Thursday, February 25, 2010

WebCamGate: Who Watches the Watchers?

The WebCamGate case in which the Lower Merion School District near Philadelphia, PA developed and authorized the use of software to visually monitor students using school issued computers off school grounds is raising new questions very day.

There is every indication that the laptops issued to students at the Harriton High School in that district were instrumented to act as virtual stalkers. This news report confirms that students believed they were being surreptitiously monitored by someone at the school.
What becomes immediately obvious, even from this limited student testimony is that these students are not hardened criminals and the cracked voice fear that this one student had and the legitimate concern for the privacy of his family's lives is chilling. The behavior of the web cams as described is more like that of a peeping tom than a tracking system.

Another youTube video explains the parents concern:

Again, the school's explanations that only 42 instances took place sound like fiction based on the fact that numerous students reported the web cam activity AND the vice principal who somehow is accused of confronting a student about "drugs" (Mike and Ike candies). This is not only a case of spying but defamation of these student's character and the vice principal's character.

The fact that this boy's family is also politically connected (Hillary Clinton) is another aspect of the case. Was this family being set up because of their political convictions? Dirty tricks? It's been known to happen.

But the vice principal's denials of culpability are troubling. If she didn't authorize this intrusion, who did? And why did the school ignore the previous concerns?

This has become an example of a real-life Truman Show and the details continue to unfold. Today, all leads point to the school's technician,.Mike Perbix.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Who's Your Daddy?

An incident in Pennsylvania is receiving the scrutiny of the FBI and with good reason. The incident is being called WebCamGate by the mass media. Education Week summarizes the details in an article post by By Dan Hardy, Derrick Nunnally, and John Shiffman of the Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT).
Blake Robbins, 15, said in the suit that an assistant principal confronted him last November with a photo from the laptop—supposedly evidence he was involved in "improper behavior" in his Penn Valley house.

The teenager has said that he was holding Mike & Ike candy in his hand, and that the assistant principal thought they might be drugs.

The system was triggered 42 times this school year, in an attempt to track lost or missing computers, school officials say.

District spokesman Douglas Young yesterday repeated that the security program was developed to help recover lost or stolen laptops, and added: "This included tracking loaner laptops that may, against regulations, have been taken off campus."

Furthermore, the article goes on to assert that the administration had been previously confronted by individuals concerned about the legality and ethics of the software;
More than a year ago, two Harriton High School student council members privately confronted the principal when they learned that the school could covertly photograph students using the laptop's cameras.

When Kline said it was true, the students told the principal they were worried about privacy rights, and asked questions about other kinds of monitoring. Could, for example, the school system read saved files on their computers? At a minimum, the student leaders told the principal, the student body should be formal warned about any surveillance.

But nothing happened, according to other council members who were briefed afterward, and the student leaders returned a short while later to once again tell the principal that they were greatly concerned about a potential invasion of privacy. Again, nothing happened.

Kline and district spokesman Young did not respond yesterday to requests for comment about the meeting with the principal.

A class action lawsuit has been filed and justifiably so. The software called LanRev has been downplayed as little more than a security software program that helps the school track stolen laptops. But the school is not a law enforcement agency. If the laptops were indeed stolen instead of simply removed from school for home use then the school should have reported them stolen and allowed the police to handle their retrieval.

But that's not what happened. Instead, the school officials did precisely what bureaucrats with too much time on their hands and the opportunity to overstep their authority always do. Like the script of a bad movie they activated the webcam of the laptops of students, collected those snapshots, and apparently confronted at least one student who was eating candy that looked like pills as a drug user.

Here at the Gazette we are shocked by nothing that school officials get involved with. As Einstein is quoted as saying, "the difference between genius and stupidity is that stupidity has no limits."

