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The Rotten Apples in Education Awards 2003


For a while, it looked as if Paul Krugman's prediction, "Toward One Party Rule," was coming true in a way that he probably hadn't anticipated. It appeared that the Republican Party in general and Jeb Bush in particular might corner the market on the annual Rotten Apples in Education Awards. It didn't happen, but the erstwhile Florida Governor did pick up three and with a stretch, might have been given several others for plotting to fabricate reasons to dump a donor, for the falsification of government documents, shoddy oversight of the voucher program, etc.



In a move to encourage retiring teachers to live in less costly states, the Florida Board of Administration, one third of which is Governor Jeb Bush, voted to spend $174 billion buy debt-ridden Edison Schools, Inc., a company that has succeeded in lining the pockets of founder Chris Whittle but very few others. If Bush saw the irony of investing public school teachers' pensions in a company trying to destroy public schools, he did not acknowledge it.

Mr. Whittle benefited sweetly from the deal. His salary will rise to at least $600,000 from its current $345,000 with potential bonuses tacking on another 275 percent (his enthusiasm for working for $1 a year plus stock apparently having waned). Whittle retains 4 percent of Edison shares.

According to Eduventures, which tracks the "education industry," private investment in education fell from $2.9 billion in 2000 to $255 million in 2002. Whatta time to get into the market.

Excuse me, was all the Enron stock spoken for?

The investment firm that handles the account sank $420 million of it into Enron and WorldCom, acquiring 1.2 million shares of Enron two weeks before the implosion.

Edison did turn a profit for the first time in its decade-long existence in the first quarter of 2003. On the other hand, like Enron, Edison was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for its creative accounting and found guilty. So one wonders how real this very convenient profit is.

The Orlando Business Journal approached the deal by the numbers: $2,175,000--the amount of money Edison loaned Whittle to buy Edison stock. $5,694,200--the amount of money Edison loaned Whittle to pay for taxes on the stock purchase. 24 and 29--the number of Edison contracts that will expire at the end of the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 school years, respectively. 16.2 and 22.4--the percentage of Edison net revenue those expiring contracts represent.

And so on through ten other sets of numbers wrapping with:

Two: The number of brain cells, which, when rubbed together, generate sufficient spark to assess, consider--and toss-this dog of an investment deal."

Marianne D. Hurst, "Teachers Riled by Edison Deal." Education Week, October 8, 2003, p. 1.

"Investing in Irony" (editorial). St. Petersburg Times, September 26, 2003

"Counting Change" (editorial). Orlando Business Journal, November 10, 2003.



Bush opposed Florida's small-class-size referendum in the November 2002 election on the grounds that it would cost "at least $27.5 billion, which would require the Legislature to make some combination of drastic cuts in critical services to our most vulnerable citizens [Bracey's note: kids are not vulnerable?] and enormous tax increases. Health, social services for children and seniors, and environmental programs would all be at risk [Bracey's note: Florida consistently ranks last or near last in social services for children]."

Critics thought Bush opposed the referendum because it would cost him face with brother George in their race to see who can cut taxes most. Jeb had pushed through $1.5 billion since election in 1998, including a $428 million package in 2002. More breaks were coming, but the passage of the class size referendum, along with a costly high-speed rail referendum would imperil his capacity to deliver them.

Just prior to the vote, Bush told a reporter he had "devious plans" to torpedo the amendment. Bush later explained that he was joking.

Some observers noted that Bush was not opposing the pregnant pig constitutional amendment referendum. Wags pointed out that some South Florida schools, were so crowded that if the amendment passed, pigs might be getting better treatment than kids (the amendment reads, in part, "It shall be unlawful for any person to confine a pig during pregnancy in an enclosure, or to tether a pig during pregnancy, on a farm in such a way that she is prevented from turning around freely)."

Pat Cockrell of the Florida Farm Bureau said the humane treatment for pigs referendum "is a cynical--one might say greasy--attempt by national animal-rights groups that would lard up our state's constitution in order to advance a national agenda and perhaps to fatten those organizations' treasuries."

The small-class-size referendum did not provoke such rhetorical flourishes, but Florida citizens voted for both kids and pigs anyway.

Soon, plans that looked devious to some began to appear--they would reduce class size in public schools by getting kids out of public schools. One would have increased the Florida voucher program allowing students to attend private schools even if they were currently attending decent public schools (vouchers originally were available only to students in schools the state had graded "F"). This was actually a rerun of a proposal from 2001. Republicans sponsored a bill that would have permitted more than 140,000 students to use vouchers to leave public schools that are at more than 120% capacity for private schools. "Why don't they just give us the money to build new schools?" asked more than one flummoxed Floridian.

Another plan would have greatly increased the scope of "virtual schools"--"schools" where instruction is delivered to students at home over the Internet.

Many media noted that the amount of money Bush brought forth to cover class size was woefully short of what was needed.

Bush, we should note, did not oppose another referendum to make pre-school available to all four-year-olds statewide. But, then, neither did anyone else. It was an overwhelmingly bipartisan thrust.

In August, 2003, the Florida State Board of Education urged voters to repeal the class-size amendment. The Board of Education was brought into existence by a 2001 law. The governor appoints all seven members.

Linda Kleindienst, "Florida Republicans Propose Expanding Voucher Plan to Ease School Crowding. South Florida Sun-Sentinel, February 9, 2001.

Statement from Governor Jeb Bush on Class Size Amendment, August 26, 2002.

Jeb Bush, "Constitutional Amendments." State of the State Address, 2003. www.myflorida.com/myflorida/sos/text_amend.html

Bill Cotterell, "Governor Explains Offending Comments." Tallahassee Democrat, October 5, 2002.

Diana Lynne, "Pigs Win Constitutional Protection." November 6, 2002

St. Petersburg Times, (editorial), "Class Size Funds Are Lacking. January 26, 2003.

Associated Press, "Class Size Bill: More Vouchers, Faster Diplomas?" St. Petersburg Times, April 24, 2003.

Steve Harrison, "House Class-Size Bill Has Plan for Internet School." Miami Herald, April 26, 2003.

