A one-day mission of national import!


Plus, Salon interviews Ravitch: If this is Thursday, we're off on a mission of national import involving the professional development of a superlative group of managers within several departments in the federal government.

We'll return to our sprawling campus tomorrow. For those who are interested in public school issues, we'll recommend Salon's interview with Diane Ravitch, which we will review in detail at some point.

Can we talk? When we read interviews with Ravitch, we sometimes get the feeling that she doesn't know a gigantic amount about the inner workings of public schools. At some later point, we'll discuss what we mean by that. But if our suspicion is correct, she has plenty of company in this general sphere.

We just watched a segment on Morning Joe about the public schools. (Too much emphasis on sports! Good luck changing that.) The segment was premised on the idea that American students "are falling behind" the rest of the world.

The segment was teased that way at least two times. That framework was used to introduce the segment. In fact, American students never ranked at the top of the world on international tests. In the past fifteen years, as international testing has become more common, they have tended to improve their standing as compared to their peers in other nations.

As we watched, we were struck by the routine cluelessness of the upper-end press corps. The performance of American students is a very common topic within the press corps. But there was a table of major pundits, none of whom seemed to know that their framework concerning this basic topic seemed to be grossly misleading.

The framework was misleading, but it did fit the long-established script! So it works in the perfumed realms of the upper-end "press corps."

Tomorrow, we return to our desks. Possibly via Lawrence O'Donnell, did you see what Rand Paul said?

As Lawrence noted, he said some very good things. We expect to go there tomorrow.


  1. Have to listen to Lawrence O'Donnell's whole show to find out what Rand Paul said?

    1. Or you know, wait until tomorrow. Or, maybe, lean on the Google thing a bit.

    2. Lionel: you won't like it.

  2. The Salon interview is the best Q & A with Diane Ravitch that I’ve read. She makes some very good – some absolutely compelling points here.  For example Ravitch says that public education critics are wrong. Their “assumptions are wrong.” She notes that “ Test scores are not declining — I think they’re at their highest point in history... where the scores are low, where there is a crisis in education, is where there is concentrated poverty and concentrated racial segregation.” All very true.

    And Ravitch duly points out that “Most of the policies that are now being imposed across the country have evidence that says they’re wrong and evidence that says they don’t work at all, yet they continue to do it...It’s faith-based policy...Why do people continue to advocate things that have been proven over more than 20 years to have made no difference?” That’s a really good question.

    The answer, of course, is that many of public education’s critics are unconcerned with what research says. They simply don’t care. Because it’s not about the education of children. And it’s certainly not about the original, core mission of public schools: nurturing democratic citizenship. For the conservative and corporate critics, it’s about cashing in on public educations’ funding, and ultimately privatizing it.

    But she leaves out a lot too.   She says that she became convinced in 2006 that NCLB was failing. But there were plenty of people who warned far ahead of time what lay in store.

    Moreover, we knew long before NCLB that the public education “crisis” was a myth. The central theme of A Nation at Risk was that a "rising tide of mediocrity" threatened American national security and "economic competitiveness," but there was no truth to the claim.
    The Sandia Report (Journal of Educational Research, May/June, 1993), published in the wake of A Nation at Risk, examined carefully its specific claims.  The Sandia researchers concluded that:

    *  "..on nearly every measure we found steady or slightly improving trends."

    *  "youth today [the 1980s] are choosing natural science and engineering degrees at a higher rate than their peers of the 1960s."

     * “average performance of ‘traditional’ test takes on the SAT has actually improved over 30 points since 1975...”

    *  “Although it is true that the average SAT score has been declining since the sixties, the reason for the decline is not decreasing student performance.  We found that the decline arises from the fact that more students in the bottom half of the class are taking the SAT than in years past...More people in America are aspiring to achieve a college education...so the national SAT average is lowered as more students in the 3rd and 4th quartiles of their high school classes take the test.  This phenomenon, known as Simpson’s paradox, sows that an average can change in a direction opposite from all subgroups if the proportion of the total represented by the subgroups changes.”