What concerns us more is the fact that the LanRev software can be and may have been used in a much more pernicious fashion. You see, contrary to the sugar-coated, law-abiding explanation that the administration has painted of this software, it can be used to for criminal behaviors that have the potential to incriminate the end-user (e.g. a student, teacher, administrator, and so on) instead of the true criminal. In other words, in the hands of a disgruntled technical help desk employee, an innocent target's life can be irreversibly harmed. This video details in very technical terms the scope of this software's reach:

To translate that into plain language, this software can covertly alter just about anything on a client machine so that the user can be spied on, the machine used to download pornography or act as a cracking platform, and more. Everything and anything can be compromised including your antivirus, spyware, and malware products.

This software has no place in schools. Innocent families, teachers, employees, or relatives can get entrapped in Julie Amero type nightmares that occur only because software with the same ability to maim a life as a gun is being put into the hands of fools.

And today this is only a school incident. But this stuff poses a political and terrorist threat as well. Imagine the havoc this kind of software can play in a Senator's office, at Homeland Security, the Pentagon, or maybe a foreign diplomat, the UN, and so on. You won't know the Cam is on or the microphone and maybe a background script is working to dump or access confidential information.

The FBI needs to take a long, hard look at this stuff.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Should Teachers Unions Pull Out of Urban Schools?

There is a time to cut your losses. It seems to me that teachers unions are not only losing the fight to provide a quality education in America's cities but they are being unfairly and irreparably harmed for the effort. It may be time to pull out.

Let the philanthropists, oligarchs, big city politicians, urban right-wing parent organizations, and profit-seeking educational entrepreneurs have at it - ALL OF IT.

The teachers unions would be wise to retreat to the places where education can be practiced sanely. A place where expectations are matched by parental attention, an audience that's receptive, and with sufficient resources to do the job.

It will not be long before those who inherit the task will be calling for an end to standardized tests as a metric of success. In fact they'll be angry that public schools with unions have an unfair advantage in providing superior product. It'll be called class warfare and racist and unfair. It'll be a fun lesson in educational pragmatism.

You might be wondering why I make such a suggestion. The latest NYTimes article called The New Poor by Peter S. Goodman about poverty is a start;
Some poverty experts say the broader social safety net is not up to cushioning the impact of the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Social services are less extensive than during the last period of double-digit unemployment, in the early 1980s.

On average, only two-thirds of unemployed people received state-provided unemployment checks last year, according to the Labor Department. The rest either exhausted their benefits, fell short of requirements or did not apply.

“You have very large sets of people who have no social protections,” said Randy Albelda, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “They are landing in this netherworld.”

So what's the netherworld look like you ask. In No Child Left Behind as an Anti-Poverty Measure by Jean Anyon & Kiersten Greene we find out;
For more education to lead to better jobs, there have to be jobs available. However, there are not now, nor have there been for more than two decades, nearly
enough jobs for those who need them. Labor economist Gordon Lafer demonstrated that over the period 1984 to 1996—at the height of an alleged labor shortage—the number of people in need of work exceeded the total number of job openings by an average of five to one. In 1996, for example, the country would have needed 14.4 million jobs in order for all low-income people to work their way out of poverty. However, there were at most 2.4 million job openings available to meet this need; of these, only one million were in full-time, non-managerial positions (2002).

Furthermore, the jobs the U.S. economy now produces are primarily poverty-wage jobs—and only a relative few highly paid ones—making it increasingly less certain that education will assure that work pays well (Anyon, 2005). Seventy-seven percent of new and projected jobs in the next decade will be low-paying. Only a quarter of these are expected to pay over $26,000 a year (in 2002 dollars). A mere 12.6% will require a college degree, while most will require on-the-job training only. Of the 20 occupations expected to grow the fastest, only six require college
degrees—these are in computer systems and computer information technology fields, and there are relatively few of these jobs overall (Department of Labor, 2002).

Gender discrimination can work to reverse—or even eliminate—wage gains that accrue to individuals with more education. Female high school graduates earn less than male high school dropouts. And women with post-bachelor’s degrees earn less than men who have just a bachelor’s (Lafer, 2002; Mishel, Bernstein, & Boushey, 2003; Wolff, 2003). If you are female, more education does not necessarily mean higher wages.