Matthew I. Pinzur, "State Board Urges Repeal of Class-Size Amendment." Miami Herald, August 20, 2003.



Some Florida parents decided it was not enough to be able to see their kids' scores on the FCAT--the test Florida uses to evaluate schools. They wanted to see the tests, too. "We feel strongly that any test used to make life-altering decisions about children should be subject to scrutiny," said Gloria Pipkin, parent and founder of the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform. Pipkin said such scrutiny is important because test-scoring companies make mistakes. She pointed to Minnesota where 8000 students were told they had failed that state's test when, in fact, they had passed--National Computer Systems (NCS) had used a faulty scoring key (Martin Swaden, the Minnesota parent--and lawyer--whose threat of a lawsuit finally persuaded Minnesota to let him see his child's test wherein he found the scoring mistakes, received "The Concerned Dad Doggedness Golden Apple Award" in the 13th Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education, Phi Delta Kappan, October, 2003. NCS should probably get something like the Ivan Boesky 'Greed is Good' Rotten Apple for its shoddy work).

Petitioning parents also wanted to know where their kids might have gone wrong in order to help them. Tough, said governor Jeb. "If you had to every year recast the test and redo the questions rather than rotate them, as is done now, it'd be millions of dollars." Governor Jeb did not explain how New York and Massachusetts manage to afford to release their tests each year.

One parent, Steven Cooper, sued, arguing that the test was part of his child's school record and thus reviewable by parents. The Florida DOE argued that the tests' questions are not official records or public documents. A circuit court agreed with Cooper, but the State won on appeal. The appeals pointed out that the Florida School Code lists only test scores--not the test questions--as part of a student's record. The Code also makes anyone who releases the FCAT guilty of a criminal act.

Cooper decided not to take his case to the Florida Supreme Court.

It might be terrible policy, but it's legal. And it removes at least one obstacle to further tax cuts by governor Jeb.

Associated Press, "Anti-FCAT Group Wants State to Release Tests." St. Petersburg Times, August 12, 2003.

Tallahassee Democrat (editorial), "Free the FCAT." September 21, 2003.

Leslie Postal, "FCAT Secret, Judge Decides." Orlando Sentinel, November 7, 2003.



For years, Du Pont has been blasting public schools on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. It is a comfortable context for Du Pont's screeds, the editorial pages aptly dubbed by some Slate writer as "a viper's nest of right wing vitriol." Du Pont has plenty of that, all right, but of all the Right Wing fringe columnists, the former Delaware Governor and head of the right wing National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, Du Pont has consistently written the worst, sometimes unintelligible prose. In fact, one wonders if the Du Pont family has some controlling interest in the publication. A 2003 sampler:

"Lenin once said that he would rather have everyone in Russia die of hunger than allow free trade in grain. That pretty much sums up the thinking of Sens. Ted Kennedy and Arlen specter." Anyone know if Lenin actually said that?

On the 20th anniversary of "A Nation At Risk:" "So, 20 years later, how have we done in meeting the challenge that was threatening 'our very future as a nation?' In regard to most of the recommendations of the 1983 report, there has been no progress at all."

This conclusion raises a question: If 'our very future as a nation' was threatened in 1983 and we've made no progress at all in 20 years, how come we're still here?

How come the World Economic Forum ranked us #1 in global competition, at least until the Bush tax cuts, weak dollar policy and ever-increasing trade deficit dropped us to #2 in 2003? How come in the score of years since "A Nation At Risk," our threatened nation became globe's the sole super power that was admired and/or envied by everyone until recently and is now feared and/or reviled by lots of folk? (If neo-cons David Frum and Richard Perle get their way as described in An End to Evil, it might just be everyone--they contend we should invade Iran, blockade North Korea--with preemptive strikes on its nuclear facilities--treat Saudi Arabia and France as enemies and on and on).

"The reason our public education system is failing our children is that monopolies don't work. Insulated from competitive pressures, schoolboard, state administrative and union bureaucracies govern the educational system." Whew. I am reminded of Russell Baker's pithy critique of "A Nation At Risk." Baker cringing at phrases as "a rising tide of mediocrity" declared they "wouldn't be worth more than a C in 10th grade English. Overall, I'm giving them an A+ in mediocrity."

In "You Can't Outlaw Failure," Mr. Du Pont showed his capacity for the simultaneous holding of contradictory ideas. The column assails grade inflation and claims that "in 1995 the SAT was made less difficult and recentered' so as to raise scores by about 100 points." "You Can't Outlaw Failure" fails to note that that is precisely what No Child Left Behind claims to have done.

Finally, "Plumbers and pilots, surgeons and CEOs must meet standards; if students are to succeed in these and other jobs they must meet them too. Dumbing down education is a devastating approach that will constrain students' lifetime opportunities. It is time to replace it with testing, standards, and a commitment to excellence [Bracey's note: notice the order of priority], just what states like Florida and Texas are trying to do." I leave it to those with more energy and patience than I to deconstruct this paragraph.

Du Pont's monthly WSJ column is called "Outside the Box." A promo for "Car Talk" on NPR has one of the host Magliozzi brothers saying that the program features "thinking outside of the box." The other chimes in, "And as soon as we get this guy back in the box the better off we'll all be."

Pete Du Pont, "Two Decades of Mediocrity." Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2003.

___________, "You Can't Outlaw Failure." Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2003.

___________, "Liberals Against Choice." Wall Street Journal, September 24, 2003.

Russell Baker, "Beset By Mediocrity." New York Times, April 30, 1983.

David Frum and Richard Perle, An End to Evil: Strategies for Victory in the War on Terror. New York: Random House.


Sometimes the words of others work better than one's own. Thus, the voicing of Stephen Hegarty, St. Petersburg Times:

His [Greene's] research has been lauded by Governor Jeb Bush and discussed by members of Congress. The president recently appointed him to a prestigious panel. He is a regular on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. And in a case of researcher nirvana, one of his studies was cited four times last year in the U. S. Supreme Court's landmark decision on school vouchers.

….Traditional researchers question his objectivity. Some say Greene is one of those promising academics who traded obscurity for relevance, sacrificing objectivity in the transaction…Greene resists the notion that he has become a "Researcher to the Right." Yet his work undeniably provides hard data and scholarly cover to policies driven largely by ideology."

