Saturday, September 30, 2006


Check out this cheeky story run by the NYTimes about paddlin'. It's a classic example of a rule or a policy that may appear the right thing to do under the right circumstances, but is so rarely carried out under the right circumstances that the ethical thing to do is ban the policy all together.

Take the Times' example of Anthony Price of Everman, TX. He's a principal who seems to show discretion when it comes to corporal punishmant, or "pops" as he calls the policy. Student malfeasance at Price's middle school is corrected through a series of escalting punishments, one of which is a choice between the paddle and suspension. The pops policy has apparently worked well at Price's suburban middle school. But for every tale of success, there are cloudy, concealed, and subjective accounts of abuse.

Is the Times promoting a national conversation about whacking kids? Seems like they want one. Cultural traditions aside, hitting kids is bad, umkay. So don't hit kids.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

UVA, Early Admissions, and the Politics of Priviledge

Another high profile University, this time the University of Virginia, has changed its policy on early admissions. See here, here, here, and here. Starting in 2008 UVA will no longer accept applications for early admission. Like Harvard and Princeton that came before, Virginia claims it wants an economically more diverse applicant pool--suggestive that the 15-year-old early admissions policy favors the affluent.

Universities make spurious arguments for keeping early admission policies. Benefits like less stress for kids and an early crack at financial aid belie existing evidence. A lack of significant empirical evidence on this matter of early admissions leads to a lot of double speak and two-sides-of-the-same-coin arguments. And the suggestion coming from UVA that low income households will see the policy change and think "wow now Billy or Janice actually has a chance to get into UVA" is ridiculous.

I would like to know how much money UVA will save by not having to promote and process early applications. As with Harvard and Princeton before it, UVA can make a decision like this because of its selectivity. The timing is perfect PR and puts UVA in the same sentence as Princeton and Harvard. So few students that apply to UVA are from economic disadvantage that a policy change will doubtfully affect the UVA applicant pool, at least not in terms of economic diversity. UVA looks good trying--or not trying very hard.

Monday, September 25, 2006

It is not a lemon... Is it?

The SacBee reports on a new bill on the Governator's desk that would purportedly aid urban districts in their search for more qualified teachers, or more precisely, their quest for fewer senior teachers who have been passed along as lemons--*think non cooperative, stuck in their ways, ineffective, or any other reason a principal would want to dismiss a teacher.

San Diego principals--more than 25 percent--admit to "coaxing" teachers who have been "underperforming" to transfer elsewhere. The New Teacher Project found through a survey that 47 percent of principals in San Diego confessed that they had hidden vacancies to avoid accepting teachers who had been "convinced" to leave their former schools. About 65 percent of the San Diego district's schools had no choice, or limited choice, in filling at least one position.

The bill is simple. But may not have simple results. The way I read it, the bill is designed to give more authority to principals of schools ranking 1-3 on the 5 point school performance index. If the Governator signs this bill, principals in lower performing schools (SacBee, lacking discretion, calls these schools "urban") will gain the option of not hiring teachers who have heretofore been placed in low performing schools. Why were these lemon teachers being placed in these schools? Because they had an unfulfilled need for teachers. The new legislation would give principals more leverage to consider other applicants, if there are any, before they have to place a teacher transfer.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Exceptional Kids

If anyone needs a little extra motivation at the end of the work week check out wonder dude--David Banh. Of course, the Post paints him as a one-year wonder in their lede, but he's been at it his whole life.

In other exceptional students news, McClean High School students challenge a massive database of student writing on the grounds that it infringes on intellectual property and presumes guilt before innocence. This is a tough one for teachers. On the one hand teachers need some help trying to determine plagerized writing, on the other hand, giving away student writing to a company, in this case Turnitin, at a profit seems unethical. Seems like the aphorism "two wrongs don't make a right" applies. The promise of the database service is that it functions as a tool that can address problems in student drafts. It's a sticky issue worthy of discussion.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Another Benefit of Higer Education

An issue brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings helps answer my question from yesterday, maybe. Recall that I wondered if the report from the National Conference on Citizenship would stoke any interest in accounting for the less tangible benefits of college attendance. Well, here we have another group touting a benefit of college--less crime.

The Alliance writes: "Increasing the graduation rate and college matriculation of male students by only 5 percent could lead to combined savings and revenue of almost $8 billion each year." The Alliance brief tallies state-by-state totals in revenue generation states would enjoy if 5 percent more men graduated high school and matriculated to college.

Of course what we'd really like to see, I would really like to see, is a correlational study or even an ANOVA testing the hypotheses the Alliance describes that lead classroom-goers to a life of less crime. For example: more time spent in the classroom may play a role in instilling values that are opposed to criminal actions, and by keeping adolescents in the classroom and off the streets, early criminal behavior has less of a chance to turn into adult criminal behavior (Lochner & Moretti, 2004).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Voting and Volunteerism and Higher Ed

An article in today's Washington Post, Civic Involvement Tied to Education, provokes a 'duh' moment. For me. Probably because I've studied this for papers I've written for education and political science professors. This most recent study from the National Conference on Citizenship, a nonprofit organization created by Congress, dusts off the public and private benefits of going to college some of our representatives forget when they reauthorize major aid programs for our students.