    *  "business leaders surveyed are generally satisfied with the skill levels of their employees, and the problems that do exist do not appear to point to the k-12 education system as a root cause."

    *  "The student performance data clearly indicate that today's youth are achieving levels of education at least as high as any previous generation."

  3. Part 2

    The allegations are, that while at the DOE, Ravitch helped to suppress the Sandia report. See, for example:

     And, a few years later she was brought into Virginia as an expert to give blessing to conservative governor George Allen's new standards and testing regimen.  Allen was a favorite of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council even then. See:

    Yes, she's changed.  And she's helping to make the case against corporate-style "reform."  But simultaneously, she's championing STEM education, which is as mythical as the claim that public education is in"crisis," and which is also very much a part of corporate-style "reform."  Sort of like telling a dog to "sit" and "fetch" at the same time.  

    And she's touting the College Board's Advanced Placement courses, yet the College Board is tied in tightly with the Common Core standards (funded by Bill Gates) and corporate "reform."  Worse, the research on AP shows unequivocally that it is not "better."  As Klopfenstein and Thomas (2010) note, when demographic characteristics are controlled for, the claims made for AP disappear.

    Ravitch is right to call out the corporate "reformers," but she cannot talk out of both sides of her mouth. She can't have it both ways.

    Because, ultimately, if you favor Advanced Placement (and other College Board products) and STEM – two critical components of the posers – then you must be in favor corporate-style “reform” too.

    1. Thank you for pointing out that Ravitch to suppress the Sandia Labs Report, something that never gets mentioned by liberals. However, I have to disagree with you about STEM education. It's great, if only there were the jobs for people when they come out of school. As for AP, I took them in high school, and they were definitely more challenging than regular courses, though, in my opinion they would do nothing to help raise student achievement.

    2. Sorry, but the STEM "crisis" is a myth.

      A 2004 RAND study “found no consistent and convincing evidence that the federal government faces current or impending shortages of STEM workers...there is little evidence of such shortages in the past decade or on the horizon.” The RAND study concluded “if the number of STEM positions or their attractiveness is not also increasing” –– and both are not –– then “measures to increase the number of STEM workers may create surpluses, manifested in unemployment and underemployment.”

      A 2007 study by Lowell and Salzman found no STEM shortage (see: http://www.urban.org/publications/411562.html ). Indeed, Lowell and Salzman found that “the supply of S&E-qualified graduates is large and ranks among the best internationally. Further, the number of undergraduates completing S&E studies has grown, and the number of S&E graduates remains high by historical standards.” The “education system produces qualified graduates far in excess of demand.”

      Lowell and Salzman concluded that “purported labor market shortages for scientists and engineers are anecdotal and also not supported by the available evidence...The assumption that difficulties in hiring is just due to supply can have counterproductive consequences: an increase in supply that leads to high unemployment, lowered wages, and decline in working conditions will have the long-term effect of weakening future supply.”
      Lowell and Salzman noted that “available evidence indicates an ample supply of students whose preparation and performance has been increasing over the past decades.”

      Beryl Lieff Benderly wrote this stunning statement recently in the Columbia Journalism Review (see: http://www.cjr.org/reports/what_scientist_shortage.php?page=all ):

      “Leading experts on the STEM workforce, have said for years that the US produces ample numbers of excellent science students. In fact, according to the National Science Board’s authoritative publication Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, the country turns out three times as many STEM degrees as the economy can absorb into jobs related to their majors.”

      So why the STEM emphasis by the likes of Bill Gates and former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine? Benderly continues:

      “Simply put, a desire for cheap, skilled labor, within the business world and academia, has fueled assertions—based on flimsy and distorted evidence—that American students lack the interest and ability to pursue careers in science and engineering, and has spurred policies that have flooded the market with foreign STEM workers. This has created a grim reality for the scientific and technical labor force: glutted job markets; few career jobs; low pay, long hours, and dismal job prospects for postdoctoral researchers in university labs; near indentured servitude for holders of temporary work visas.”

