John Kenneth Galbraith (97), a towering figure in American intellectual life whose astringent wit and elegant iconoclasm graced the academic and political scene for seven decades, died yesterday in Cambridge, Mass. He worked in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, wrote speeches for Adlai Stevenson, served as ambassador to India during the Kennedy administration and as a self-described ''independent operator at the guerrilla level of American politics".
He was also one of the first and most vocal opponents of US involvement in Vietnam. He supported McCarthy in '68 and McGovern in '72. Dr. Galbraith enjoyed a lasting association with the Kennedy family. He was a pillar of the New Frontier, and his presence did much to lend it its academic cachet. The president, Dr. Galbraith once recalled, ''was pleased to have me in his administration but at a suitable distance such as in India."
RAD met Galbraith in Portland in the mid-80s when Ambassador Galbraith's interview was taped at the Heathman Hotel prior to a public lecture. His PBS series on economic history was excellent. The last segment on The Metropolis was filmed in the World Trade Center in the Top of the World Restaurant. His comments in that hour long segment would echo very true today.
To paraphrase Galbraith - all immigrants to the US - the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, the Germans, the Chinese or the Japanese - have met with considerable resistance with the locals imagining their peculiar ways, food, dress and languages to be a threat to the social order only in a matter of a generation to be accepted as part of the fabric of American life. His words are well to think about on the eve another series of pro-Latino immigrant marches across the nation tomorrow.
An article in Sunday's Oregonian by Jeff
Mapes [B7] on the Westlund campaign for governor ends with an
intriguing quote by Ted Kulongoski's pollster, Lisa Grove. Ms.
Grove is a smart political operative. She suggests that if
Westlund becomes a factor in November "plenty of attention will be paid
to Westlund's long legislative record..." Grove says Ben Westlund
is "...trying to make a very artful shift to the middle, and given his
record, it's going to be hard to pull off," she says, but "we'll have
to keep a close watch on him all the way through."
Professional pols term such "watching" as doing opposition research. Everyone does it - candidates, parties and PACS. It's often what drives campaigns into the political abyss of negative campaign ads which voters hate but nevertheless watch. However, Grove knows what is good for the goose, is also good for the gander. Ted Kulongoski also has a record which can be mined by the best and brightest among his opponents. So do Kevin Mannix and Ron Saxton - the two most likely GOP standard bearers in November.
One can hope that instead of going negative - each candidate would tell the voters what they stand for and not merely what they are against. But it would be naive to ignore Grove's early shot across Westlund's political bow. Election '06 is heating up and Grove's comment proves that Westlund's independent candidacy is being taken very seriously by the incumbent and his political team. While the Oregon primary is on the horizon, the battle for November has begun! Oh the joy of it all. Grove faint praise for Westlund gives his candidacy 'legs' and we're only in the first half of the game for governor!
Strap on your helmets folks, this could get really rough! Politics is after all a contact sport. As Bobby Kennedy said "politics is a sport played by adults."
If lawyers, doctors, architects, realtors, retail business, morticians, the construction industry and other professions were subject to outside assessments as K-12 teachers are they'd revolt against such "bureaucratic" intrusion arguing that they are already self-regulated, subject to the marketplace or certified by their own professions. Why don't we trust teachers to be professionals? Teachers attend colleges where they must meet state certification requirements while also earning academic credit to become teachers. Many teachers go on to earn masters degrees or take continuing education to upgrade their skills.
So why don't we still trust teachers?
Part of the answer is that the teaching profession historically has been a female dominated profession. A kind of Victorian age sexism and paternalism subject teachers to an historic halo effect. Since most teachers work in the public school sector - the public and politicians feel they have a right to oversight. With the rise of powerful teacher unions many in the public suspect that unions are more about protecting teacher's rights than monitoring the quality of teaching that goes on within the classroom. And now with the rise of a knowledge industry holding teachers accountable to assessment based rubrics increases the public's appetite for outcomes based accountability.
So, education is caught within a complex web of historic and current political forces.
Given the ethical lapses in the accounting industry uncovered in the Enron scandal, the rising prices of drugs, the debate over oil prices, the incidence of hospital-acquired infections - why don't we adopt a system of accountability and assessment rubrics to hold the accounting, the pharmaceutical industry, the petroleum industry and the health care industry accountable to the public parallel to the system which has evolved to monitor teachers? Let's adopt state by state, national and international 'report cards' on every industry which operates in the global economy?