….Greene [early on] co-wrote a paper on an exciting new experiment in the Milwaukee schools: vouchers. The researchers declared them effective [Bracey's note: erroneously]. Their findings were political dynamite [Bracey's note: true enough]. Greene and co-author Paul E. Peterson were lionized by some, pilloried and second-guessed by others [Bracey's note: and refuted by others]. Greene was hooked.

Later Hegarty quotes John Witte of the University of Wisconsin: "His (Greene's) studies are becoming less sophisticated. There's less to them as time goes by."

Well, I don't know what studies Witte had in mind. The studies I've looked at lately are so opaque you can't guess the level of sophistication from the few statistics he presents. Greene has taken to writing "working papers." "A working paper," says Greene, "is a common way for academic researchers to make the results of their studies available to others as early as possible. This allows other academics and the public to benefit from having the research available without unnecessary delay."

What horsehockey (I wanted to use a shorter word, but have been told some people still take offense). In his "national" study of charters (only 11 states were involved, only five reported individually and Greene's own data don't affirm his conclusions), Greene writes, "Because these results are statistically significant we can be very confident that the charter schools in our study did have a positive effect on test scores?"

Now I ask you, For whom was this sentence written? Certainly not for researchers. It is an insult to anyone who actually understands the concept of statistical significance. No, it can only have been written to convince people who don't actually know anything about that concept. In any case, the national effect was significant only at the .05 level, hardly a significance level to stake a "very confident" on. At the state level, only Texas showed significant effects. Arizona, North Carolina, and California were insignificant and Florida was mixed, and mixed in a most peculiar way: Scores on the Stanford 9 math were significant, but scores on the Stanford 9 reading were not. Scores on the FCAT reading were significant, but scores on the FCAT math were not.

Greene's mother was a public school teacher, sent him to public schools and he's a registered Democrat. How have we failed this child?

Jay P. Greene, Greg Forster, and Marcus A. Winters, "Apples to Apples: An Evaluation of Charter Schools Serving General Student Populations." Manhattan Institute Education Working Paper No. 1, July 2003.


Stephen Hegarty, "He Proffers Proof in Voucher Fights." St. Petersburg, Times, September 2, 2003.

"Apples to Apples" was deconstructed in "The Thirteenth Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education" in the October Phi Delta Kappan. The report can also be found at



That Huff published How to Lie With Statistics in 1954 and that it is still in print says something and it is probably not good news. Huff was mostly concerned with the lies of Madison Avenue, but much of what he wrote applies still and applies to education.* Two graphs earn DOE its prize. The first showed the percent increases in federal budgets for Education, Defense and Health and Human Services, 1996-2003. It was labeled "Historical Increases for Education 1996-2003" (the graph is no longer on the DOE site, at least not on its home page, but was reproduced in my January, 2003 Research column in Phi Delta Kappan).

The graph shows that while federal spending at Defense rose 48%, and spending at HHS rose 96%, spending at DOE rose a whopping 132%. The graph does not lie, of course. It just misleads which is what lying with statistics is all about. In this case, as is often the case, percentages paint a very different picture than do absolute numbers of dollars. For fiscal 2003, the federal budget for HHS was $459 billion, for Defense, $368 billion, and for Education, just $48 billion. Thus a puny 10% increase in the HHS budget would be almost equivalent to doubling the education budget. The DOE's graph vastly overstates the fed's largesse for learning.

A more sinister graph, now also defunct on DOE's home page, where it once reigned, gave new ammunition to the don't-throw-money-at-the-schools crowd. An even more egregious version still lurks at the DOE's "NCLB: A Toolkit for Teachers," waiting for unsuspecting teachers.


The original graph plotted federal spending against "reading scores" (it didn't say which scores). A box pointing to the line for reading scores says, "just 32% of four-graders read proficiently" so we can infer without fear that the graph is of NAEP scores. The graph in the Toolkit bears no such label, and the spending has been extended to 2004 making the situation look even grimmer.

Who knows how far this misinformation was spread? Various conservative think tanks picked it up, of course, and I found the graph in Michigan Forward, a publication of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. It got to the July/August 2003 issue courtesy of an article by Lori Yaklin, identified as a "Senior Adviser on Family Educational Rights, Office of Innovation and Improvement, U. S. Department of Education" www.michamber.com/miforward/archive/0308mf/CoverYaklin.pdf

Ms. Yaklin was previously the Executive Director of the Michigan School Board Leaders Association, which advocates tuition tax, credits and competition among schools, has been author of op-eds for the Washington Times. The Leaders' home page shows her meeting with Bush about tax credits.

In the fall, 2003 issue of Chance (vol. 16, #4 is the more usual reference), Howard Wainer of the National Board of Medical Examiners and Daniel Koretz of Harvard University designate this graph "a political statistic." That it certainly is. Propaganda is actually a more accurate label.

Wainer and Koretz quote Churchill to define a political statistic: "I gather, young man, that you wish to be a Member of Parliament. The first lesson you must learn is, when I call for statistics about the rate of infant mortality, what I want is proof that fewer babies died when I was Prime Minister than when anyone else was Prime Minister."

Among the problems Wainer and Koretz find with the graph are that "the left-hand axis shows the wrong measure; the right-hand axis uses an inappropriate scale; the impression given is very specific to the subject matter chosen; and the graphic format is unreasonable." Aside from that the graph is fine.

Actually, it's not fine: The graph simply shows total annual dollars spent. But, since 1985, pupil enrollments have soared and one would certainly expect total expenditures to rise, too. When Wainer and Koretz create a graph using per-pupil expenditures rather than total dollars, there is evidence of growth (take that, Rick Hanushek).

Of course, by opting for NAEP reading scores, the DOE has conveniently chosen the area that shows the slowest rate of improvement in NAEP assessments. Had DOE chosen to show trends in NAEP math or science, greater growth would have been evident. And, as I have pointed out, if you show trends by ethnicity, you seen much more growth. The changing demography of the country makes reporting of aggregate scores over long periods of time quite misleading. For instance, in 1981 whites constituted 85% of SAT test takers. In 2003 it was 64% (I have a forthcoming article in the February, 2004 issue of the American School Board Journal that shows how misleading SAT and NAEP aggregate trends are and explains why).