      Benderly reports that an engineering professor at Rochester Institute of Technology told a Congressional committee last summer this:

      “Contrary to some of the discussion here this morning, the STEM job market is mired in a jobs recession…with unemployment rates…two to three times what we would expect at full employment….Loopholes have made it too easy to bring in cheaper foreign workers with ordinary skills…to directly substitute for, rather than complement, American workers. The programs are clearly displacing and denying opportunities to American workers.”

    3. As to AP courses, they are more myth than reality.

      A 2002 National Research Council study of AP courses and tests was an intense two-year, 563-page detailed content analysis. The researchers concluded that AP courses and tests were a “mile wide and an inch deep” and they did not comport with well-established, research-based principles of learning.

      The main finding of a 2004 Geiser and Santelices study was that “the best predictor of both first- and second-year college grades” is unweighted high school grade point average, and a high school grade point average “weighted with a full bonus point for AP...is invariably the worst predictor of college performance.”

      Klopfenstein and Thomas (2005) found that AP students “...generally no more likely than non-AP students to return to school for a second year or to have higher first semester grades.” Moreover, they write that “close inspection of the [College Board] studies cited reveals that the existing evidence regarding the benefits of AP experience is questionable,” and “AP courses are not a necessary component of a rigorous curriculum.”

      A 2006 MIT faculty report noted ““there is ‘a growing body of research’ that students who earn top AP scores and place out of institute introductory courses end up having ‘difficulty’ when taking the next course.” Two years prior, Harvard “conducted a study that found students who are allowed to skip introductory courses because they have passed a supposedly equivalent AP course do worse in subsequent courses than students who took the introductory courses at Harvard” (Seebach, 2004). Dartmouth found, for example, that high scores on AP psychology tests do NOT translate into college readiness for the next-level course.

      AP has become “the juggernaut of American high school education,” but “ the research evidence on its value is minimal.” AP may work well for some students, especially those who are already “college-bound to begin with” (Klopfenstein and Thomas, 2010)

      As Geiser (2007) notes, “systematic differences in student motivation, academic preparation, family background and high-school quality account for much of the observed difference in college outcomes between AP and non-AP students.” College Board-funded studies do not control well for these student characteristics (even the College Board concedes that “interest and motivation” are keys to “success in any course”). Klopfenstein and Thomas (2010) find that when these demographic characteristics are controlled for, the claims made for AP disappear.

    4. Just to be clear, I do not think there is a "STEM" crisis, and I was aware of the Urban Institute study from 2007. Having said that, I don't think there is anything wrong with promoting STEM education. Also, AP courses are just fine and dandy, but they will do nothing to promote educational achievement, accept amongst the academic elite in our public schools, rather then those who struggle to meet current standards.

  4. OMB (Press hits Federal Waste edition)

    BOB Somerby is participating in a professional development event involving federal agency managers.

    I am sure this is the type of event FOX news and other conservative budget watchdogs like to publicize. They generally list the speakers, highlight the silly titles of their talks, point out an amount spent on the speakers their listerners find outrageously wasteful, then demonstrate the absolute lack of expertise the speakers have on the topic addressed or the issue of public management.

    I am sure a school teacher/comedian/reproter/blogger has many helpful hints which make it possible for happy, healthy, holistic federal managers to improve themselves professionally on the eve of the sequester.

    I am sure if we hear about this in this blog it will be to criticize young liberal cable millionaires for not defending a training practice implemented in the Clinton administration.

    KZ (Whose court on Doom received the appropriate amount of professional disembowlment...a long recongized motivational tool.)