I can see the lawyers and political consults lining up in the halls of Congress and state legislatures to stop such "foolishness". Hell, let's throw in the lawyers and spin doctors into the assessment machine. If you trust bar associations any more than you trust medical associations to be self-regulating - I've got a bridge to sell you over the Columbia Gorge. If teachers must be assessed - then why not everyone else? This could be a growth industry for a new profession - BAs, MAs and PhDs in the "science" of assessment.
As James Carville said in '92 - "it's the economy stupid". End the "don't ask, don't tell" era bring in THE ERA OF TOTAL TRANSPARENCY!
RAD attended the “Closing the Achievement Gap” Conference at the Oregon Convention Center April 28, 2006 hosted by Oregon’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Susan Castillo. RAD attended three panels (noted below) and the keynote luncheon address author-consultant on at risk children Robert Barr whose most recent book examines studies of school success - "Catching Up the Children Left Behind.
• Engaging Parents, Family & Community
• How to Make Your Partnerships Work – PTA
• The Importance of Trust in Schools & District Improvement
The Hidden Agenda:
The keynote luncheon speech by Robert Barr reflected the familiar tone of such presentations. The nation’s schools are in crisis. And as in A Nation at Risk Barr’s presentation emphasized the global competition we faced in the ‘80s from Japan, and now from India or China et al.
The hidden agenda is clear – if we don’t close the gap in achievement – then we will lose in the global economy and the 1 in 3 who drop out of high school will be mired in the culture of poverty forever. And of course the silver bullet for this is high stakes testing! Surprise, surprise. It was also the message of the panels.
How do we know our kids are doing well – we must test them! In fact Dr. Barr rhetorically asked what’s the hang up about “teaching to the test?” We’ve always taught to the test he argued – look at AP courses.
That’s an interesting example. In 36 years of teaching my colleagues have seldom accepted an AP course score as sufficient to relieve a student of taking an intro course in politics. Why – because AP courses use standardized tests which don’t measure complex learning skills expected of college students – clear writing, rigorous analytical thinking, active learning or collaboration.
What AP courses scores measure is basic knowledge or fact acquisition. All too often such learning is garbage in, garbage out. Students seldom, if ever retain knowledge gained in such courses. AP courses are simply a way of shunting talented and gifted students off an academic siding rather than challenging them.
Ironically, Dr. Barr showed data indicating that the achievement gap has been increasing over the time since NCLB has been in place. So if high stakes testing is working – why don’t the data show it? Barr never answered this nagging question.
To her credit Susan Castillo is phasing out Oregon’s own testing regime – the CIM/CAM - invented in 1991 by Vera Katz under the title of Oregon’s Educational Act of the 21st Century. Ironically, the same ‘expert’ - Ira Magaziner - who helped Vera craft this reform - was the same policy wonk who helped Hillary Clinton construct the ill fated health care reform of ’92.
Dr. Barr and all the panel leaders invoked NCLB as a benchmark for assessment and praised its goal that focuses on what President Bush terms the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” It’s a great line, probably invented by Karl Rove. But those who invoke NCLB are standing on quicksand.
Why are conferences like this continuing the masquerade that high stakes testing is ‘the’ answer? Joel Spring, author of Conflict of Interests, argues we’ve created an entire educational/industrial complex whose corporate existence depends on such myth making.
A cottage industry has been created since the 1980s expanding on the work of entities like Educational Testing Service (ETS) feathering educational bureaucrats nests – at all levels – in school administration as well as in the private sector. They are creating tests and curriculum guides for what Spring terms the “sorting machine.”
This conference’s primary corporate sponsor ECMC Group “provides loan guarantee services to postsecondary institutions.” ECMC Group is in the very lucrative college loan business while it’s nonprofit “companies” ECMC Foundation and ECMC support conferences like this focuing on “the underserved and disadvantaged to further their education.” Their goal is to grow their customer base. But does it work?
