90% of Ed Dept staff isn’t ‘essential’

In the great government shutdown of 2013, 90 percent of U.S. Education Department workers have been deemed “nonessential” and sent home. (Some say it’s 94 percent.)

The Education Department has more essential workers than NASA (3 percent) and the Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development, both 6 percent.

Mao (and Confucius) in the Kids’ Zone

“Our attitude towards ourselves should be ‘to be satiable in learning’ and towards others ‘to be tireless in teaching’,” wrote Mao Zedong (Tse-tung to us oldsters), according to the U.S. Education Department’s Kids’ Zone web site. Actually, Mao wrote “insatiable,” which makes more sense.

When someone objected to giving the “quote of the day” to a Commie mass murderer, it was replaced with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, reports Buzzfeed. That didn’t stop the mockery.

The department apparently takes random education-related quotes from a database and puts them up without proofreading or thinking.

Mao was exhorting fellow revolutionaries to study and promote the Communist movement, writes Robert Upshaw on The Ponds of Happenstance. He found the original in The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War.

 Very clearly, the quote in context is about studying for the sake of propelling the movement, not for the sake of knowledge in its own right. And the teaching bit is about teaching others in order to bring them into the same movement. It’s cult-speak, plain and simple.

“Insatiable in learning” and “tireless in teaching” are Confucian phrases found in The Book of Mencius, writes Upshaw.

Jobs, jobs, jobs — and school choice

In an acceptance speech devoted to jobs, family, jobs and jobs, Mitt Romney promised to “give our fellow citizens the skills they need for the jobs of today and the careers of tomorrow” by promoting school choice. ” Every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance.”

Earlier, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s speech was all about education.

We say that every child in America has an equal opportunity. Tell that to a kid in whose classroom learning isn’t respected.

Tell that to a parent stuck in a school where there is no leadership. Tell that to a young, talented teacher who just got laid off because she didn’t have tenure.

The sad truth is that equality of opportunity doesn’t exist in many of our schools. We give some kids a chance, but not all.

That failure is the great moral and economic issue of our time. And it’s hurting all of America.

Bush also called for school choice.

Go down any supermarket aisle – you’ll find an incredible selection of milk.

You can get whole milk, 2% milk, low-fat milk or skim milk. Organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D.

There’s flavored milk– chocolate, strawberry or vanilla – and it doesn’t even taste like milk.

They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk.

Shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools?

Condi Rice, another choice supporter, said the “crisis in K-12 education” is a “threat to the very fabric of who we are” in her convention speech. Otherwise education was barely mentioned.

Here’s Romney’s education web page and the Hechinger Report‘s analysis of what would happen to education under Romney or Obama.

Investing in (proven) innovation

How innovative is the Education Department’s $650 million Investing in Innovation program? By limiting grants to ideas with evidence of success, i3 tilted toward the “usual suspects,” concludes a report by Bellwether Education Partners for the Gates Foundation.  Grant winners included Teach for America, KIPP and Reading Recovery.

The idea was to invest in “innovation that works”  and that can be scaled up — not cutting-edge ideas — notes Education Week.

. . .  the researchers give the department credit for encouraging partnerships between the philanthropic sector and K-12 public education by requiring winners to secure matching dollars and establishing an online registry where foundations and education entrepreneurs could find each other.

And, researchers said, the department took a bold and significant step in requiring varying levels of evidence for each type of innovation grant, acknowledging that some ideas and innovations might be worthy of government investment but have far less research to back them up. This evidence framework was “a giant leap forward” and “by far the most significant innovation that i3 brought to the table,” the researchers said.

But this rigorous evidence framework came at a cost, since it favored ideas that had been around long enough, and had enough financial backing, to make evaluations possible. The result, the researchers said, was a “pool of applicants and grantees made up of existing organizations that had already addressed K-12 schooling in some way.”

“It did not find innovative programs because it was not set up to find them,” Rick Hess told Ed Week. “They chose to write rules which required established evidence of effectiveness. That’s perfectly reasonable. You’re giving away $650 million in tax dollars.”

The second round of grants — $150 million this time — will be announced next week.