Race as well can cut into the benefits of further education. A study of entry-level workers in California, for example, discovered that Black and Latino youth had improved significantly on every measure of skill in absolute terms and relative to White workers. Yet their wages were falling further behind those of Whites. In this example, the deleterious effects of racism outweighed the benefits of education, with minority workers at every level of education losing ground to similarly prepared Whites (Lafer, 2002).

Various other economic realities—such as lack of unionization, multiple free trade agreements which outsource jobs, and increasing use of part-time workers — cut across the college-wage benefit, lowering it significantly for large numbers of people, most of whom are minorities and women.

Even a college degree no longer guarantees a decent job. One of six college graduates is in a job paying less than the average salary of high school graduates (Anyon, 2005). Between 8.8% and 11% of people with a bachelor’s degree make around the minimum wage. This means that an increasing number of college graduates—about one in ten—is employed at poverty wages (ibid.). Even the education levels of welfare recipients are high. The share of welfare recipients who
have high school degrees has increased from 42% in 1979 to more than two-thirds (70%) in 1999 (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2001).

These realities suggest that the promise of good jobs and better pay underlying NCLB is a false one for many people—especially low-income minority students and women—because for them educational achievement brings no guarantee of economic success.

Consider, finally, that the vast majority of low-income students who do attend college do not have the funds or other supports to complete their bachelor’s degree. The majority of low-income students who attend college are forced to withdraw, and only 7 percent of very low-income people attain a bachelor’s by age 26 (Ed. Trust, 2004b).

In addition to these economic realities, there are federal policies that contradict the implicit premise of NCLB that higher educational achievement leads to good jobs. Minimum wage policy and job training policy are two examples.

What this makes plain is that public schools are being pressured to provide career education for careers that don't exist or that pay no more than minimum wage. And what of the college career tracks? Given the dropout rates and the fiscal burden of a lifetime of loan payments, does it serve society's best interest to herd students to college for a life of indentured servitude?

It is time for teachers unions to take a stand. Pull out of the urban quagmire and demand that any union teacher who is enlisted be assured of educational diplomatic immunity from the political toxins at work.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Unknown Artist: Nina Paley

Paley created Sita Sings the Blues. Enjoy.

For more on Nina see:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF)... And Dead (RIP)

A number of sources are reporting that the Obama education budget is doing exactly what the Bush administration couldn't. That is kill successful and effective reading programs.

All in the name of closing the education gap of course.

Donalyn Miller in EdWeek blogs:

Last week, policymakers announced that the Fiscal Year 2011 federal budget increases funding for education, but a closer look at the proposed budget indicates that direct funding for effective literacy programs such as Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), Literacy Through Libraries, Even Start, Ready to Learn TV, Striving Readers, and the National Writing Project (NWP) will cease under the new budget. Money historically allocated to support these programs will be folded into a larger, competitive grant program offered to states.

Let the politicians know how you feel about this.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

When Did the Food Drop Off the Table?

This is a stunning and sobering presentation about the loss of Home Economics and Cooking Classes in schools.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Steel Cage Learning

The decades old mantra of getting tough on public schools is reaching a fever pitch. And a consequence of that fever is that children and parents are cracking under the stress of it all.

Just yesterday it was reported that child was given the equivalent of a water-boarding torture because she could not recite the alphabet for her dad.
According to a police report obtained by CNN, Tabor's girlfriend called police to their home in Yelm Sunday because Tabor had dunked his daughter's head in the kitchen sink. Yelm is about 65 miles south of Seattle.

According to the police report, Tabor admitted to holding his daughter in the sink because she was afraid of water, CNN reports.

When investigators asked the little girl about the bruises on her back and scratch marks on her neck, she told them "Daddy did it."