    1. You seem sure about a lot of things you cannot possibly know much about.

    2. Do I "seem" sure? I hope so. Repeated use of a phrase often "suggests" the author is confident he/she knows squat from squadoosh about which she/he writes. Can I possibly not know much about what I am sure of? Of course. Anything is possible. But is it really true? We just don't know. We are sure you are a very fine person.

      KZ (Faithful as the star around which Doom orbits)

    3. *Yawn*

      It's bad enough how banal your posts are. Why do you insist the tiresome handle?

    4. Matt in the Crown: back at ya Slick.

    5. Matt and Anon. @ 12:38

      Your excellent Howler commentary keeps getting results!




      KZ (Tiresome Handle on Loan from BOB)

    6. Anon@411: your repertoire sucks. Follow your own advice.

    7. Anon@4:42

      Perhaps it would be better if BOB or someone else with expertise in professional development would guide Anon@4:11 into training activities of a more positive nature, like line dancing.

      KZ (On Doom, Dancing Revenue Collectors fill the Kings Coffers the Best)

  5. I suppose they could interview teachers if the teachers weren't so busy.

  6. It's knee-jerk at this point. It's just what they say. Melissa Harris Perry was talking about Syria the other day, and she announced that Americans don't know where Syria is and that this is the fault of public schools.

    There's two parts to lying about public schools. One part has to do with pretending to care about children, and the other part is adults imaging they were and are much better educated than children are today. They weren't and aren't.

    One of the things I like about my father (who is ancient) is that he actually remembers
    the "good old days". He tells me people were just as dumb or perhaps dumber in 1950. He tells me he attended a public high school in Scranton, Pennsylvania that had a gang of "thugs" roaming the halls, and teachers couldn't control them either.

    It's a mix of misty-eyed nostalgia for a time that never was and ego, lying about public schools.

  7. Also, Mr. Somerby and interns, you were on to this well before anyone else was, and for that you deserve credit- not that you'll get any.

  8. Credit where credit's due Bob - you were on this like white on rice long ago and were practically a voice in the wilderness, unlike charlatans and Johnny-Come-Latelies like Ravich. I give you credit, as I'm sure many other of your devoted followers do as well.

    1. I have heard many a devoted follower give credit to voices in the wilderness.

  9. You are nuts, Ravitch has been talking about this for ages, she's written BOOKS about this topic.

    1. Actually, Ravitch came to her senses about school "reform" fairly late. She says it was around 2006. But as I note in comments above, the verdict was in long before that.

    2. Ravitch has been fighting for real actual public schools for years. She has been open about her transformation and admits her mistakes and she has paid a high price in all the acrimony she has garnered from the right wingers who slam her all the time. Give the woman credit for coming to her senses, admitting her mistakes and being courageous in fighting the school privatizers.

  10. Some congresscritter from Colorado, Jared Polis (D), referred to Diane Ravitch as an evil woman in one of his tweets. This empty suit is the 7th wealthiest member of Congress. FRom jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com: "But Polis is really just another phony Democrat who pushes idiocy like Race To The Top so he doesn't have to have a serious conversation about income inequity. It's all part of the hard work of the rich and powerful, slaving away to protect their big piles of lucre from the hordes storming the gates of Versailles. "Let them eat charter school cake!" says Le Comte de Jared." Polis is in the charter school business himself. It looks like a lot of the commenters here hate Ravitch and agree with this despicable DINO.

    1. Jared Polis proves that when it comes to educational issues, he can be just as dumb as the dumbest of Republicans (and there are plenty of them). To be fair, there's also that group called Democrats for Education Reform (go ahead, look at who's on its board of directors: http://www.dfer.org/list/about/board/ ).

      The one thing many of these people have in common is money and/or the desire for whole lot more of it. That, and they seem to ingest stupid pills before they talk about or involve themselves in education issues.

      The Dems for Reform say they want to return public education to its original mission. But that mission was democratic citizenship. And the big money boys don't really want anything like that.

      The Republicans, on the other hand, would prefer to privatize public education. They aren't fond whatsoever of democratic governance.