Monday, May 16, 2016

More on Grit: Author Ethan Ris Responds to Paul Thomas’ Post


Editor: We are continuing our conversation on the role of "grit" in educational discourse with author Ethan Ris’ response to the earlier post by Paul Thomas.

Response to Paul Thomas
By Ethan Ris

 
I am grateful for Paul Thomas’s thoughtful response to my article, and doubly grateful for the chance to respond. One of the wonderful things about the Journal of Educational Controversy is its commitment to ongoing conversations and the meaningful exchange of ideas – well beyond the unread citations that masquerade as scholarly dialogue in other publications.

Before I address Thomas’s critique, a word about where this article came from. This was a bit of a departure for me, since my primary work is on higher education. While researching a piece about the social construction of “non-cognitive” skills in college (recently published in History of Education), I found myself reading the works of Horatio Alger, Jr., the 19th century children’s book writer. Digging through his miserable prose, I was surprised to find an early version of the “grit” discourse that has figured prominently in pedagogical theory over the last five or so years.

As I explain in my article, Alger’s books (contrary to popular belief) were written for middle and upper-class children. They were about poor children, but not for them. Instead, they used striving street urchins and farm boys as virtuous exemplars of grit and tenacity. The message to privileged boys and girls was a simple one: compared to these kids, you are spoiled – and if you don’t shape up, they will eat your lunch. That warning was particularly potent in the late 19th century, a time of increasing income inequality, a burgeoning labor movement, and the rising specter of socialism.

While I was struck by the long legs of the grit discourse, I was also struck by how rarely its co-creators acknowledge its basis in worries about privileged children, a trend that continued throughout much of the 20th century. I argue that that oversight is equally true for both those who see grit theory as a panacea for the ails of low-income students, and for critics who argue that it is another form of victim-blaming, like cultural deficit theory.

Paul Thomas takes issue with my equivalency of the proponents and the critics, pointing out that my data and analysis strongly support the latter (among whom he counts himself) in their argument that the grit discourse punishes low-income children and students of color. He writes that there is “a direct relationship between ‘grit’ as a domain of the privileged and how that has created the context within which many in the U.S. assume black/brown and poor students lack that quality.” Privileged classes, he argues, perpetuate grit theory “because they need the wider public to believe that success is the result of effort (merit) and not the consequence of privilege.”

Thomas is on firm ground when he points out that I am reluctant to name grit theory as racist or even classist. My reason for this reluctance comes from my reading of the historical record, in which poor children are most frequently exemplars of grit in the eyes of elites. This is even true for contemporary authors who have fueled the grit frenzy – Paul Tough, for example, peppers his book How Children Succeed with humanistic case studies of gritty young people who have overcome the disadvantage of their poor, minority backgrounds in order to succeed academically. It is a short leap from Tough’s middle-class readers to the ones who gobbled up Horatio Alger’s tales of Ragged Dick and Paul the Peddler, seeing in them answers to their concerns about their own children.

For that reason, I can’t agree with Thomas’s claim that “‘grit’ is racist and classist because the narrative speaks to and perpetuates race and class stereotypes that black/brown and poor people are inherently lazy, deserving their stations in life.” I don’t believe that Angela Duckworth and other scholars who perpetuate grit theory directly contribute to that type of prejudice. While they make allusions to “closing the achievement gap” (which I read as a habitual shibboleth necessary to get grant funding), their research design indicates their true audience; as I have pointed out before, Duckworth’s most important samples are not low-income children but privileged groups like Ivy League undergraduates and advanced spelling bee contenders. As Daniel Engber writes, studying these high-achieving groups produces classic “restriction of range” bias, but for my purposes they represent exactly the types of young people for whom the grit discourse originated.

That said, I acknowledge and respect Thomas’s point that grit theory easily fits in to a longstanding racist narrative about the laziness of impoverished people, especially those of color. (I got a taste of that in the comments on a recent piece I wrote in the Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet” blog.) While I disagree with critics who allege eugenicist motives for grit research, they are certainly on to something by highlighting the dangers of “cutting-edge” scientific research that lends legitimacy to age-old forms of prejudice and oppression.  And I am certainly sensitive to Thomas’s point that a reluctance to call racism by its name makes its eradication that much more difficult. Let me be clear: grit theory, in the wrong hands, fuels racism and classism. But I am more concerned about what happens when grit theory is in the right hands.