There is a serious gap between participation in civic life for college educated peeps and non college educated peeps says "Broken Engagement, America's Civic Health Index." The Post's Amy Goldstein, for her part, references super successful Robert Putnam and Bowling Alone. Putnam hypothesizes instability in the American home and workplace and a decline in organized unions are to blame for a class-based schism in civic mindedness.

Goldstein raises multiple salient issues, but for me, getting back to the 'duh' moment, it's that college has real benefits. Policymakers regularly reference implied economic effects and sometimes even tout a revenue calculus that fans out from a university town like mana from heaven. Colleges do create real economic opportunities for people in and around college towns. But colleges also create other benefits for the public. I reasoned in my 2004 paper for a finance of higher education course that with the class-based enrollment divides at top universities and burgeoning costs and thusly price of higher ed we'd start to see a return to equity arguments. (see William Bowen's take on rich kids getting all the opportunities in top colleges as well as in life in general)

A lot of the research done around equity came out of the 1970s and surprise, so did some really good arguments for higher education. Howard R. Bowen, in Investment in Learning compiled one of the most comprehensive reports on the very elusive but oft-sanguinely articulated benefits of higher education: the public benefit. Howard Bowen defined higher education's purpose.

"The primary purpose of higher education is to change people in desirable ways. These changes may, in turn, have profound effects on the economy and the society and even on the course of history." (432)

I'm curious to see if this report from the National Conference on Citizenship sparks any renewed interest in accounting for the myriad benefits of higher ed--like voting and volunteerism.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Clifford B. Janey's Plan and the Langauge of Losing

Supernintendo Janey has proposed an ambitious new plan for modernizing D.C. schools--a fifteen year plan that contemporizes facilities and curriculum. Janey's plan for DCPS calls for $2.3 billion that would build 23 schools, renovate 101 schools, and close 19 schools by 2019. A leaner system organized by campuses and clusters with 121 buildings instead of 146, more rigor in the curriculum, and the moon are proposed for the future District of Columbia.

My biggest concern with the plan, at least as it's reported in the WaPo, is that it is a correctional counterpunch to students who exit the system. There are real and harmful implications in a statement like: "Officials said they hope the modernization plan will help to stem the flow of students into charter and private schools."

Charter schools should be considered a functional arm of public schools rather than an enemy combatant. Private schools are not the enemy either. Any plan to slow or stop pupil exit from DCPS is indicative of the self preserving nature of public schools. This type of behavior reinforces negative portrayals of a portly and bureaucratic education system. The system should position itself as responsive to the needs of students and the community. DCPS sends a reactionary message--"we must beat those private and charter schools!"--when it should be sending a progressive message--"we must do for our students and the community the very best we can."

Keep the plan, tune the message.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The People's Interest in Early Admission and Education

The NYTimes "Most Popular" section has been disintering education articles since its beginning. Yesterday's "Harvard Ends Early Admission" shot straight to number one on the Times list. Either people are very interested in education, or expecting their kids or themselves to apply early decision to Harvard or anywhere for that matter, or both. The "Most Popular" list shows the popularity and interest in education in general in a democratically controlled education sphere--thank you Mr. Chubb and Moe conservative may you be.

Anyway, about the article. Alan Finder and Karen W. Anderson dish on Harvard's reversal of its early acceptance policy--a policy intended to preserve diversity and reverse some of the super advantage some kids get when applying. Other schools may follow suit, and Harvard is not the first to implement a reversal of the Early Decision policy, U. Delaware beat them to the punch in May. The skeptic in me knows that Harvard is special when it comes to policy decisions. Others may not be able pass reversals of early acceptance policies through their directors. Harvard gets away with stuff like this becasue they are so selective to begin with. It's good to see leaders attempt to do the right thing, though, especially under the specter that others will follow suit.

As for Harvard's contention that backing up the admission deadline to the regular January or December deadline will alleviate college search scurrying among high school juniors--to that I add... puulease.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A reponse to: "Largely evangelical movement calls for public school pullout" posted a story from AP about evangelical christian groups advocating for mass withdrawl from public schools. Stoked by annecdotes about anti-religion, gay friendly, Godless schools that teach evolution, these largely white and evangelical christians have formed and joined such groups as Exodus Mandate and the Alliance for Separation of School and State.

Some classic quotes are embedded in the story like this one from Rev. D. James Kennedy, pastor of 10,000-member Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida:

"The infusion of an atheistic, amoral, evolutionary, socialistic, one-world, anti-American system of education in our public schools has indeed become such that if it had been done by an enemy, it would be considered an act of war."

Besides being schizophrenically shaken by every major social and political movment in recent history, Kennedy is clearly unaware of the religious liberties American school children enjoy at their "amoral" and "atheistic" schools. To these people who believe that the public schools in America are diametrically opposed to religious conviction I offer a history of case law to the contrary. And now the list...