"It was hot, the water was hot. I told him I would say my letters then!" the girl told police, according to the police report obtained by CNN.
In Detroit, citizens well indoctrinated in the get tough lynch mob mentality are calling for the jailing of teachers and administrators who are blamed for the city's low test scores.
The Detroit scores on the progress test were the lowest in its 40-year history. The sample of students included 900 of Detroit's 6,000 fourth-graders and 1,000 of the district's 6,000 eighth-graders.

Sharlonda Buckman, CEO of the Detroit Parent Network, called for jailing and civil lawsuits against anyone in the city's educational system that is not doing his or her share to help properly educate children.

"Somebody needs to go to jail," she said in a tearful address to 500 parents gathered Saturday for the organization's annual breakfast forum. "Somebody needs to pay for this. Somebody needs to go to jail, and it shouldn't be the kids."

But, increasingly school is becoming a police state that entraps kids in a legal quagmire that makes a fool of everyone. In New York students indeed go to jail for the silliest of reasons.
A 12-year-old Queens girl was hauled out of school in handcuffs for an artless offense - doodling her name on her desk in erasable marker, the Daily News has learned.

Alexa Gonzalez was scribbling a few words on her desk Monday while waiting for her Spanish teacher to pass out homework at Junior High School 190 in Forest Hills, she said.

"I love my friends Abby and Faith," the girl wrote, adding the phrases "Lex was here. 2/1/10" and a smiley face.

But instead of simply cleaning off the doodles after class, Alexa landed in some adult-sized trouble for using her lime-green magic marker.

She was led out of school in cuffs and walked to the precinct across the street, where she was detained for several hours, she and her mother said.

"I started crying, like, a lot," said Alexa. "I made two little doodles. ... It could be easily erased. To put handcuffs on me is unnecessary." Alexa, who had a stellar attendance record, hasn't been back to school since, adding, "I just thought I'd get a detention. I thought maybe I would have to clean [the desk]."

"She's been throwing up," said her mom, Moraima Camacho, 49, an accountant, who lives with her daughter in Kew Gardens. "The whole situation has been a nightmare."

There are even studies claiming that smacking children is a healthy exercise.
Professor Gunnoe questioned 2,600 people about being smacked, of whom a quarter had never been physically chastised.

The participants' answers then were compared with their behaviour, such as academic success, optimism about the future, antisocial behaviour, violence and bouts of depression.

Teenagers in the survey who had been smacked only between the ages of two and six performed best on all the positive measures.

Those who had been smacked between seven and 11 fared worse on negative behaviour but were more likely to be academically successful. Teenagers who were still smacked fared worst on all counts.

Parenting guru Penelope Leach disagreed with the findings.

'No good can come from hitting a child,' she said. 'I do not buy this idea that children will learn positive behaviour from being smacked.

'The law says adults hitting adults is wrong and children should be protected in the same way. Children are people too.'

The assault on children and schools is becoming a crisis and organizations such as Stop Schools to Jails are responding. Stop Schools to Jails has issued a free action kit that helps anyone interested in the issue to begin taking action. In it you'll learn more.

Across the United States, there is an ominous trend that is cutting short the opportunity to succeed for huge numbers of children and youth. Zero tolerance policies and practices are, in many instances, pushing young people off of the academic track and onto a track to prison. This approach, which was originally intended to address the growing concerns over school safety, has been expanded to include overly harsh punishments for behavior that has no bearing on safety. Students across the country are being pushed out of school through the over-use of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests, mostly for minor misconduct. While this trend is harming children and youth of all ages and races, it weighs most heavily on children of color, who are being pushed out or thrown out of school at alarming rates.

School districts are not acting alone. In most places, school districts have teamed up with law enforcement to create this “schoolhouse to jailhouse track.” School districts are literally delegating their responsibility for school discipline to police, resulting in a large number of incidents that are now handled by school police and juvenile courts that could be – and were once – handled by a trip to the principal’s office or a call home to a parent. If the schoolhouse to jailhouse track is not stopped now, there will be serious negative consequences for generations to come.

It's important to look at their material and get involved.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Racing to the Top, Wherever That Is

Arne Duncan's Race to the Top is coming under increased scrutiny because improprieties keep springing up faster than test scores.