Wainer and Koretz then show how plotting the scores differently could make it appear that scores rose as funding lagged or even that scores rose as funding fell. Lying with statistics is still with us--puckishly in Wainer and Koretz, all too seriously in the U. S. Department of Education.

*More Resources and Self-Promotion, too: The first third of my book, Bail Me Out! Handling Difficult Data and Tough Questions About Public Schools could be considered the flip side of Huff's treatise (Corwin Press, 2000). Rather than how to lie with statistics, it's more how to know when you're being lied to with statistics. It is called "Principles of Data Interpretation, or, How to Keep from Getting Statistically Snookered." The original manuscript's title continued "by Politicians, Ideologues, Incompetents and Crooks or, Crap Detecting in the Best Ernest Hemingway Tradition." Hemingway once told an interviewer that a good writer's one essential tool was an always-on, indefatigable crap detector.



While one 2003 paper was titled "Student Achievement in Charter Schools: What We Know and Why We Know So Little," Allen managed to conclude, "88 major reports now show that charter schools are improving education for America's kids." Eighty-eight major reports!

"The critics are still out there, and they're still using the same baseless arguments they've always used against charters," Allen said in a press release. She did not explain why, if there are 88 major reports indicating charters improve achievement, the critics are still "out there." Nor did she explain why the critics' arguments are "baseless." Could it be because some of those 88 major studies have been refuted or found by more objective researchers to be flawed or inconclusive?

Try this exercise in logic:

The public schools are lousy.
Charter schools promised increased achievement.
Charter schools do no better than public schools and, in a number of cases, worse*.
Charter schools are overwhelmingly small and have small class sizes.
Small schools and small class sizes increase achievement in public schools.
Therefore, given the advantages the size conditions convey, if charter schools do no better than those lousy public schools, charter schools must be doing something wrong.

One might continue…therefore, people should be outraged at the performance of charter schools.

*I'm preparing both an op-ed length piece and a much longer paper for the Center for Charter School Accountability at Florida State University that documents this contention.

Gary Miron and Christopher Nelson, Student Achievement in Charter Schools: What We Know and Why We Know So Little. Kalamazoo, MI: The Evaluation Center, Western Michigan University.

Center for Education Reform, What Research Reveals About Charter Schools.



Actually this might more accurately be called how to lie without statistics. The Washington Times turned to Lyon to interpret the Progress In Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), published in April, 2003. In PIRLS, American students finished 9th among 35 nations in overall reading proficiency, but only Sweden, England and the Netherlands had significantly higher scores*. Forty-one percent of American kids had scores that would put them in the top 25% among all nations.

Lyon said "The study disappointingly shows no change in the level of reading achievement of American students from two prior studies during the decade." According to the Times, "Mr. Lyon said the report shows 30 to 40 percent of U. S. fourth-grader are not proficient readers."

Where does he get this stuff? I know of only one other comparable study, How in the World Do Students Read, published in 1992. Neither study reported "level of reading achievement" as, say, NAEP does. In the earlier study, American students scored 547, in PIRLS 543. The international average was 500 in both studies. In the earlier study, one nation had a significantly higher score and in PIRLS, three (maybe only two, see * below) did. Is this the "stagnation" that so worries Lyon? We should be so stagnant on all measures.

Similarly, I have no idea of how he gets from PIRLS scaled scores to the notion that 30 to 40 percent of the kids are not proficient readers. PIRLS did not address "proficiency." Let's give him the benefit of the doubt: He was talking about NAEP achievement levels and the reporter bollixed it (etymological aside: bollix, from Middle English, balloks--testicles).

*England also did well in PISA, but not on TIMSS or the TIMSS-Repeat four years later. An English researcher delving into that discrepancy found that a large proportion of the PISA-selected schools in England did not participate, and that a large proportion of students in participating schools did not take the tests. Both conditions would likely serve to increase scores. There were several other factors that might also led to spuriously high scores. The researcher's results are summarized in my forthcoming February, 2004 Research column in Phi Delta Kappan. No one has yet looked at England's PIRLS results to see if they are afflicted by the same methodological flaws.

George Archibald, "U. S. Fourth-Graders Rank 9th Overall in Reading Survey." Washington Times, April 9, 2003.



As noted above, the Washington Times sent a reporter to talk to Reid Lyon about PIRLS and then published a bylined story. Bylined stories also appeared in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald. And that was that*.

The Associated Press put out a short wirestory. The Washington Post apparently decided that the story merited print, but wasn't sufficiently important actually assign a reporter to. It ran AP's coverage on 1/12 of the back page of Section A. The other 11/12 were ads for Hecht's Department Store. Maybe 15 other papers around the country, mostly small market carried part or all of the AP brief. The only large-market papers I could find running the wirestory were the San Francisco Chronicle and Seattle Times.

This coverage is in line with that of TIMSS. The highly positive 4th grade results received little attention. The average results at 8th grade received coverage everywhere and all but two outlets that I saw changed "average" to "mediocre." Average is a statistic. Mediocre is a judgment.

'Twas ever thus. Some years ago, Department of Education researchers Laurence Ogle and Patricia Dabbs observed that when the Department issued a fairly upbeat report on a NAEP geography assessment, the media showed little interest and those that did report the results tended to slant them negatively. A few weeks later, the Department issued a disappointing NAEP history assessment. "Returning to our offices after the press conference, we found our voice mail jam-packed with requests for additional information…Even television's late-night comedy king, Jay Leno, spoke about (and ridiculed the results). Clearly, the coverage of the negative news eclipsed the relatively good news about geography."

*Although overseen by the Hague-based IEA, most of the work on PIRLS was performed at Boston College.

Laurence Ogle an Patricia Dabbs, "Good News Bad News: Does Media Coverage of Schools Promote Scattershot Remedies?" Education Week, March 13, 1996, p. 46.

Gerald W. Bracey, "Media and Political Misrepresentation of Public Education." In William A. Owings and Leslie S. Kaplan, Eds., Best Practices, Best Thinking and Emerging Issues in School Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2003.