The List of Religious Enjoyments in Public Schools

Religious speech:

Lee v. Weisman, 1992, has had the effect of encouraging student led devotionals at graudation ceremonies and has led to public school space being rented by religious organizations for baccalaureate purposes (see Doe v. Madison, 1998 and Goluba v. School District, 1995). Adler v. Duval County School Board allows students to select other students to deliver graduation messages that may be sectarian in nature.

Equal access for religious expression and groups:

The Equal Access Act of 1984, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1990 in Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, and expanded by Cisneros v. Board of Trustees, Hsu v. Roslyn Union Free School District, and Prince v. Jacoby allows for secondary students to use schools during non instructional time for religious activities as well as provide the student groups funds and bulletin board space for their religious activities.

School access for community groups:

In Lambs Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District the Court held that groups may use public schools for sectarian purposes after school hours. In 2001's Good News Club v. Milford Central School the Supreme Court finalized a decision begun in Lambs to allow private Christian organizations (read evangelical) to hold meetings in public schools (NY in this case) in a public school after hours. The Milford decision allows students to participate in these community groups, to the point of exclusivity.

Distribution of religious materials:

In Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors, a 1995 higher education decision that has implications for public schools, the Supreme Court ruled that religious materials published and distributed by students must be treated like any other materials published and distributed by students. The effect is the subsidizing of religious materials created by students.

Religious release programs during school hours:

A strong pedigree of support for this practice goes all the way back to 1954's Zorach v. Clauson that allowed for students to be released to receive religious instruction during school hours and had this to say: "by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, [the state] follows the best of our traiditions." Religious instruction in trailers at the edge of the school property have even been upheld, Smith v. Smith 1975. In Holt v. Thompson, 1975, arguments about academic instruction stopping during times when many children "break" to go to religion classes did not pursuade the court. This even in the face of Hobson choice to go with one's friends or stay behind and be entertained in a small group in the traditonal classroom setting (what really happens).

Curricular exemptions from secular activities:

Many cases have upheld the right of a student to abstain from certain instructional activities like drug education sex education, co-ed physical education, dancing instruction, and officers' training programs and certain and specific course requirments as long as reasonable substitutes exist. See for example Valent v. N.J. State Board of Education, Spence v. Bailey, 1972, Moody v. Cronin, 1979, and S.T. v. Board of Education, 1988.

Religious excusal from school:

In Church of God v. Amarillo Independent School District, 1981, protects children's and teacher's rights to observe holidays within a reasonable amount (once a week leave has been denied) without fear of unexcused absences.

Public funding for sectarian schools:

The landmark 1993 case Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District set an unchanged precedent for public monies flowing to parochial schools (sectarian or otherwise). This precedent was strengthened in 1997 in Agostini v. Felton that allowed public school personnel to provide remedial services at sectarian institutions. Mitchell v. Helms, 2000, allows federal funds to purchase instructional materials like library books, computers, and other equipment for student use in sectarian schools.

The Closer

It's become increasingly easy to see how the separation of church and state metaphor has been eroding for years in favor of equal treatment of and equal access for religious groups. People like R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who last year said the denomination needed an "exit strategy" from public schools should take a hard look at what the current public school system offers. They should heed their own warnings:

Mohler said, "One of the great missions of the public schools was to bring together children of divergent backgrounds -- I benefited from that. There is a loss in this [evangelical mass exit from public schools]."

There is a great loss in not carefully considering what public schools offer. CNN's "Largely Evangelical Movement Calls for Public School Pullout" reveals a large group of people who are not aware of what is currently possible and perhaps unwilling to consider what they stand to lose by pulling out.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Textbook Revisionism: China and the Continuing Market Revolution

Shanghai, China revamps its history books and reduces Mao and the Communist Revolution to a clip, examining the revolution as a phenomenon rather than preaching it as the truth. Mao's Revolution has been replaced with Deng Xiaoping's economic vision for a new China. Deng is the man largely credited with China's market-oriented reforms.

The NYTimes reports:

"The new textbooks de-emphasize dynastic change, peasant struggle, ethnic rivalry and war, some critics say, because the leadership does not want people thinking that such things matter a great deal. Officials prefer to create the impression that Chinese through the ages cared more about innovation, technology and trade relationships with the outside world."

China should tread carefully changing history overnight. China will set off red flags if it pares socialism to a single short chapter in the senior high school history course, whittles Chinese Communism before economic reform to a meager sentence, and deflates Mao to a single instance in an etiquette chapter. Won't kids say "Wait? What about the Chinese history I've grown up with? What about Mao frozen dull and yellow inTian'anmenn square?" Won't these distortions or historical glosses mean anything? Maybe that's naive of me. Free market nations are forward looking.

And it's not like China is without it's share of historical coverups. There's a dissertation length post that could be written about our own country's historical revisionism. Zinn's People's History is a fine place to start. Like here, my bet is that only the brightest and most inquisitive Chinese students will care.
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