


An article from Saturday's Baltimore Sun details the Maryland Legislature's vote to hold off on a plan to privatize 11 Baltimore public schools. Conspicuously absent from the article is any mention of who was going to take over the schools or what their plans for the perenially failing schools might look like.

This is symptomatic of so many education issues. At first blush, the solution sounds obvious: "What, only 5% of kids passed the algebra test? That's despicable. Shut 'em down. Turn the school over to someone else!" But then, who is that someone else? Why would anyone want to run a school with only a 5% passing rate? Do they expect to make a profit? Are they missionaries? What's their plan? Once these questions get answered, the obvious solution becomes anything but.

Charter problems


An excellent NYT piece today does an excellent job examining some of the underlying problems with charter schools. They don't recommend what would seem to be an obvious solution: more rigorous standards for applicants. Once these schools open, it is very painful for students, teachers, families -- whole communities -- when they shut down. And all too often, they do shut down.

Worse than Arkansas?


Texas will be coming back for a special legislative session to fix the mess some call "the school finance system." It's less a system than a patched-together hodgepodge of local taxes coupled with state sales tax. Added together, it equals significantly less than what school districts need to meet the standards required by the state.

In contrast to the image every has of us Texans, though, there is some awareness that there is a world outside of our borders. The Dallas Morning News ran an AP story about Arkansas' very similar problem:

The assembly's focus will be answering the state Supreme Court's 2005 ruling that Arkansas had not adequately funded education for the state's 450,000 students. The state faces a Dec. 1 deadline to address problems with the current funding formula.

Legislators are looking at an additional $132.5 million in funding over the next two years for the state's 251 school districts, plus a $90 million appropriation for repairing crumbling school buildings.

There is a significant difference though. In Texas, the Supreme Court warned that Texas schools were close to inadequacy but not there yet. The only aspect of the Texas system ruled unconstitutional was a statewide property tax -- and that appears to be the only thing the Texas Legislature wants to fix. Most of the Republican leadership down here has pledged whatever "fix" comes from a special session will be "revenue neutral." That is, no new money.

If you're a Texan, and you have any young children near the computer screen, please move them away because what I'm about to say is almost too horrible for even adults to consider:

If Arkansas invests in their schools and we don't, it is entirely possible that we might fall behind Arkansas. I shudder to think about it.

More on Bar


"It's strange that the former first lady would want to do this. If her son's having a rough time of it, couldn't she write him a check?" said Daniel Borochoff, founder of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a Chicago-based charity watchdog group.

Good question. (via Crooks and Liars)

Neil Bush in education?


I knew one S&L criminal was into educational software, but two?

Turns out Bush family ne'erdowell Neil Bush is peddling pedagogy these days. And don't worry, it appears to be every bit as shady as his dealings during the S&L scandal.

Former First Lady Barbara Bush made a donation to Houston schools to support Katrina evacuees. So far, no problem. But she specified that the money must go to buy software from Neil's company. Now, I understand a mother wanting to help her son, but is this charity for Katrina victims (remember, by the way, that Bar once said living as refugees in the Astrodome was "working very well for them") or is this charity for a son who just can't ever seem to pull his life together? I've got my opinion.

But it gets even worse. From the Houston Chronicle:

There are 40 Ignite programs being used in the Houston area, and 15 in the Houston school district, said Ken Leonard, president of Ignite.

Information about the effectiveness of the program, through district-generated reports, was not readily available Wednesday, according to an HISD spokeswoman.

Two years ago, the school district raised eyebrows when it expanded the program by relying heavily on private donations.

In February 2004, the Houston school board unanimously agreed to accept $115,000 in charitable donations from businesses and individuals who insisted the money be spent on Ignite. The money covered half the bill for the software, which cost $10,000 per school.

The deal raised conflict of interest concerns because Neil Bush and company officials helped solicit the donations for the HISD Foundation, a philanthropic group that raises money for the district.

So he was raising charitable money using Daddy's connections-- and then directing the charity to himself! Wow, I knew this was a dysfunctional family, but c'mon!

And, while we're at it let's throw in a crazed Russian tycoon. Why not?

Last year, Neil Bush reportedly toured former Soviet Union countries promoting Ignite with Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

According to the Times of London, Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider now living in Britain, is wanted on criminal charges in Moscow accusing him of seeking to stage a coup against President Vladimir Putin.

Anybody else get the sense that Neil Bush should be nowhere near children?

Yet another bright idea!


Do they really imagine this will work? Oh yeah, these are the same people that thought they could privatize social security and democratize Iraq. Almost forgot. I guess it's not too much of a leap then for them to imagine they can solve the teenage drug problem through testing. Gosh, these people are just full of bright ideas!

W.House pushes more schools to drug-test students
19 Mar 2006 14:03:49 GMT

Source: Reuters

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) - Student athletes, musicians and others who participate in after school activities could increasingly be subject to random drug testing under a program promoted by the Bush administration.

White House officials say drug testing is an effective way to keep students away from harmful substances like marijuana and crystal methamphetamine, and have held seminars across the country to promote the practice to local school officials.

But some parents, educators and school officials call it a heavy-handed, ineffective way to discourage drug use that undermines trust and invades students' privacy.

"Our money should be going toward educating young people, not putting them under these surveillance programs," said Jennifer Kern, a research associate at the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit group that has frequently criticized U.S. drug policy.

Requiring students to produce a urine sample or hair sample for laboratory testing is a relatively recent tactic in the United States' decades-long "war on drugs," along with surveillance cameras and drug-sniffing dogs in school hallways.

For more, click here. Hat tip to Pink Dome, which also had this excellent post.