The Oregon Story:
Have NCLB or Oregon’s own CIM/CAM done the job of closing the educational gap? Again, if you read the State Department of Education’s website and the report cards you’d have to say – maybe teaching to the test works. Since ’91 tests scores in Oregon are going up. Well, sort of. They have gone up from lst to 8th grade. But something happens in high schools. Remember Barr claims 1/3rd of kids drop out of high school.
Data from The Oregonian is that it’s more like 1 of 5 in Oregon. Oh well, it’s only a numbers game. Or is it a game of “lies, damn lies and statistics?” More on this in a bit. So if the kids are doing better – why all the doom and gloom after the 8th grade?
Some argue high school kids don’t take the tests seriously. Others say when you hit 16 there are too many loose hormones to deal with. Or it might be that like AP courses, it’s garbage in, garbage out. What is being tested is not authentic learning but manufactured learning with a very short shelf life.
Testing students in grade 1-8 in language arts and math takes place in a more contolled environment than high school. High school testing comes at a time when kids are struggling with serious issues of identity. Or as many news reports from 60 Minutes on have suggested – since the testing system is high stakes for schools, especially teachers and principals – there is massive cheating going teachers et al.
My spies in the classroom over 13 years have told me countless stories of teachers drilling on test taking strategies to telling the kids the correct answers! Barr himself argued that if we must narrow the field down to reading and writing – and along with that drilling for the tests – so what? If kids aren’t getting it – then we don’t have any choice!
What happens when the teaching to the test doesn’t take? What happens when a kid passes a reading or math benchmark and they still can’t do either after the test is over? Are testing skills the same as learning skills? If some kids never get out of the reading or math testing rut, how will they become literate in social studies, science or arts?
What happens to kids when the drilling for tests replaces recess, gym or other extra-curricular activities? What happens to teachers when they are expected to come early to school or stay late to continue the test taking regimen? Schools organized around this testing system sound more like 19th century factories than the open classroom of the '70s.
An Exemplary School?
Let’s look at a small piece of DOE’s data. Aloha Park Elementary School is listed as an “exemplary” school. It has a large Latino student population, 45.3 are ESL students. It’s recent report card looks fantastic. In Reading 88% met standards; and in Math 92% met standards. Wow. Great students, obviously great teachers and principals! Right?
But look at Writing – only 40% met standards compared to 73% in a comparable school, 67% district wide, and 65% state wide. What happened here? If students can read at 88% - why can’t they write at the same level? Good question.
Can students read in English or Spanish better than they can write in English or Spanish? Probably! Why – because writing is harder. It depends on using all critical thinking skills not one! It is harder to raise levels writing proficiency. It takes time and one on one instruction not memorization or drilling on test taking skills.
But there is more. As in any contract – one must read the fine print. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is assessed as follows: Schools meet standards if 50% or more students pass in English/Language Arts; if 49% pass in Math. In a normal bell curve the majority of students should get average grades not merely barely passing grades.
When a school gets an 88% or a 92% score it does not mean that 88% or 92% of all students met standards. Talk about the “soft bigotry of lowered expectations.” The averaging system the DOE uses masks the reality of failure by creating a form of test taking grade inflation.
Or shall we term this cooking the data? Let’s look how Latino students did on these tests at Aloha Park by disaggregating the data. In English/Language Arts 9.9% exceeded; 44.0% met; but 46.1 did not meet standards! In Math 9.3% exceeded; 72.2% met and 18.6% did not meet standards - 3 times higher than for Anglos. For Anglo kids the results in English/Language Arts were 26.7%; 51.1% and 22.2%; in Math the results were 36%; 58%; 6%.
So the school’s effort when all kids are in the same pool looks great; but the achievement gap reappears when you separate groups based on race/ethnicity. The data for other minorities is less conclusive, in large part due to the small #s of other minority children – Asians or African-Americans.
So much for closing the gap! As RAD has said before the reporting system in Oregon as well as under NCLB is a minefield of deception and smoke and mirrors. What’s being measured and does the data have any integrity? Besides, when each state has its own assessment standards – any attempt to compare data state to state is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Educational bureaucrats are playing games with data, kids and teachers.
The Politics of Parental Involvement:
RAD attended the panel sections which focused on engaging parents in schools. Research shows that parental interest in their children’s education is a very important factor for success in school. Many of the strategies for parental engagement presented were compelling and on target.