Late last year, Pro-Publica published an article asserting that education funding was being appropriated for "Phantom School Districts" - a phrase that could be synonymous with a money laundering operation.
In Kansas, 11 school districts that no longer exist are on the U.S. Department of Education’s distribution list for stimulus funds. They are set to receive nearly $600,000.

We found these school districts when Kirby Ross, managing editor of the Phillips County Review in Phillipsburg, Kan., alerted us that our county-by-county stimulus tracker [1] included two districts in his area that didn’t exist. That prompted us to do some more digging.

We checked more states and found that other consolidated or dissolved districts were on the list. In Missouri and Iowa, a handful of closed districts were listed as receiving stimulus funding.

That doesn’t mean stimulus checks will be arriving to empty buildings. In instances where money is allocated to a closed district, it typically is divvied up among the districts where the students now attend.

States must notify the Department of Education when districts are dissolved or merged. We asked the Department of Education why the list of districts receiving stimulus funds included closed districts, but we did not hear back. We’ll let you know when we do.

I don't need to remind you that this is the same Federal government operation that wants to control every aspect of our schools.

Also late last year, the neo-con dirty tricks campaigns against public education started floating sensational news stories emphasizing how illiterate our high school students are. Nate Silver at the FiveThirtyEight blog examined one such claim in Real Oklahoma Students Ace Citizenship Exam; Strategic Vision Survey Was Likely Fabricated.
It turns out that I was not the only person who had doubts about the survey. So did Ed Cannaday, the State Representative from Oklahoma's 15 House District.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Cannaday told me he was shocked when he heard of the results, which had received widespread media attention. "When I saw the statistics, I was just flabbergasted and said it cannot be true," he told me.

There were two items in particular that sent up warning flags for him: the one claiming that only 23 percent of the students knew the identity of George Washington, and another that claimed that about one in every ten students had listed the two major political parties as "Republican and Communist".

"Given the dialog of today, if they had said Republican and socialist, then maybe," Cannaday told me. "But communist -- that's just not something that you throw out there any more. I don't think Sarah Palin even used that term."

Cannaday, age 69, would be in a position to know. Before entering the State Legislature three years ago, he had spent decades in education, first as a teacher in a large public school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and then in Oklahoma where he set up an alternative school. After a stint in private business, Cannaday returned to classroom, first as a teacher and then as a principal, and then -- finding he missed the one-on-one interaction with his students -- as a teaching principal at a small school in House District 15. He now serves on the House's education committee in Oklahoma City, and continues to pay regular visits to the schools in his district. "Most schools like to have me once a month," he says, to talk about legislation pending before the state.

Cannaday therefore had little difficulty setting up an experiment: he arranged to have all the seniors in the 10 secondary schools in his district take the Strategic Vision/OCPA survey. Cannaday tried to replicate the Strategic Vision survey to the greatest extent possible. The same exact questions were used, and as in the case of the original survey, the answers were open-ended rather than multiple choice. The survey was administered to a total of 325 seniors, including special education students.

Cannaday's survey however, found his students doing just fine: They answered an average of 7.8 out of the 10 questions correctly. By comparison, the high school students that were purportedly surveyed by Strategic Vision had gotten just 2.8 out of the items correct. 98 percent of the students on Cannaday's survey -- not 23 percent -- knew that George Washington was the first President. 81 percent -- not 14 percent -- knew that Thomas Jefferson had written the Declaration of Independence. 95 percent -- not 43 percent -- knew that the Democrats and Republicans are the major political parties. There was just no comparison between the two.

The entire article is worth a read. The assault on public education in the name of accountability, closing achievement gaps, and school profiteering is not lost on students who are learning at their own expense that the game is rigged against them.

And that brings us to the latest scandal, transparency in Arne Duncan's Department of Education.

