Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Corruption in the Reading Ranks

I'm in the middle of Reading for Profit: How the Bottom Line Leaves Kids Behind (edited by Bess Altwerger, published by Heinemann. It's a terrific - and terrifically, incredibly, distressing - collection. It's all about how reading research, especially research connected with Reading First (which is itself connected with NCLB) is unbelievably corrupt. There's misread/misinterpreted (intentionally) data, there's researchers serving as reviewers for their own work, there are publishing companies (McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin) making enormous profits from the reading programs that they market (whose 'validity' is proven by research by the people who developed the programs). Here's Elaine Garan's summary of the corruption:
...evidence-based critiques of the NRP show that there is a discrepancy between the actual data and the claims made in the official NRP summary that synthesized the findings (published by the NICHD in 2000). In other words, the claims don't match the data. It is the misrepresentations rather than the facts that are controlling education under the guise of science. (22)

The problem, of course, is that they *are* controlling education. These programs are all about phonics, and none about whole language. Thus, when people (say, education writers) look to the research as background for their stories about "effective educational methods," they see research that seems to be credible that attests to the effectiveness of phonics, and the problems with whole language. But as Garan and others in this book (and other ones, too, like Denny Taylor's Spin Doctors, which I've mentioned before) attest, the reported research findings are inaccurate. (In fact, Garan says, achievement levels decline as a result of the phonics-only curriculum.) This is the power of framing - because wedging in an argument about how these reports are inaccurate (especially when they're endorsed by "legitimate" sources) is a huge endeavor.

Barbara Cambridge, NCTE's K-12 policy director, has a post on the NCTE blog about a report on increased literacy in content areas. She notes that all of the recommendations have to do with learning through context, content, etc. - not through repetition of similar words ("cat, spat, rat").

Meanwhile, I learned yesterday (by looking at the Achieve web site) that Michigan's governor, Jennifer Granholm, is now on the Board of Directors of Achieve.org. See my earlier posts on that. Sigh.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Department of Ed/our friends' snake

The other night, I had the opportunity to watch our friends Judith, Kathleen, and Emma's snake (a Mexican something or other) eat its once-weekly dinner. I won't go into too much detail here about the nature of the dinner (it was kind of gross, I thought), but the process was, shall we say, interesting. Basically, the snake (which is some kind of boa) "strangled" said dinner (even though it was already dead) and then swallowed it whole.

Not to be too dramatic here, but I think about the ways that the Department of Ed is padding around the accreditation process on tiny feet and the snake thing comes to mind pretty quickly. I've written about this padding around in the first (introductory) chapter of the OMB - here's part of what's there:
...if one listens closely to the steady drumbeat around the issue of accreditation that has sounded since the appearance of the report from the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education (which is closely analyzed in chapter four), it is possible to detect the tiny pitter patter of impending of federal control. The accrediting process, an Inside Higher Education story notes, can be “a wedge” for “measur[ing] and report[ing] how much students learn … because changes in accrediting standards … have the potential to directly influence hundreds or thousands of colleges” (1/29/07). Since the appointment of Undersecretary for Higher Education Sarah Martinez Tucker (also a member of the Spellings Commission) in January, the Department of Education has begun to speak publicly about changes to the DOE’s relationship with accrediting agencies. Traditionally, these agencies have urged institutions to establish outcomes and assessment methodologies for assessing those outcomes that make sense for the institution. As another Inside Higher Education story noted, “accreditors have primarily focused their judgment of institutions’ quality on whether an individual college is showing progress” (2/23/07), and have emphasized that long-term gains in the areas of process and professional development are as important (if not more important) than showing the agencies the results of any assessment. But the Spellings Report noted that this focus on process, not product, was not producing reliable evidence attesting to institutional accountability.

In early January 2007, the DOE official who oversaw accreditation agencies left his position. In mid-January 2007, the DOE initiated a process make changes to the rules governing the higher education accreditation process that would enable the DOE to legally regulate that process through accreditation agencies. Particularly alarming is the DOE’s desire to have institutions to institute norm-referenced assessments across similar colleges and universities (using criteria that are not yet determined) – in other words, “to judge how well individual college are educating their students by comparing them to similar institutions...” ( IHE 2/22/07). Second (and related), the DOE wants accrediting agencies to work with the institutions under their auspices to “agree to a core set of student achievement measures, both quantitative and qualitative, focused on those things the institutions have in common, and also on an acceptable level of performance for certain of those measures” (DOE white paper qtd in IHE, 2/22/07). The DOE has already taken steps of their own to initiate this kind of data collection, as well – they are on their way to developing a system called “Huge IPEDS” (or Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System), an online system that would cull data about how colleges and universities gather data about “accountability” on their campuses (e.g., whether they use the National Survey of Student Engagement, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, or other national surveys administered locally on college/university campuses), and then would potentially make that data nationally available. The sound of footsteps is certainly there – and while accreditation agency officials such as Stephen Crow from the North Central Association/Higher Learning Commission and George Kuh from Indiana University are laying out clear and cogent issues with this kind of assessment process, their objections are largely being ignored.
A footnote to the bit above (linked to the part about the Collegiate Writing Assessment) is this:
Of particular interest to writing instructors about the Collegiate Learning Assessment, incidentally, is the small print at the bottom of the page describing the CLA’s “sample performance task” writing prompts: “Scoring of writing prompts is powered by E-Rater,an automated scoring technology developed and patented by the Educational Testing Service and licensed to CAE” (http://www.cae.org/content/pro_collegiate_sample_measures.htm).