Ok, this could have gone to many denizens in DOE's digs, but Rees has been quite visible of late. For a number of years, Rees was content to spew forth ideology from the Heritage Foundation, nailed by Michael Kinsley as a "right wing propaganda machine masquerading as a think tank." Now she has taken it into the public sphere operating as the deputy under secretary for innovation and improvement in the U. S. Department of Education. There she anoints something or other as the "innovation of the week."

The happy recipient of this prize one week was Bill bingo-was-my-gateway-drug Bennett, and his K12, Inc. While one might wonder about the wisdom of a public official plumping for a for-profit company whose income is mostly from taxpayers' dollars, one could wonder even more about how Rees knew that K12 offers a "world class" curriculum. Could she, if asked, produce that great desideratum of the Department of Education, a corpus of "scientifically based research" that permits this conclusion?




In her book, The War Against Excellence, Yecke launches her own campaign of shock and awe. It's directed against cooperative learning, especially as espoused by brothers David and Roger Johnson (who hang out across the river at the University of Minnesota). At one point she writes

Activists such as Johnson and Johnson cloak their socialist-leaning agenda in a patriotic theme. "It is time to recognize the relationship between cooperative learning (groups) and a commitment to the values underlying American democracy." So we have a strange situation in that those who would fundamentally alter American society claim that their radical changes are really true values of our culture.

Cooperative learning activists Johnson and Johnson continued with this same theme (critical of individualism), stating that a focus on the individual "results in a strict self-centeredness while ignoring the plight of others. In the minds of such radical middle school activists, then, the heroism of the Americans on United Flight 93 must be hard to comprehend."

United Flight 93, recall, was one of four planes high-jacked on September 11. Passenger efforts to recapture the plane caused it to crash in a field rather than at its target.

Yecke sees the passengers' as "driven by a competitive spirit." David Johnson, on the other hand, called it "A testament to the power of cooperation. Each of those men might not have been able to do it on their own."

Cheri Pierson Yecke, The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003.

John Welsh, "Book is Scathing on Team Learning." Pioneer Press, December 22, 2003.



On page 89 of their book, No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, the Thernstroms allege that "Gerald W. Bracey argues that the Asian success story is entirely reducible to what he calls the 'mundane' facts of parental socioeconomic status." Really? I said that?

The Thernstroms had found an obscure essay I penned for America Tomorrow, an educational consulting company formed by three disaffected IBM employees. How they found it--or why--remains a mystery. Why they read it and nothing else is even more mysterious--a more elaborated version had appeared in my December, 1997 Research column for Phi Delta Kappan. And both essays were merely summaries of someone else's research.

In both pieces, I repeated an anecdote told to me by a Brooklyn principal who joked that when he was a kid everyone knew there was a Jewish "smart gene." Now a school administrator in the same neighborhood, he said everyone there knew there was an Asian "smart gene." I then cited, as evidence why anyone might believe this, an international study in which Asian American students outscored the top two nations, Taiwan and Korea (which, actually, might suggest there's an "Asian-American smart gene").

But in both essays, I also wrote this:

Now comes a report from Educational Testing Service that reveals some more mundane reasons [than a gene] for high Asian-American test scores: contrary to the stereotyped images, Asian families are not huddled in tiny apartments in various "Chinatown" slums. Asian students live in the suburbs with parents who are considerably more affluent and better educated than the nation as a whole. If we put them all in a single district, in terms of education and income, it would look a lot like Fairfax County, Grosse Pointe or Cherry Creek*.

The whole point of the report is to render the concept of "Asian" students meaningless--which, as it turns out, is antithetical to what the Thernstroms are about. The ETS report provides separate statistics for Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino (then the largest subgroup), Southeast Asian, (Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian) and South Asian (Indian, Pakistani) subgroups. The report says

The stereotype of Asian Americans is that of a highly successful minority who have made it in American society. Asian American students are portrayed as "whiz kids" the "best and the brightest," math and science majors, students who pass through our toughest universities with ease…Contrary to the stereotype, there are significant differences among Asian American high school seniors in terms of socioeconomic characteristics, parental expectations and involvement, educational values, academic achievement and college aspirations.

The relevant chapter in the Thernstroms' book is titled, simply, "Asians."

So how come the Thernstroms' research didn't uncover my Research column and the report itself? Or why, if they did uncover these documents, did they choose to ignore them?

So why did the Thernstroms put in my mouth things I never said? Don't know. But if this quality of scholarship pervades the rest of the book, then no one can take it seriously.

Heather Kim, Diversity Among Asian High School Students. Princeton, NJ: Policy Information Center, Educational Testing Service, 1997 (not on line, but still listed as a publication by the Policy Information Center).

Abigail Thenstrom and Stephan Thernstrom, No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.

*Fairfax County and Cherry Creek would no longer fit as representative of this SES. They've both become much more diverse.



In the 2000 elections, voucher referenda in California and Michigan went down in flames, 70-30, in spite of the fact that proponents outspent opponents, 2-1. With these results in mind, Congress stripped the voucher provisions from the No Child Left Behind legislation. Bush brought vouchers back as a special program for the District of Columbia, $15 million with each voucher worth up to $7500 per year.

Between March 29, 2003 and November 30, 2003, the Washington Post carried no fewer than 83 overwhelmingly pro-voucher articles, editorials, and columns. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, DC Mayor Anthony Williams and DC School Board member Peggy Cooper Cafritz all dropped in with op-eds. Post columnists William Raspberry, E. J. Dionne and George Will all did pro-voucher turns.

One issue of the Post's Sunday Outlook section (September 21, 2003) featured four articles on vouchers. A huge red apple (O, modern print technology) dominated page one. As your eyes went from top to bottom (the image occupied over half of the page and Sunday Outlook is not a tabloid-sized section) the apple morphed into the usual cartoon symbol for an idea--a lightbulb (I doubt that the image was meant to convey that vouchers = a red light district). This symbol headed a long pro-voucher article by Paul Hill of the University of Washington. The back page featured two more pro articles, including one by Theodore McCarrick, the Catholic archbishop of Washington whose schools will be the principal beneficiaries of any voucher scheme. How convenient.