Alexander Russo's blog at Scholastic, This Week in Education raises a number of disturbing questions.
I have now heard the same thing from three independent credible sources - the fix is in on the U.S. Department of Education's competitive grants, in particular Race to the Top (RTTT) and Investing in Innovation (I3). Secretary Duncan needs to head this off now, by admitting that he and his team have potential conflicts of interests with regard to their roles in grant making, recognizing that those conflicts are widely perceived by potential grantees, and explaining how grant decisions will be insulated from interference by the department's political appointees.

Over the last several months a national education reporter, a senior manager at a national education research organization, and the head of a national nonprofit working in the field all volunteered that the Department's senior officials know exactly who they want to get RTTT and I3 money - in brief, the new philanthropies' grantees and the jurisdictions where they work.

These three hold positions of some responsibility. None have been prone to exaggeration in the past. They are not colleagues. They run in entirely different circles, live in entirely different parts of the country, and work in very different parts of the K-12 education space. They all relayed conversations with colleagues about the problem.

We do know that the Secretary benefited from a strong relationship with the new philanthropy in Chicago. We know that the Secretary is high on charter management organizations and the new teacher development programs that benefited from the new philanthropy. We know that RTTT czar Joanne Weiss was senior staff member at New Schools. We know that Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton was a senior program education officer at the Gates Foundation and NewSchools. We know that both managed investments in the organizations' Duncan favors.

Anyone who remembers the Reading First fiasco is familiar with the pattern.

There's more at the link. And Frederick M. Hess writing in The Enterprise blog of The American Enterprise Institute adds,
The larger issue here, of course, is not merely whether Duncan should have announced the identity of the judges (though the Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli offers a terrific explanation of why he should, from the perspective of a Department of Education veteran). The larger question is how the department is proceeding on RTT. Let’s remember to keep that question in context. The administration has unprecedented discretion due to the $787 billion stimulus package, more than $100 billion of which is directed to education. Given the control over this kind of money, as well as the terrific intuitions that undergird RTT, it’s essential that the administration does everything possible to reassure observers that it is operating in a credible, non-political fashion. Part of having unprecedented sums of money is the need to embrace unprecedented levels of transparency. That includes reaching out to skeptics and moving with particular thoughtfulness when it comes to the process. In fact, for all the criticism that the Department of Education justly received under Bush for insularity and a lack of transparency, the names and affiliations of the growth model pilot peer reviewers and the differentiated accountability pilot peer reviewers were disclosed prior to the reviews taking place.

Yet, after President Obama’s assurances that “politics won’t come into play” in the RTT process, after Duncan’s claims about how he’d recruit “disinterested superstars” to judge RTT, and after comments from RTT chief Joanne Weiss on the “unprecedented level of transparency” of the process, the reality has been otherwise. Last summer, the 19(!) RTT priorities appeared pretty much out of nowhere—with the dictate that states would not be rewarded for successes in data systems or teacher quality alone, but would be required to check all 19 boxes in sprawling applications if they were to seek funds. The advisers for the RTT evaluation were named and secretly convened last fall. The 58 reviewers were selected from 1,500 applicants in a process that was never made clear. The department has never explained what constitutes a “conflict of interest” for potential reviewers. The department never announced that reviewers had been named or when or how they’d be trained. Indeed, it took Education Week’s intrepid Michele McNeil to finally leak that story, before Duncan responded (and not in an official department announcement, but in a blog post!).

Again, the link version offers many more references and should be used for further exploration.

What's already clear to every school child in the country should be becoming clear to all of us, the race is gamed. And its not gamed for the benefit of anyone we know.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Teaching Tools: Art Resources

I've been coing across an increasingly braod range of interesting art sites that offer open source resources for art teachers.

Today, I discovered that is a central repository for outsider art. This link features hundreds of films and interviews with artistswho deserve far more attention in high school art classes than they receive.

Over at, I found this HTML 5 browser based painting program called Sketchpad.

