Friday, February 23, 2007

Standards: Runaway Truck or Revised Traditionalism? Nichols, Berliner, and Hayes Have a Go

A couple of recent publications impugn the seemingly runaway truck momentum of standards and back to basics education in the U.S.. Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools and The Progressive Education Movement: Is It Still a Factor in Today's Schools?. The former's authors, Sharon L. Nichols and David C. Berliner, go so far as to suggest the state of ill in America's public schools warrants "epidemic" status. On high stakes tests in general, Collateral Damage's Chapter 1 suggests, "The tests are seen by some as the perfect policy mechanism because they are both effectors and detectors—they are intended to effect or cause change in the system and then detect whether changes in the system actually occur."

While Nichols and Berliner argue that high stakes testing, specifically NCLB are flawed, contributing to dropout crises, and incapable of closing achievement gaps, William Hayes takes a more circuitous look at high stakes testing by appreciating the alternatives. In his introduction, Hayes likens the rarity of an odd politician who pronounces herself "liberal" to the odd educator practicing progressive ideals.

It's nice to see that progressive ideals in education are not dead and that standards are not so sacrosanct to be above discussion. If we are to keep moving in the largely positivist direction on roads paved with No Child's ambition we ought to be damn sure we're revisiting what it is we are doing and how we got here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Raise Ambitions" by Nipping Negative Culture in the Bud

A fine article appears in today's Washington Post. "Black Parents Seek to Raise Ambitions" describes families in Loudon County who have grouped together to combat the achievement gap head on. Their first step, recognizing there is a problem.

By engaging their children in twice-weekly study groups, father son sessions, and monthly house meetings, these mostly affluent parents are addressing cultural currents and biases in academic performance and participation all too common among African American youth. Count the similarities between the work these proactive parents are doing and John Ogbu's fantastic account in Black American Students in An Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Education Department and Big Background Checks

Looks like I won't be getting a job with ED any time soon. Even if I wanted one (at this point I do) and they wanted me it might be awhile to get my background checked. NYT and JONATHAN D. GLATER have the story here.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Harvard to get First Female Prez in 371 Long Years

NYT has coverage of the woman purported to assume the presidency at Harvard University. Drew Gilpin Faust would be Harvard's first woman president in its 371 year storied history. Dr. Faust has a positive reputation for helping to improve Harvard's image following some poorly chosen words delivered by former President Lawrence Summers concerning the innate abilities of the sexes.

The Times takes the tact that her administration experience at Harvard may not impress outright--Dr. Faust is dean of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, by far the smallest of Harvard’s schools accounting for 0.5 percent of Harvard’s $3 billion annual budget--but her penchant for women's issues and former role in the wake of Summers' missteps make her an image godsend.

A few comments and quotes about "toughness" coupled with a rather blithe looking photograph do little to suggest anything but suspicion on the Times' part. Sounds like it's a pretty good balance to me: woman prez/masculine first name; friendly face/tough demeanor; head of an institute charged with emphasizing the study of women, gender and society/tough history loving Virginian.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"A Bid for Better Loans" and Real Risk

Michael Dannenberg and Phillip Longman over at the New America Foundation published a piece in yesterday's Washington Post about college loans and the veritable black hole these loans make that public funds can't escape. The pubic assumption of private risk is an ongoing issue in the financial aid literature, so I'm glad to see the issue gaining more popular press.

Dannenberg and Longman's piece, "A Bid for Better Loans," offers a succinct roundup of the funding crisis (yes I think this is a BIG deal). I first became acquainted with the debate through Art Hauptman's work. If you have a Chronicle subscription check out Hauptman's 2005 piece "College: Still Not for the Needy?"
"A Bid for Better Loans"argues that since there is no functioning market for private loans to compete in (the federal government guarantees all student loans borrowed under its numerous loan programs) there is no way to know how low banks might go in reducing rates for their clients, student and parent borrowers. Beyond the obvious savings that come with interest rate reductions for borrowers, the federal government would no longer incur all the risk for the private lenders.

Back when many federal loan programs were cutting their teeth powerful bank and lending lobbies pushed hard for guarantees that their generosity toward high risk borrowers would ensure rewards. The federal government complied and currently bankrolls default loans and provides a minimum guarantee to lenders on returns. Sallie Mae, owner of nearly half of America's student loans, according to Dannenberg and Longman,
"makes a 43 percent return on its cost of capital while incurring virtually no risk." Federal loan lenders live a charmed life indeed.

Dannenberg and Longman cogently argue against incremental change, i.e. the modest reduction in interest rates approved by the Democratic Congress, and argue for measurable changes that would allow for more competition for borrower dollars. There's enough of us and college is sufficiently pricey that many of us have no choice but to borrow. As a borrower and a tax payer I have twice assumed risk for my college education--last time I checked Citibank didn't assume any risk.

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