Between March 29, 2003 and November 30, 2003, the Post gave those opposed to vouchers virtually no ink. In the Sunday Outlook section mentioned above, George Mason University professor, Gary Galuzzo did ask "Why opt for vouchers that might help some students over comprehensive school reform that could help all students?" Indeed, if each voucher was for the maximum $7500, only 3 percent of the DC students could use them. The Post printed two negative letters. They questioned the use of public funds for private/religious institutions. Post columnist, Marc Fisher also took note of the religious issue, observing, "the key support for saddling the District with the shame of public funding religious education came last week from Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who endorsed vouchers here but noted that she would never do any such thing back home…"

Nowhere in all of the rah-rah rhetoric were there any facts. No one seemed concerned whether or not vouchers actually work. If you look at the data from the choice programs that have received decent evaluations, you compile this scorecard: Milwaukee, vouchers win for math only, not reading. Dayton, New York City, DC (yes, it's already had one voucher program!), all draws. Cleveland, public schools win. An evaluation by Kim Metcalf and a team from Indiana University finds Cleveland public school kids gain more over a three-year period than voucher kids.

Given all this data, Galuzzo's question certainly seems pertinent. One might conclude that it's time to try something else.

The Post evinced no interest in the data. After a Post editorial, "Victory on Vouchers," I sent in an op-ed length piece reviewing the results from the five cities. Nothing. After the Raspberry column, I distilled the op-ed into a letter to the editor. Nada. After the Sunday Outlook voucher spree, I elaborated the review to Outlook-length. Niente. Editor Steve Luxenberg said it was well written but he'd had it with vouchers (seems to me he accepts pieces from me without comment, but says they are well written when he turns them down). After another editorial, I revised the op-ed. Nope.

The only positive outcome from all this is that despite some sneaky machinations in the senate, Congress still hasn't approved any voucher deal.



Back in the 1960's when he was writing "The Observer" column for the New York Times, Baker used this title to describe this most typically bureaucratic dodge. Mills has proven an expert at it. In 2002, Brooklyn mother and literature maven, Jeanne Heifetz, discovered that the New York Education Department had been bowdlerizing passages from literature used in its Regents examinations. It did so using "sensitivity guidelines" to avoid emotionally damaging students who might be upset reading skinny (changed to thin), gringo (changed to American), fat (changed to heavy), etc. Mills sent assistant commissioner Roseanne DeFabio out to defend the practice. "Even the most wonderful writers don't write literature for children to take on a test," said DeFabio.

Two days later, Mills left DeFabio twisting in the wind by saying no more texts would be altered. When the saga of the sacrificed text was discussed both in the 12th Bracey Report and in the Rotten Apple Awards of 2002, a number of New Yorkers wrote to say "lay off DeFabio, she's one of the few voices of sanity in the State Education Department."

This year, the New York State Education Department was beset by a different kind of problem. Word started filtering in from the field that lots of students had failed the math A test and that many more had not done as well as would be expected from the rest of their record. This would have been unwelcome news in any event, but the department had already taken flack over its physics, biology, earth science, and reading tests (The Princeton Review said it was developing a "fiasco index" "for states like New York that mess up a lot of people's lives for no reason." The Department rushed to gather all of the info months earlier than usual and discovered that two-thirds of the students had failed. This struck even critics of the schools as unreasonable and Mills was forced to set the results aside.

Again he turned to DeFabio, but this time, instead of using her as a blocking back with the media, questions, he reassigned her. She would have the same title, assistant commissioner of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, but she would be given "other responsibilities, subject to mutual agreement," said Robert M. Bennett, chancellor of the Board of Regents.

DeFabio couldn't see anything "mutually agreeable" in it and quit--or, at least, took early retirement. If my correspondents are correct, score one more for the inmates.

What was the problem with the math test? DeFabio said, "The test doesn't appear to be a flawed test. It appears to be a difficult test." Having pulled the test from the Department website and taken it (more or less), I'd concur. But--there's much more to making a test than content. A panel convened to figure out what went wrong found that the Math exam was field-tested on 250 when it should have involved 1500. And those 250 knew that the tryout didn't count and often didn't bother to even answer the tough questions. The panel found that New York has one testing expert who oversees a staff of 30 who have to develop 70 tests. That staff of 30 turns over so rapidly that no one in 2003 had been around when the Math A test was brought into being.

Michael Winerip, "A 70 Percent Failure Rate?" New York Times, June 25, 2003.

Karen Arenson. "Education Department Test Chief Has Resigned, Regents Say." New York Times, July 1, 2003.

Michael Winerip, "Trail of Clues Preceded." New York Times, October 15, 2003.



Mills announced the death of the passage-altering policy. But when Heifetz looked the next year she found more tomfoolery with text. In an exposition on people's conceptions of time, Aldous Huxley mentioned how unpunctual "the Oriental" was. Gone. A passage from Kafka dropped some sentences, but no ellipsis indicated any deletion. The deleted text mentions God and suicide. A three-page excerpt of a PBS documentary on the influenza epidemic of 1918 reported interviews with many people, but the state version altered the text to make it appear as if only one person was speaking (the passage was read aloud to the test takers). "The state version cuts out the passages with the most harrowing and moving accounts of the epidemic as when children played on piles of coffins stacked outside an undertaker's home," reported Michael Winerip.

And, Heifetz and other reviewers concluded that at least one question had three right answers. As we know from scoring errors in various states, a single mis-scored item on a statewide test will cause to fail thousands of students who would otherwise pass the test.

Michael Winerip, "How New York Exams Rewrite Literature (A Sequel). New York Times, January 8, 2003.





This award takes its name from the title of an essay by politically incorrect Bill Maher in, of all places, the Houston Chronicle. Observing that when George W. Bush was governor of Texas the Houston schools listed their dropout rate as 1.5 percent, since revised to 40 percent (no doubt, I imagine, by some unemployed Arthur Anderson accountant), Maher pointed to the sheer chutzpah of Texas/Houston's claim. "If you call your law No Child Left Behind, it does take a special kind of Texas-size nerve to then treat those children like cards in a gin rummy hand where you get to ditch the two low ones, and where bodies just disappear like dissidents in Argentina."