One of the most important lessons learned is that superintendents (hence school boards) must earmark parental involvement as a high priority. Talk is not enough. One key to success is for a superintendent to appoint a person who reports to him/her on initiatives being taken to strengthen parental involvement.
In this way, principals, teachers, parents and other stakeholders will get the clear message that parental engagement is a priority. This involves other stakeholders as well – depending on the demographics of the school district. Other stakeholders may include churches and local businesses. RAD would add to the list PTAs, libraries, boys & girls clubs, senior citizens, service groups and teacher unions.
But when it comes to responding to the needs of serving minority or lower SES families – it’s crucial that school districts hire a person who has a personal connection and credibility with those communities. If one has a significant Latino community a person from that cultural milieu ought to be hired.
RAD would suggest that it's asking too much for one person of color to do this kind of outreach to all such marginalized communities – there is too much negative history across racial and class lines to assume one person can do the job. A multi-cultural/multi-class team approach would be more successful.
If the focus of the outreach appears to be the group with which that person identifies and which is probably the most numerous in a given district the “others” in need in the community may be put on the back burner. This is not fair – it’s a kind of racial profiling under the guise of affirmative action.
In a culturally diverse school district, like Portland, with diversities based on class, race, gender and/or sexual identities – no one person can do the job. If one is going to engage parents across these lines it will take a team effort by a handpicked and well-trained multi-cultural staff.
If you preach multi-culturalism – your staff must look the look of multi-culturalism. There was little evidence of this among conference presentors, they were all women of color. What one saw was ethnic/racial mono-cultural representation, as neo-conservatives would argue a form of reverse discrimination.
If one is going to build trust among parents and the larger community – then the community outreach team must reflect the demographics of the community. RAD also believes that one should be a visible member of the community. Like community policing, one has more credibility if one lives ‘in’ the community.
This is admittedly a hard line to draw in a highly mobile society where spouses are commuter professionals with jobs in different communities. But if one lives 'in' community, one knows it the best. If one believes that building social capital in a community is an indicator of success, then one’s credibility is higher if one walks the talk.
But to hire more than one community outreach person is obviously tough with tight budgets. Here’s where job sharing within school districts might help. Or collaboration between libraries and schools for example can provide support personnel to each. Both are in the educational business.
The Politics of Self Promotion:
What was on display in these panels is what is often on display in academic conventions – the politics of personal self-promotion. Such conferences create an incestuous system of convention presenters who go across the nation promoting their tool kits in a hermetically sealed domain. When does the rubber hit the road of best practices?
But don’t get me wrong there was a lot of excellent information shared in the panels. But most classroom teachers don’t have the time or resources to incorporate many of these ideas because they work in a system barely on life support. They may not have the political support in their schools or districts for such innovations.
One of the panelists included this quote in their packet – “Learning to listen has been and remains one of the most challenging tasks…” How true. And that was my problem with the day – there was far too much talking by presenters and not enough dialoguing with their audience.
Ironically, the panel where one of two panelists did listen – the presentation was so scattered that the audience lost focus. As Paulo Friere said long ago “dialogical” thinking is not easy but it’s the only way to respond to powerlessness which is what the achievement gap is all about.
Was it worth it to spend a beautiful sunny day in the Convention Center when RAD could have spent it on a golf course? Yes, because it validated my working thesis that schools are political entities. They are all about the “authoritative allocation of values.” The problem is that the wrong people are allocating educational values these days.
It’s time for teachers, students and parents to revolt against the politicians, the knowledge industry and the educational bureaucrats. To close the educational achievement gap the economic gap between the haves and have nots must be closed. Kids from affluent families in Portland will survive the politics of reconstitution and budget cutting. Privilege confers power in American society.
If you want to change schools and educational outcomes create an economically more just American society. In the meantime, as a teacher or parent demand that your school be operated democratically where everyone is valued regardless of what side of the tracks they or their kids come from.
An authentic teacher is like a social worker who is engaged with the community, its kids and their families on their turf. You can't just close your classroom door and assume the 'real' world will not intrude on your daily instructional plan. End the silence and open your classroom.
As sociologist Neil Postman said in the late '60s - teaching is a subversive activity. But pick your battles carefully.
PS: DOE website for Aloha Park Elementary School's report card: http://www.ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/RCpdfs/06/06-ReportCard-1153.pdf