Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Education Race to Top hits bottom

You've probably been in an argument and, not very confident about your point, resorted to rhetorically blitzing your opponent by just insisting you were irrefutably right. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been employing a similar tactic with the "Race to the Top," a competition pitting states against each other in a grab for $4 billion in "stimulus" dough. Duncan has been flatly declaring RTTT a triumph.

"The Race to the Top has been an extraordinary success," Duncan trumpeted in last week's announcement that Tennessee and Delaware had won the Race's first round. "This historic program has been a catalyst for education reform across this country."

Examining the first-round winners reveals why Duncan is going right to declaring victory.

The first thing one notices is that RTTT isn't about bold change. Indeed, as Duncan conceded when he announced the victors, what put Delaware and Tennessee in the winners' circle wasn't embracing cutting-edge reforms, but getting all districts and teachers' unions to endorse their applications.

"Perhaps most importantly, every one of the districts in Delaware and Tennessee is committed to implementing the reforms in Race to the Top, and they have the support of the state leaders as well as their unions," Duncan said.

Now, if you want a revolution you don't bolster the regime in power. But that's exactly what demanding union buy-in does. After all, it's teachers' unions that have most effectively fought real accountability because it is largely their members who would be held to account.

Maybe, though, Delaware and Tennessee have risen above union self-interest and come up with real reforms that unions also love.

On the other hand: maybe not.

Consider Delaware's teacher-assessment proposal. Currently, student achievement is included in teacher evaluations, but the achievement measures are about as useful as a scale that ignores any unwanted pounds. A teacher starts the year by setting her own student-achievement goals, and she can use numerous assessments — including her own tests and writing assignments — to measure success.

So what does Delaware's RTTT application say the state will do about this nonsensical system? "After consulting with stakeholders, including the teachers' union, the Delaware Secretary of Education will define a rigorous and comparable measure of student growth to be used in educator evaluations starting in the 2011-2012 school year."

Promises, promises.

How about Tennessee? It made a big deal in its application about lifting its charter-school cap and "having one of the oldest and most robust databases for tracking 'student growth.'"

Those things sound nice, but they hardly mean real change is a-comin'. The pro-charter Center for Education Reform has graded Tennessee's charter law a D, but not primarily because of its cap. No, it's because Tennessee charters have very little autonomy and can only be located in a few districts — super-restrictions that make caps largely irrelevant.

On teacher quality, Tennessee offers the same IOU as Delaware. Sure, Tennessee has a great data system, but it won't apply the data until the 2011-2012 school year, and then only after a "teacher evaluation advisory committee" has recommended how to do it.

Ultimately, RTTT is all promises, no production. States must say how they would improve lots of things, but they actually have to do very little. It is decades of public schooling — from the Great Society to No Child Left Behind — in a nutshell.

Stagnant scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tell the tale. In 1973, the average mathematics score for 17-year-olds — our schools' "final products" — was 304 (out of 500). By 2008 it was just 306. In 1971, the reading average was 285. Twenty-seven years later, it had skyrocketed to…286.

The good news is that many states appear to be souring on RTTT, though not because they object to a contest that rewards mere promises. No, it's that the first-round outcome has shown it impossible to know what's ultimately needed to win.

As Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, who says his state will not apply for RTTT Round 2, explained after it appeared establishment buy-in was more important than reform: "It was like the Olympic Games, and we were an American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s."

That might be overstating things a bit. But it is a far more reasonable assessment than just declaring Race to the Top "an extraordinary success."


The Truth About Diversity

by Mike Adams

In the past, I have been critical of radical leftist university president Rosemary DePaolo. I’ve directed specific criticism towards her for valuing diversity over competence. Thankfully, she has finally seen the light. In a letter written to the entire UNC-Wilmington community on Wednesday, April 8, 2010, she admitted that much of what I’ve said about diversity (for at least seven years' worth of columns!) is true. I am taking the time today to thank Rosemary for her honesty and humility. For those who are interested, I have reprinted her entire letter below:
Dear Colleagues,

While the core mission of UNCW focuses on academics and providing the most powerful learning experience for our students, athletics also plays an important part in the lives not only of our students but of the entire, broad university community, as well. I know that the search for a new head coach for men’s basketball is on the minds of many people, and I would like to take this opportunity to provide you a brief update.

Since the end of the basketball season, the search committee has been identifying and reviewing potential candidates. We believed we had a firm commitment, but yesterday we learned that was not the case. To be certain, searches are complicated and complex processes, especially where contracts are involved. You might recall in the early 1990s that head basketball coach Bobby Cremins left Georgia Tech where he was extremely successful to go to the University of South Carolina. Three days later, he returned to Georgia Tech after indicating that he had a change of heart. Similarly, Greg Marshall, head coach at Winthrop, was recruited to go to the College of Charleston. He even held a press conference to announce that move, only to return the next day as coach at Winthrop. Ironically, the person who replaced him at College of Charleston was Bobby Cremins.