As explained in the Austin American-Statesman, "School Districts in Texas can use any of about 30 codes, called leaver codes, to account for a student's leaving school. About 20 of the codes exempt a student from being counted as a dropout." Some of these codes are legit, said the Austin paper, but some are not: "A student who is permanently expelled or sent to prison also is not counted." Nor are students who are "officially" pursuing a GED even if they never get one.

According to the Texas Education Agency, the state's overall dropout rate for 2001-2002 in grades 9-12 was 1.3 percent, down 0.1 percent from the previous year. According to Robert Kimball, an assistant principal at Sharpstown High School who blew the whistle on Houston, Governor George W. Bush not only received reports that the dropout rate was 1.5% statewide but that 57% of those were Hispanic. Kimball also reports that for "many years" as Houston superintendent, Rod Paige allowed Houston dropout reports showing less than three percent to be forwarded to the TEA. New York Times education writer, Michael Winerip found, "A dozen of the city's poorest schools reported dropout rates under 1 percent." No wonder that when the scandal finally broke, most articles managed to work in a reference to Enron.

According to Robledo Montecel, researcher at a firm that put the real dropout rate at 39 percent, throughout the 1980's Texas got accurate counts. "Unfortunately, over the years, the state has pursued a course of trying to define away the dropout numbers rather than actually decreasing the number of dropouts." Rod Paige, current U. S. Secretary of Education, was superintendent of Houston from 1994 to 2001.

The pressure to keep dropout rates down increased with a new Texas accountability system that labeled schools. To get the TEA's highest rating, a district has to have a dropout rate of one percent or less. "Pressure?" asked Winerip. "Some compare it to working under the old Soviet system of five-year plans." Just before the scandal broke, Houston announced its mandates for 2002. Among them, "The districtwide annual dropout rate will decrease from 1.5 percent to 1.3 percent."

Not only did no one question the incredibly low dropout rates, neither did they raise any eyebrows about student college-going plans. At Houston's Davis High School, the combined SAT average for 1998 was 791 out of a possible 1600 (the national average that year was 1017). I couldn't locate percent-taking data for Davis, but districtwide, about 55-60% of Houston seniors take the SAT each year. Yet Davis reported that 100% of its graduates planned to attend college. Sharpstown High, where the school reported zero dropouts in spite of having more than 1000 ninth-graders but fewer than 300 seniors, reported that 98.4 percent of its graduates planned to go to college.

Not so incidentally, the drop at Sharpstown from 1000 9th graders to fewer than 300 seniors does not really describe the dropout rate in Houston. William Bainbridge and Steven Sundre of the University of Dayton found that in the 1998-1999 school year, HISD had 18,221 seventh graders, but that two years later only 9,138 9th graders, a middle school dropout rate of 53% (emphasis mine).

In the great tradition of "quick get me a scapegoat," Sharpstown accused a computer specialist of changing the codes on his own. According to whistle-blower Kimball, though, that specialist had changed data under direct orders, then undid the changes when he realized the implications of what he had done.

When Kimball notified Sharpstown's principal of the problem, she sent him a letter saying he never had permission to look at that data in the first place. When Kimball then reported that dropout data were being falsified to a regional superintendent, he was transferred out of Sharpstown--on the day he reported the falsification. He then received a letter from Superintendent Kay Stripling advising him that the transfer was not disciplinary or retaliatory. Of course not.

In his new position, "I was assigned to sit in an office at the West District office for four months and given nothing to do. Today, although I am paid a salary of $60,000 and have the title of assistant principal, my duties consist of serving as a teacher's aide in a primary school in HISD with students between the ages of 4 and 8."

Asked to comment on the situation, Paige said, "This system in Houston is still standing, it's vertical and it has been reviewed by some of the best. And the data can take it because it is earnest, it is open, it is objective and it is there." Well. That clears up everything.

Houston school board member, Donald R. McAdams contributed this pearl: "The Texas miracle was not about high school performance, it was about elementary school performance." Ooohhh.

Although the Houston Chronicle carried Maher's and Kimball's excoriating commentaries, one can wonder, What took you so long? Reading the various articles about who knew what when, I can't help thinking the dropout fantasy was a hoax that everyone was in on. In a 2000 summary article, the Chronicle dutifully reported, "School dropout rates continue to be troublesome to educators, Nelson said [Jim Nelson, the state education commissioner at the time]. For the third year running, Texas lost 1.6 percent of its students between seventh and 12th grade."

Austin American Statesman, (editorial). "Better System Needed for Calculating Texas Dropout Rates." September 14, 2003.

Austin American-Statesman, staff compilation. "Austin District's Dropout Rate Nearly Tripled After Recount." September 8, 2003.

William L. Bainbridge and Steven M. Sundre, "Texas Model for School Achievement Doesn't Hold Up." Columbus Dispatch, April 16, 2003. Also at www.schoolmatch.com/articles/CDAPRIL)03.htm

Diana Jean Schemo, "Questions on Data Cloud Luster of Houston Schools." New York Times, July 11, 2003.

Diana Jean Schemo, "Education Secretary Defends School System He Once Led." New York Times, July 26, 2003.

Diana Jean Schemo, "For Houston Schools, College Claims Exceed Reality." New York Times, August 28, 2003.

Robert Kimball, "Coming Up Short." Houston Chronicle, September 12, 2003.

Bill Maher, "Leave No Child Behind Means Make 'Em Vanish." Houston Chronicle, August 10, 2003.

Michael Winerip, "The 'Zero Dropout' Miracle: Alas! Alack! A Texas Tall Tale." New York Times, August 16, 2003.

Kathy Walt and Melanie Markley, "HISD Shows Improvement on TEA Ratings for 2000." Houston Chronicle, August 18, 2000.




Kim Metcalf and a team of researchers at Indiana University are conducting a long-term evaluation of the Cleveland voucher program. Public school students started out behind the voucher kids, but at the end of third grade, they had narrowed the gap in reading from 14 points to three points, and in language arts from 11 points to 5 points. In mathematics, the public school kids had actually overtaken the voucher students, coming from 9 points back to lead by 2.