Obama on testing: Huh?

Annual testing may not be necessary, said President Barack Obama at a town hall meeting on education for Hispanics.

” . . . let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that’s not the only way we’re judging whether a school is doing well.”

That left a lot of people confused, writes Michele McNeil on Politics K-12. After all, Obama’s Education Department strongly favors annual testing.

Teacher Anthony Cody piles on: Obama is attacking his own education policies. For example:

  • Race to the Top requires states to tie teacher pay and evaluations to student test scores? If ever there was a recipe for teaching to the test, this is it!
  • his Secretary of Education is proposing to evaluate teacher preparation programs by tracking the test scores of the teachers they produce?
  • his administration’s plan for the new version of No Child Left Behind continues to place tremendous pressure on schools attended by the poorest students, ensuring that there will still be extremely high stakes attached to these tests? This creates the most invidious inequity of all — where students most in need of the sort of wholistic, project-based curriculum the President rightly says is the cure to boredom remain stuck in schools forced to focus on test scores.
  • that his Department of Education is proposing greatly expanding both the number of subjects tested, and the frequency of tests, to enable us to measure the “value” each teacher adds to their students?
  • Progressives should stop “wringing their hands about the limited ability of a standardized test to capture the full range of learning experiences,”  argues Matt Yglesias. He gives the definition of “basic” reading competence for NAEP Grade 8:

    Eighth-grade students performing at the Basic level should be able to locate information; identify statements of main idea, theme, or author’s purpose; and make simple inferences from texts. They should be able to interpret the meaning of a word as it is used in the text. Students performing at this level should also be able to state judgments and give some support about content and presentation of content.

    Nationwide, 26 percent of  eighth graders — 30 percent of boys, 40 percent of low-income students, 44 percent of blacks — test below this level. “They can’t identify statements of main idea, theme, or author’s purpose; and make simple inferences from texts,” writes Yglesias.

    This kind of basic reading competency is definitely something we can measure on standardized tests. And it’s important.

    If these students are tested occasionally by their teacher, but don’t take the same tests as other students, if nobody outside the school monitors their progress, will they learn more? That’s not what happened before No Child Left Behind. I also lack faith in a holistic, project-based curriculum to teach the children of poorly educated parents.

    Was short seller tipped on regulation?

    Education Department officials should be investigated for tipping a short seller about regulations that drove down for-profit colleges’ stocks, charges Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma. The charges are based on documents discovered by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request.

    Also on Community College Spotlight:  Colleges are trying to detect ghost students who enroll — often online — cash their aid check and vanish.

    How’s it going, Ed?

    How’s It Going, Ed? With midterms upon us and Congress winding down, now is a good time to give Ed a first-semester grade, National Journal thinks.

    How effective has the agency been in pushing the “high standards for all” that Education Secretary Arne Duncan discussed in his Senate confirmation hearing? Have Race to the Top grants caused states and superintendents to rethink their education goals? Has the agency made the best use of economic stimulus funds? If we want Ed to get an “A” at the end of the term, what does it need to accomplish in the next two years?

    “Ed gets high marks for coming up with inventive ways to compel his classmates to do his bidding,” writes Kevin Welner, University of Colorado at Boulder “This has become a problem, however, because Ed’s ideas are often not well thought out.”

    My hope is that Ed will soon buckle down and start learning about what research shows to be best practices (see The Obama Education Blueprint).

    If Ed wants a better grade, he should stop gazing out the window, entranced by each new shiny object he sees. Ed has also spent way too much time outside of class, wandering the halls and fawning over anyone who looks like s/he has some power over his grade.

    It’s hard to grade group projects, complains Checker Finn of Fordham.

    ED surely deserves honors marks for Race to the Top and for its ESEA/NCLB “blueprint”. They are over-reaching, however, when it comes to school turnarounds and innovation. They’re far too willing to play along with Democrats on Capitol Hill on no-strings bail-outs for state and local school budgets. Their civil rights stance is misguided. And I’ve got serious misgivings about much of their approach to higher education.

    The Education Department is good at pushing, but weak on results, writes Steve Peha of Teaching That Makes Sense.