Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Twenty-five Years after A Nation at Risk

Is Democracy at Risk?

This report evaluates the quality of schools today, placing that evaluation in the context of the past twenty-five years of reform launched by the report in 1983, A Nation at Risk.

How should we respond to this?

Friday, April 25, 2008

What ethics and actions must we teach in a democracy?

As we approach the end of ED 11 this spring of 2008, let's consider the broad responsibilities any and all teachers have for students in a democratic society.

What ethics and actions must we teach in a democracy?

Consider Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, own parameters for civil disobedience during the Civil Rights movement: Letter.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Education in the News

Poverty's impact on brain development

NCLB Changes. . .Helpful or Hurtful?

Some music

The Nation, "Fake Empire" (video)

If you like that, watch/listen: The National's "Apartment Story"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

US Education Ranks Poorly. . .Again!

Target: Education

Whale Aptitude

An Alternative Commencement Address: Vonnegut, 1981

Kurt Vonnegut: Southampton College, 1981

Politics and Education: From Reagan/Bush to George W. Bush

[Excerpt from book currently in-press; chapter by P. L. Thomas]

In Reagan’s White House, the National Commission on Excellence in Education was formed in 1981 with the assumption that the public school system in the U. S. was failing—and had been in decline for decades. This perception of constant decline, this mischaracterization of the past as golden is a common flaw in popular thought; at any moment we seem to idealize the past. Nostalgia is a dangerous and inaccurate thing. For education, however, the assumption that education was failing proved to be catastrophic since the report this commission was charged to make was politically poisoned from the outset. Gerald Holton (2003) was a member of that commission and revealed some twenty years later that the much publicized A Nation at Risk, the damning report eventually generated from the commission’s work, was merely a political ploy driven by Reagan’s blunt claims for his agenda:

"We met with President Reagan at the White House, who at first was jovial, charming, and full of funny stories, but then turned serious when he gave us our marching orders. He told us that our report should focus on five fundamental points that would bring excellence to education: Bring God back into the classroom. Encourage tuition tax credits for families using private schools. Support vouchers. Leave the primary responsibility for education to parents. And please abolish that abomination, the Department of Education. Or, at least, don't ask to waste more federal money on education—'we have put in more only to wind up with less.'" (Holton, 2003)

Possibly more disturbing than Holton’s own insider’s view of the corruption of A Nation at Risk by political ideology is Gerald Bracey’s analysis of the research and conclusions drawn by A Nation at Risk, a report that was widely available in the popular press and a report that is the primary motivation for the powerful accountability movement occurring over the past twenty years and culminating in the historically unprecedented No Child Left Behind legislation. Bracey (2003) has revealed that although A Nation at Risk touted itself as a report driven by research, the data are simply not there to support the claims. Broadly, Bracey reveals that the commission looked at “nine trendlines. . ., only one of which could be used to support crisis rhetoric” (p. 620). Essentially, we must realize that the accountability movement that was spurred by A Nation at Risk was born out of ideological rhetoric—not scientific evidence.

Ansary (2007) recognizes the misleading and continuing impact A Nation at Risk has on education today:

"Standing for reform apparently means supporting rigorous testing, a back-to-basics curriculum, higher standards, more homework, more science and math, more phonics, something called accountability, and a host of other often daunting initiatives. Some educators worry about the fallout from these measures, such as the proliferating plague of standardized testing, but don’t know how to oppose them without casting themselves as obstructionists clinging to a failed status quo." (p. 50)

And this current predicament can be traced back to the crisis rhetoric in A Nation at Risk, rhetoric that again is not supported by the data. Ansary notes the disjuncture between the data proclaimed by the Reagan-appointed study and the more nuanced analysis of the data that shows, for example, that SAT scores remained constant or improved within subgroups while the overall SAT average dropped between 1970 and 1990; this statistical phenomenon is called Simpson’s paradox, Ansary explains, but such sophisticated analyses are rarely offered in the political debate and results that are contrary to ideological aims (such as this data resulting from the Sandia report from the Secretary of Energy in 1990) are never revealed.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s both federal and state leaders beat the drum concerning our failing schools and the need for more accountability. Many states implemented high-stakes testing systems tied to graduation; then in 2001, George W. Bush brought his Texas Miracle to the White House and produced No Child Left Behind (See also Camilli). With No Child Left Behind, literacy was specifically targeted and seriously corrupted. First, as No Child Left Behind gained momentum, the Bush White House, fronted by Rod Paige as Secretary of Education, practiced the same pattern as the Reagan White House—portray ideology as research. Two well-documented situations connected to literacy reveal this pattern.