My article concludes on a note of dismay, with a description of how the grit discourse can harm young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. My study shows that the historical narrative has poor children serving as role models for privileged ones. This is different from impugning them as shiftless and unmotivated, but it is perhaps equally detrimental in its romanticization of hardship and its ploy of talking about success in terms of character, rather than structural advantage.

The difference between my critique of grit theory and Thomas’s critique strikes me as similar to the two ways to critique the “no excuses” model of schooling. One focus (with which I am most sympathetic) is on the interpretation of the model as rejecting macro-level “excuses” like residential segregation, income disparities, and the legacy of legalized discrimination as reasons for the academic achievement gap. Obviously, this willful neglect of structural hardship is troubling. The second set of critics, however, train their fire on the commonly stated rejection of “excuses” at the student level, which unfairly assumes that the real problem is that certain types of learners lack work ethic and blame others for their shortcomings.

Both critiques are valid, but they pursue two different demons. A similar dichotomy may be at play here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The “Grit” Argument Continues: Paul Thomas responds to Author Ethan Ris


Editor: In our anniversary issue of the journal, we published an article by Ethan Ris entitled, “Grit: A Short History of a Useful Concept.”  It continued both the conversation that we have been having in the journal and added also to the current debates found in a number of recent books on the topic.   Below, author Paul Thomas responds to Ris’ argument.

A Friendly Rebuttal to Ris on “Grit”
P.L. Thomas, Furman University
 
In his “Grit: A Short History of a Useful Concept,” Ethan W. Ris offers, I think, a rare and significant contribution to the scholarly discourse on “grit”—one that has been mostly uncritical.

 Powerfully, Ris presents a discourse analysis of “grit” with a historical lens and argues that “the grit discourse allows privileged socioeconomic groups to preserve their position under the guise of creative pedagogy” (p. 2).

Ris makes a strong case that Angela Duckworth and popular advocates of “grit” (such as journalist Paul Tough) have contributed to policies and practices aimed at mostly black/brown and poor populations of students, conceding “[t]he critics, however, are right that poor children are the inevitable losers of this game” (p. 10).

It is here, where Ris confronts both advocates and critics of “grit” that I want to offer a friendly rebuttal. 

Again, Ris’s discourse analysis and historical couching of the “grit” narrative are very important, but his argument that “grit” has been mostly an idealized character trait embraced by the privileged does not, as Ris suggests, discredit assertions “grit” is racist (and classist); in fact, Ris’s historical context proves “grit” is racist. 

Part of the problem here is Ris’s “[b]oth sides have the story wrong” (p. 2)—the both sides being:

To its champions, the concept of grit offers a solution to the intractable low performance in these schools: help the kids get grittier, and they can claw their way out of poverty (Tough, 2011; Tough, 2012; Rock Center, 2012; Lipman, 2013). To its skeptics, grit is at best an empty buzzword, at worst a Social Darwinist explanation for why poor communities remain poor – one that blames the victims of entrenched poverty, racism, or inferior schooling for character flaws that caused their own disadvantage (Shapiro, 2013; Thomas, 2013; Anderson, 2014; Isquith, 2014; Noguera & Kundu, 2014; Ravitch, 2014a; Snyder, 2014; Ravitch, 2015). (p. 2)

 
I am on the “skeptics” side that asserts “grit” as a narrative and as a character quality formal schooling needs to instill in black/brown and poor students is racist, but I see in Ris’s analysis a direct relationship between “grit” as a domain of the privileged and how that has created the context within which many in the U.S. assume black/brown and poor students lack that quality.

My rebuttal, then, revolves around “skeptics” being wrong because we agree wholeheartedly with one of Ris’s central argument: “Here, though, is the fundamental problem with the perception that the importance of grit has to do with bettering the chances of disadvantaged students. Children raised in poverty display ample amounts of grit every day, and they don’t need more of it in school” (p. 8).