And over at the O'Reilly site is this handy-dandy web color chart for digital designers.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Fiscal Gymnastics

EO Smith has had the misfortune of falling victim to the collapsing economy at exactly the wrong time. About three years ago, just prior to the economic collapse, the Board discovered that the athletic fields behind the school were deficient and needed extensive repair. The track is the most critical component that could no longer be merely patched.

It is dangerous and requires significant drainage and field reconstruction to be sustainable. The longer the Board investigated the field conditions, the more the realization that the lack of water and limited scope of the existing fields dictated a comprehensive proposal.

After soliciting bids and a three town education campaign a bond issue was presented to the public and they voted 'no'. Since then we've had to bus our track and field activities out to Tolland.

It's humiliating and expensive and largely a direct result of the general economy.

Last night we discussed a revised proposal - a $2M dollar plan that cuts deeply into the comprehensive repair plan and reduces the scope to what is sufficient and absolutely necessary.

Even at this reduced level, the tax burden to a reeling tax base will be challenging to pass. And for all the talk of "shovel ready" funds being made available by the Feds, those monies are gobbled up by the special interests of the State and don't apply to schools caught in the middle.

And while urban schools are built and rebuilt perpetually by State and federal funds, suburban schools must afford their own infrastructures in addition to being responsible for the entitled schools.

State government and education are now cannibalizing each others budgets to continue the lifestyles they've become accustomed to. In the meantime, our track and field are more unlikely than ever to be realized until the economy significantly improves.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Deconstructing NCLB

The New York Times reports [Obama Seeking Sweeping Change in 'No Child' Law by Sam Dillon] that the Obama administration is revising No Child Left Behind (NCLB). I suspect such changes are more the result of reality finally catching up with the mean spirited political fantasies that NCLB marketed to an all too gullible public.

"The secretary of education, Arne Duncan, foreshadowed the elimination of the 2014 deadline in a September speech, referring to it as a “utopian goal,” and administration officials have since made clear that they want the deadline eliminated. In recent meetings with representatives of education groups, Department of Education officials have said they also want to eliminate the school ratings system built on making “adequate yearly progress” on student test scores.

“They were very clear with us that they would change the metric, dropping adequate yearly progress and basing a new system on another picture of performance based on judging schools in a more nuanced way,” said Bruce Hunter, director of public policy for the American Association of School Administrators, who attended one of the meetings.

The current system issues the equivalent of a pass-fail report card for every school each year, an evaluation that administration officials say fails to differentiate among chaotic schools in chronic failure, schools that are helping low-scoring students improve and high-performing suburban schools that nonetheless appear to be neglecting some low-scoring students.

Instead, under the administration’s proposals, a new accountability system would divide schools into more categories, offering recognition to those that are succeeding and providing large new amounts of money to help improve or close failing schools.

A new goal, which would replace the 2014 universal proficiency deadline, would be for all students to leave high school “college or career ready.” Currently more than 40 states are collaborating, in an effort coordinated by the National Governors Association and encouraged by the administration, to write common standards defining what it means to be a graduate from high school ready for college or a career."

Imagine a plan from the Bush administration being labeled 'utopian'. No, expecting every school to qualify as non-failing in a rigged system is not utopian - it is blissfully and maliciously devoid of reason.

And the secondary goal of NCLB that we magically close the education gap is equally insane yet remains intact in Arne Duncan's Big Adventure called Race to the Top.

Children will continue to be mis-educated in America because it is politically profitable to do so. Obama and Duncan are no less dependent on the public's gullibility than Bush was.

Like Bush, Obama and Duncan's social engineering experiments are the usual American lab rats, the poor. Unfortunately, NCLB and its succeeding educational cancer, Race to the Top are beginning to deform all American schools and that is not a good thing.

By myopically treating the symptoms of urban poverty as if all American schools were the disease, we are overdosing on standardized tests, memorization, and militaristic behaviors of conformity. Our children can barely breathe without special services and they certainly are not allowed to play, think, or mature without first asking permissions.

Urban school reform enthusiasts who profit from the deception that schools can fail are the buffoons that Washington embraces to dictate school 'reform' policies. It will not end well.