Similar to the Nation Commission on Excellence in Education, the National Reading Panel was formed by the Bush White House; the public charge was to gather the existing research on reading instruction in order to provide NCLB with scientific clout to improve reading among students. Yet, Joanne Yatvin (2002, 2003), an insider just as Holton was for A Nation at Risk, revealed that the panel was instructed and manipulated to create a statement on reading that fulfilled political and financial goals that contradicted what was best for reading instruction. As we have seen, political corruption of a commission is nothing new, but a more recent finding by the U. S. Department of Education does suggest the corruption has spread far beyond political rhetoric.

A central component of NCLB is the Reading First Initiative, which is grounded in the distorted work of the National Reading Panel. The Final Inspection Report (U. S. Department of Education, 2006) has uncovered corruption by those implementing Reading First, political ideologies being promoted through federal funding and textbook companies creating their own markets through that same federal funding. And we should not be surprised since there has been growing evidence over the past decade that the Texas Miracle proclaimed by George W. Bush and Rod Paige during their tenures in Texas actually was a political misrepresentation of data, not a miracle of school reform at all (Thomas, 2004).

Since NCLB has been a cornerstone of the Bush administration and since NCLB was modeled on education reform in Texas under Bush as governor and Rod Paige, who led education in Texas before becoming Bush’s Secretary of Education, the U.S Department of Education has a great deal invested in both accountability standards and their success. The NCLB web page and comments by then-Secretary Paige and current Secretary Spelling are primarily positive interpretations of both raising standards and increasing testing. While assessments of state standards such as those by the Fordham Foundation offer a resounding endorsement of continuing accountability standards and high-stakes testing, these reports should be credited for also acknowledging their own versions of relative success by the process; both the Hoover and Fordham reports present a wide range of “success.” The information coming from the Secretary of Education, however, does not deserve the same praise. . . .

In 2006, the U. S. Department of Education (2006, September) uncovered serious corruption in the Reading First Program spawned by NCLB and the Reading Panel. While this disturbing report was primarily ignored by the press and the average citizen, often we read in that same press comments by Secretary Spelling and even hear addresses by President Bush touting the success of NCLB as measured by NAEP scores. However, both Gerald Bracey and Stephen Krashen (2006) have revealed that the claims by the Bush White House about NCLB positively impacting student achievement is false. Spelling and Bush refer to a five-year trend for increased reading scores of fourth graders in NAEP. Yet, the increase from 212 in 1999 to 219 in 2005 primarily occurs only from 1999 (212) until 2002 (219). In 2002 (219), 2003 (218), and 2004 (219), the scores remain flat.

Why is this important? The entire increase claimed by Spelling to be the result of NCLB occurred before the implementation of the legislation. While the administration has also referred to other studies supporting their claims of success by NCLB (one from Michigan and one from Washington), Krashen (2006) and Bracey have shown positive conclusions from those studies to be terribly misleading. Many of the messages offered by politicians when addressing education and particularly the accountability movement trigger assumptions that most people have about teaching, learning, and academic rigor. The ability of both the Secretary of Education and the President to express provably inaccurate information without negative consequence is a testament to the difficult task that lies ahead for literacy educators.

Ansary (2007) offered a comment above that suggests Krashen and Bracey along with those of us in the classrooms are destined to be rejected if we question the claims of organizations or elected officials who support accountability standards and high-stakes testing. As Ansary stated, when we reject the calls for higher standards we often appear to be endorsing the status quo, which has been clearly established in the average person’s mind as a failure. Yet, we should begin to acknowledge the growing body of research that does show accountability standards to be ineffective at both raising academic rigor and creating educational reform.


Ansary, T. (2007, March). Education at risk. Edutopia, 48-53.

Bracey, G. W. (2003). April foolishness: The 20th anniversary of A Nation at Risk. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(8), 616-621.

Holton, G. (2003, April 25). An insider’s view of “A Nation at Risk” and why it still matters. The Chronicle Review, 49(33), B13.

Krashen, S. (2006, October 2). Did Reading First work? The Pulse. Available on-line:

Thomas, P. L. (2004). Numbers games: Measuring and mandating American education. New York: Peter Lang.