So obviously, what we need to do is expand the voucher program. Brennan and the Catholic Conference thought so and in the dead of night slipped an amendment into the state budget bill. Brennan had earlier chaired then-governor George Voinovich's special school choice committee, and operated two voucher schools after the program was created. He later converted them to charter schools (vouchers at the time paid $2,500 per kids, charters $4,400). He currently owns White Hat Management which operates a number of Ohio schools for profit.

Various groups debated the issue of expanding the Cleveland program during the spring of 2003. It looked like expansion was dead. But then…as described by reporters Doug Oplinger and Dennis Willard:

On June 3, after the governor, the public and lawmakers had spent a third of the year in open debate and testimony on the budget, an amendment suddenly appeared. It would cover most of the operating losses at Cleveland Diocesan schools at the risk of reducing the number of students receiving vouchers.

Three weeks later, during nighttime deliberations, lawmakers expanded the program to include high school students. Funding was increased $4.5 million in the first year of the budget and $6 million in the second to a program already slated to receive $11.9 million a year."

There were no opportunities for public discussion. [Governor] Taft signed the bill.

When questioned about details, lawmakers referred reporters to the Catholic Conference of Ohio, where they said the language originated. Conference lobbyist, Tim Luckhaupt, did not return three phone calls left at his office, while lobbyist Tim Pond reportedly was out for the week.

Both the Indiana evaluation and Oplinger and Willard observe that voucher recipients in Cleveland are increasingly not the poor. "Today, one in three children comes from a family earning more than twice the poverty rate--$36,300 for a family of four--even though the program was designed to help the poor."

Doug Oplinger and Dennis J. Willard, "More Money for Vouchers: Funding for High School Program Slips Into State Budget Without Debate." Akron Beacon Journal, June 29, 2003.

Kim Metcalf et al., Evaluation of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, Summary Report 1998-2001. Bloomington, IN: Center for Evaluation, Indiana University, March, 2003.



Bullock and Tornillo are pikers compared to the rip-off CEO's in the private sector. Still, both were indicted for personal spending sprees using millions of dollars that rightly belonged to the teacher unions they headed in Washington, DC and Miami, respectively. Both said they were guilty.

Tornillo's siphoning of union money permitted him, his wife and other family members to enjoy junkets. According to Justice Department documents, "These vacation charges included first-class airfare, stays at luxury hotels, meals, gifts, and souvenirs in Australia, New Zealand, New York City, the San Francisco area, and the Caribbean island of St. Barthelmy, among other destinations."

While Tornillo and his family trotted around the globe, Bullock stayed closer to home and loaded up on goodies: $507,692 at a Baltimore clothing boutique, $11,000 at a shoe store in Atlanta, $150,000 at Neiman Marcus. Outlays included $13,000 for a flat screen TV, $400 each for 12 Herend place settings, and $6,800 for a "Buccelati silver ice bucket with swan heads on each side." Articles did not list the price of the 228-piece set of Tiffany silverware. Bullock's clothing excesses coupled with her relatively small apartment required her to spend $12,000 a year to store the stuff.

Bullock's choice of goods incensed Washington Post fashion columnist/critic, Robin Givhan: "In her fashion sense, Bullock is more Roll Call than Vogue. For shoes, she favored Ferragamo. The clothes--when they were not custom-made--were typically St. John. That's probably because, as too many Washington women will say, they don't wrinkle--as if that is a compelling reason to dress like a gift box from a PX."

Givhan seemed virtually in tears that the list of confiscated goods displayed such frou-frou labels. "Nowhere on the list are the labels favored by dedicated followers of fashion. There are not Manolo Blahnik or Christian Laboutin shoes, nothing from Baenciaga or Yves St. Laurent."

Nothing in Givhan's article suggests irony.

Teachers in both cities were quoted as "disappointed."

Neely Tucker and Justin Blum, "Former D. C. Union Leaders' Homes Raided: Agents Seek Furs, Appliances, Clothes Allegedly Bought With Teachers' Dues." Washington Post, December 20, 2002, p. A1.

Robin Givhan, "A Failure in Flair: Teachers' Union Head Dressed by the Rules." Washington Post, January 23, 2003, p. C1.

Karla Scoon Reid, "Former Union President Is at Center of Probe." Education Week, January 29, 2003, p. 12.

Julie Blair, "Miami Union Leader Pleads Guilty to Fraud." Education Week, September 3, 2003, p. 5.

Carol D. Leonnig, "Teachers Union Ex-Chief Pleads Guilty." Washington Post, October 8, 2003, p. B1.

Well that's it for 2003. The prose could be polished and feel free to call attention to remaining typos.

I'm out of time, not prizes. Certainly all those good folk, including most Democratic presidential candidates who continue to insist that "fully funding" No Child Left Behind will cure its problems deserve bushels of wormy fruit. With a little effort, too, some of the usual suspects, many now basking at the Retirement Farm for Right Wing Researchers--The Hoover Institution--could be found as suitable awardees. Having received a book, The Lies of George W. Bush, I'm considering a companion volume, The Non Sequiturs of Rod Paige (reacting to allegations that No Child Left Behind is underfunded, Paige declared "We now spend $470 billion dollars [sic] a year on K-12 education, locally and federally--more than on national defense. What is underfunded about that?").

There are probably many Rotten Apples sealed in the NCLB law, which few people have read in its 1100-page entirety (neither have I). We now know for instance, that it hits integrated school districts more than districts that are homogeneous with regard to ethnicity and socioeconomic status---something predicted by researchers Thomas Kane and Douglas Staiger and now documented by John Novak and Bruce Fuller ("Penalizing Diverse Schools?" PACE Policy Brief, 03-4, December http://pace.berkeley.edu/policy_brief_03-4_Pen.Div.pdf.

Maybe we should toss a few Dishonorable Mentions to people like Wall Street Journal Editor, Daniel Henninger for his column, "Wonder Land" (May 2, 2003) which is sub-headlined, "Americans are almost unanimous: Public schools are awful."

— Gerald Bracey





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