Why am I telling you this? We all may know of numerous other situations where an individual was recruited by multiple institutions, only to take the one with the best financial package or change decisions for personal reasons. I am providing these examples to remind all of us that, despite rumors and speculation to the contrary, people routinely change their minds during negotiations for a variety of reasons. As disappointing as that may be at times, I have been in this business long enough to know that such situations are common; I also know that in the end, we will be successful.

I am working closely with our athletic director Kelly Mehrtens and our search committee to continue the process of identifying the right coach. I am forced to do so because it has become apparent that Kelly Mehrtens is over her head in this position. That is because her selection for this position was not made on the basis of qualifications. She was selected on the basis of her status as a black female.

Some have made much of the argument that Kelly Mehrtens is incompetent. As evidence, they have cited the following: 1) Her decision to fire our last basketball coach during homecoming week. 2) Her decision to give the last coach a two-year contract extension after only one year of coaching his predecessor’s recruits. 3) Waiting six weeks to form a committee to look for a new coach. 4) The drastic reduction in donations to support the athletic department, etc, etc, etc.

But these criticisms miss the truth about diversity, which I have highlighted in bold letters so all of you can understand: An institution’s commitment to diversity is inversely related to its commitment to competence. Those who are calling for the firing of Kelly Mehrtens miss this fundamental point.

Put simply, if Kelly Mehrtens was hired by considering race (and gender) over competence then it makes no sense to fire her – in effect, saying her incompetence is suddenly more important than her race. After all, she is still black. And there is no evidence that she plans to change her gender.

I know it hurts to lose basketball games. And I know it hurts to see an entire athletic program in shambles. But diversity feels good. And it reminds us we are all really good people at heart.

For those not Swift enough to understand, you have just read a social satire on affirmative action and diversity. Rosemary DePaolo has never told the truth about diversity, nor taken much of an interest in the truth on any given issue. Despite her incompetence, she remains as UNC-Wilmington chancellor because she is a woman. And Kelly Mehrtens remains as her athletic director because she is black.


University corruption

A former Brown University student alleges in a lawsuit unsealed Monday that he was removed from campus more than three years ago after being falsely accused of rape by the daughter of a major donor and fundraiser for the Ivy League school.

William McCormick III and his parents say university administrators gave him a one-way ticket home to Wisconsin after he was accused of rape in the fall of 2006. McCormick alleges the school never told the police about the rape allegations and accepted them as true without doing an investigation.

The lawsuit says the father of the accusing student is a Brown alumnus who has "donated and raised very substantial sums of money," was in regular contact about the allegations with school administrators and contacted university president Ruth Simmons directly.

Brown, which has asked for the case to be dismissed, said in a statement late Monday that university administrators acted appropriately but declined to comment further, citing student confidentiality.

The university's lawyer, Steven Richard, told a judge Monday that the lawsuit didn't show any wrongdoing and that it merely made vague and unsubstantiated claims against various administrators.

"My difficulty is responding to the broad net cast on everyone," Richard said.

A university administrator told McCormick his removal from campus was to be on an interim basis, according to a letter submitted in court. But McCormick wound up withdrawing from Brown later that fall under an agreement with the accuser's family he says he was coerced into signing.

The lawsuit names 15 people affiliated with Brown, including Simmons, as well as the female student and her father. It was filed last fall, just before the three year-statute of limitations for bringing such claims was to have expired. A federal judge unsealed it Monday.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they were sexually assaulted, and is not naming the father to avoid identifying the woman here. The woman maintains that she was raped and that the sexual assault allegations are true, said her lawyer Joseph Cavanagh.

The lawsuit says McCormick, a nationally ranked wrestler in high school who obtained a scholarship to go to Brown, was accused of rape in September 2006 by a fellow freshman who lived in his dorm.

The student initially accused him of stalking and harassing her, at which point a no-contact order was issued against McCormick by the university, lawyers say.

The following week, the student _ encouraged and pressured by friends, according to the lawsuit _ reported that she had been raped by McCormick to the resident adviser, who urged her to repeat her allegations to deans at the school.

Administrators told McCormick he was being accused of sexual misconduct but never gave him a written copy of the allegations or a chance to defend himself, according to the lawsuit, which says he was also ordered to leave campus, driven to the airport and put on a flight back to Wisconsin.

The lawsuit says no sexual contact occurred and no charges were ever filed.

U.S. District Judge William Smith heard arguments Monday on whether to dismiss the lawsuit, but did not immediately rule.

He told J. Scott Kilpatrick, a lawyer for the McCormick family, that the complaint was a "mess" and that some of its claims so far appear unsubstantiated. He said the lawsuit was not detailed enough in specifying what each staff member and administrator is alleged to have done wrong.

But he also said he was troubled the university never alerted the police about a rape allegation it considered credible. "The thought that with all the people involved in this matter at different levels, a determination is made to not tell law enforcement, even the Brown Police Department _ I'm having trouble getting that," Smith said.


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