U. S. Department of Education. (2006, September). The Reading First Program’s grant application process: Final inspection report. Office of Inspector General. Washington, D. C. Available here:
  • The Reading First Program's Grant Application Process. ACN: I13F0017. Date Issued: 9/22/2006 download files PDF (2.9M) MS Word (8M)
Yatvin, J. (2003, April 30). I told you so!: The misinterpretation and misuse of the National Reading Panel Report. Education Week, 22(33), 56, 44, 45.

Yatvin, J. (2002, January). Babes in the woods: The wanderings of the National Reading Panel. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(5), 364-369.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Added Link: Education and National Economics

Research: Test Scores and Economic Growth

Standard academic progress is not the norm. . .

Few New York City first-graders remain with original class
Only one-third of New York City students who started first grade in the 1995-96 school year reached eighth grade in the expected time, according to New York University research. Also, fewer than 60% of these regular first-grade students remained in New York City public schools by the time they reached eighth grade, researchers found. Education Week (premium article access compliments of (4/9)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Summer Internship Opportunity

Servant Leader Intern Position Description

Title: Servant Leader Intern
Date: March 31, 2008
Organization: Phillis Wheatley Association

Nature and Scope
The CDF Freedom SchoolsSM program is an educational and cultural enrichment program. Our program provides summer options for children where there are none and strengthens parent and community involvement in the year-round achievement of children. We serve children ages 5 to 18 for five to eight weeks and integrate reading, conflict resolution, and social action in an activity-based curriculum to promote social, cultural, and historical awareness.

Founded in 1995 by the Children's Defense Fund’s Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC) ® and today coordinated nationally by the Children’s Defense Fund in partnership with well-established and effective local and regional child-serving organizations, the CDF Freedom Schools program is a direct service initiative. CDF’s Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. Servant Leader Interns require a week-long training session conducted by CDF Freedom Schools national staff at the historic CDF Alex Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee.

College-aged young people and recent college graduates play a key role in the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program as Servant Leader Interns. CDF Freedom Schools Servant Leader Interns are responsible for the front-line care and nurturing of the children. Using the Integrated Reading Curriculum, they serve as facilitators in the classroom and as leaders of parent workshops and community outreach activities.

• Deliver the Integrated Reading Curriculum to a class of no more than ten students for 7 weeks during the summer months, according to the standards developed by the Children's Defense Fund and the Phillis Wheatley Association.
• Set-up and breakdown of his/her classroom space, including securing and organizing the appropriate materials.
• Collaborate with staff to establish and maintain a supportive and structured environment for the children entrusted to their care.
• Serve as a Harambee! leader each day of program operation.
• Serve as a leader of afternoon activities and other special events; chaperone field trips

• Solid commitment to children’s advocacy and enthusiasm for the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program
• Ability to motivate others and work as part of an intergenerational team
• Strong appreciation and understanding of individual cultural history and the willingness to be open and respectful of all cultures
• Willingness to strive for excellence in all areas
• Ability to think critically and analytically
• Exhibit behavior and positive attitude; model a mature and professional demeanor
• Excellent written and verbal skills
• Strong interpersonal skills and commitment to the character, humility and servant leadership ethics of Ella Baker
• Current voter registration
• Authorization for background check for criminal and child protective findings

A modest stipend will be paid for this position. Send resume and cover letter to

Friday, April 4, 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Education and $$$

Report: State spending per pupil
While U.S. schools spent an average $9,138 educating each student in 2006, Utah spent less than $5,500 per student while New York paid nearly $15,000, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau school survey. The report said state governments in 2006 contributed the lion's share of public school funding, followed closely by localities, with the federal government a distant third in terms of its fiscal contribution. Tulsa World (Okla.) (4/2) , Central Valley Business Times (4/1) , The Palm Beach Post (4/2)

Report: Children worse off in some U.S. states
Children born in the 10 lowest-ranking U.S. states are twice as likely to live in poverty, become teenage parents, be incarcerated, or die as children or teens, according to a new Every Child Matters report. "The state American children live in should not adversely affect life chances, but they do," said report author Michael R. Petit, founder of Every Child Matters. "How is it that a poor child in Vermont lives in a completely different world from a similarly impoverished child in Louisiana?" Forbes/HealthDay News (4/2)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Graduation Rates—Should we worry?

It's good to be # 1.

But, being last isn't so hot. . .

The report can be found here (click on the "report" link in the following story):

Report Shows Stunning Failures in High-School Graduation Rates

Now compare to this:

Get Adjusted

(Be sure to check the date of the last article. . .)