Of course, the OMB is intended, in part, to help WPAs develop strategies to change (or get ahold of) stories about writing on their campuses. At the national level, there are a whole bunch of super smart people/agencies working on this, from the accreditation agencies (like ours, the North Central Association/Higher Learning Commission) to NCTE. But still, it's kind of like the snake thing. Fortunately, we educators are not like the object of the snake's attention. But still.

Take away message: if the tens of readers here who are connected with composition hear anything about accreditation (since that seems to be the first "action point" here) on your campus, see what's going on. And let's all be attuned to those seemingly not-so-important things that happen, say, around boring DOE processes (like the rule thing). It might be more than we think...

Friday, March 16, 2007

A really great movie and more

Last weekend, as part of the (waning) "I'm on sabbatical" film festival, we watched "Stranger Than Fiction." I hear what you're saying: "I don't like Will Farrell" (even though I _do_ like Will Ferrell, myself). But even if you are saying that, you should RUN, don't walk, to get this movie. Why is it great?
*It's super literary - and remember, readers, that I am *not* a super literary, lit-degree type, so I'm not necessarily drawn to these things.
*It has mystery stuff in it (sort of)
*Will Ferrell and everyone else in the cast is great, esp. Dustin Hoffman
*It has a not entirely inaccurate portrayal of a faculty member's life (for a movie, anyway. It's not entirely accurate, either, but it's not too far off)

In other news, I finished the nth revision of the introduction to the OMB this week - it's still rough because I changed a ton, but it's getting there. For those of you who are familiar with the article/book writing process, you will know that finishing a draft of the intro means that I'm sort of nearing done-ness - because it's impossible to write anything coherent about what something will be about until it's nearly done. The only way anyone can know what writing is about, after all, is by writing. So that's something.

Next week is CCCC - that's the Conference on College Composition and Communication, in case among my tens of readers there is someone not in the field of composition. This is our big disciplinary conference. This year's is in New York, which should be fun. Best professional friend (her name for me, so I'm borrowing, too) and I get in around the same time on Tuesday, so we're going to do a fun thing, and then have a fun dinner with another friend of ours. After that it's pretty much all work, but it's work with other fun people who get together once or twice a year at most, so it's all pretty darned fun. And good food, too. Perhaps I'll adopt the Krause scale of restaurant reviewing: atmosphere, tastiness, and value.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Peter Elbow is a really, really smart guy

I was re-reading the most recent collection of Peter Elbow's work, _Everyone Can Write_, yesterday. When I read Elbow, I think about something that Joe Harris wrote _about_ E. - something to the extent that while he doesn't always agree with everything that E. writes/says (in writing), he admires the way that E. is able to contradict himself in his writing and really turn things around. Both Joe Harris *and* P. Elbow are two of my favorite writers in our very excellent field (even though the subject line is about P. Elbow). I like them both because they write so very, very well - elegantly, clearly, and in complicated ways. I like messiness, and they're both all about the messiness. Elbow, especially, is about the messiness - but in most excellent ways. I'm reading _ECW_ again because I'm grappling with my own messiness for the OMB, trying to get it together for the big final push and write the last half of the intro and the first half of the conclusion (and then the draft is DONE! DONE! - I will have revised all of the chapters about a million times each...). Anyway - the last half of the first chapter is about working from principle, and how it is that one finds principles (which is a tough thing to write about, I think!), and Elbow is such a great example of working from p. He talks about it quite a bit in the essays in the first part of the book, actually, which I really like. I also love how incredibly positive he is - that is an absolute model for all of us. It's the "liking" thing - I still use "Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking" w/students because I think it's so important, that liking. So - hats off to Peter Elbow, because he is smart and his writing is so complicatedly terrific, even if - like Joe Harris - I don't always agree w/everything in it, either.

This hats-off post also reminds me of something that Crunchygranola wrote on _her_ blog about why she likes our field so much. I believe that included in her list - #1, even - is that we work with incredibly nice people. This field of ours is _full_ of nice people - and how cool is that? How many other people can go to their professional conferences (and Cs is coming up in a couple of weeks) and say, "Geez, there are smart and super excellent people in this field?" I contend that people generally don't even go into comp unless they are nice. You have to be interested in people and their ideas and all of that, and want to talk with them about that stuff, if you want to do this job. Of course, Crunchygranola herself is one of the most excellent people _in_ this field.

I'm all abuzz with niceness today, I guess. That's a good thing - maybe it's my mental counter to the snow that fell last night, or something.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Blogging absence

Several people have noted my prolonged absence from the blogosphere - the tens of readers of this blog have been *clamoring* for information. However, in my defense, let me say this: I started this thing so I would do what we tell students to do: write every day. I have been writing every day - the OMB, but not the blog. And by the time I finish the OMB, the last thing I want to do is write some more.

Still, here I am. Some highlights of the last, oh, six months:
*much work on the OMB. Many, many drafts of all chapters. Many comments on drafts from many people. Much, much help. Thank goodness.

*holiday trip to Silver City, NM for a whole week! We spent time with my family, which was really fun and relaxing.

*trip to MEXICO over winter break. INCREDIBLE! I've never done anything like it! There was the heat, the sun, the warm ocean, the incredible snorkeling... phenomenal. I will post photos below. And I will write more often.

Now, cranking through the final push on the OMB. Getting ready for CCCC, which I have much to do for. (Nice sentence!) Getting ready to teach in May. Life is revving back up, which is okay with me. This sabbatical has been great, and I feel pretty restored... as it should be.

Now, see photos above. Ocean-y ones were taken from the balcony of our lovely condo. Flying pelicans - way cool. Iguanas abound.