 So I would like to pose that Ris has not proven “both sides are wrong,” but has failed to recognize why we skeptics have been calling out “grit” policies and practices.

 As Christopher Emdin explains in For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too, vulnerable populations of students are plenty “gritty,” but they remain the primary targets of “no excuses” schooling grounded in “grit” discourse and lessons.

Therefore, the formula to me (one made clear by Ris’s work) is that the privileged have historically promoted and continue to promote the “grit” narrative (the work ethic the working class has imposed on itself out of fear of not measuring up to the affluent)—and needlessly worry about the “grit” of their own children—because they need the wider public to believe that success is the result of effort (merit) and not the consequence of privilege.

So I agree with Ris that the “grit” narrative and “grit” as educational policy are tools to keep the class (and race) divisions in the U.S. intact—all of which confirms that “grit” is racist and classist because the narrative speaks to and perpetuates race and class stereotypes that black/brown and poor people are inherently lazy, deserving their stations in life.

Ris’s work is really important, and I would not have felt compelled to offer what may appear to be a minor quibble from someone labeled as “wrong” in Ris’s essay, but one of the ways in which privilege is maintained is our reluctance to name racism, our urge to find any other cause possible.

Duckworth, Tough, and the growing legions of advocates in the “grit” industry—these people are invested in “grit” and they are surely wrong.

We skeptics? I think we are making a case reinforced by Ris’s work, and I invite him to consider this carefully because I believe his work is crucial in reclaiming the value of effort and engagement for all children, but especially for vulnerable populations who are being mis-served by the “no excuses” and “grit” movements.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

18th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum: A 10 Year Anniversary Retrospective of Educational Controversies


18th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum

A 10 Year Retrospective of Educational Controversies: Come and Celebrate the Anniversary of the Journal of Educational Controversy


Thursday, April 21, 2016

4:00pm to 6:00pm

Western Washington University, Center for Education, Equity and Diversity (CEED) Miller Hall 005
 

The 18th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum will celebrate the anniversary of the 10th year of the Journal of Educational Controversy.  As part of the celebration and continued discussion, the Journal in collaboration with the Center for Education, Equity and Diversity will be hosting a retrospective look at the controversies covered over the past ten years of the Journal. Now in its 18th year, the forum will host authors who have contributed to the Journal and who will share their current thinking and research about some of our most pressing educational challenges. 

 Following the presentations, the audience will have opportunities to interact with the authors and share educational controversies that they would like to see as topics for future issues of the journal.  The audience is invited to think about the links between the past and the present pursuit of social justice in both the k-12 system as well as in higher education.  How can we articulate these issues in a way that brings greater depth to our understanding of the conflict of values and the complexity of ideas that characterize our pluralistic society, and that opens up new ways of imagining a more just, inclusive, and democratic educational environment for the future.

 Topics and presenters for this year’s forum include:

In Person:

 Dr. Maria Timmons Flores’ paper helped school professionals understand the experiences and challenges students who are undocumented face, and offered tangible roles schools can play in rethinking policies and practices to counter everyday injustices. The paper was informed by a legal context, current political realities, and critical race theory.

Dr. Daniel Larner co-edited the issue on the school-to-prison pipeline.  His papers covered conflicts over censorship, and the education of politicians as playwrights who can work with and through difference to construct civil laws and protections.

Dr. Bill Lyne’s paper, “Beautiful Losers” addressed the theme of our 2008 issue that asked how are we to “fulfill the traditional moral imperative of our schools to create a public capable of sustaining the life of a democracy . . . .in an age of the Patriot Act and similar antiterrorism legislation . . . all likely to involve violations of civil rights and liberties” by problematizing the question against the historical realities of our nation’s history.  Dr. Lyne is the co-editor of our upcoming issue on “Black Lives Matter and the Education Industrial Complex.”

 By Video:

 Dr. Alice Ginsberg – “No Excuses Charter Schools” and a critique of the film Waiting for Superman

 Dr. John Covaleskie – Religion and Public Schools

Dr. Leslie Locke and Dr. Ann Blankenship – The Banning of the Mexican American curriculum in Tucson, AZ.

 The forum is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

New "Call for Papers" on the Theme: "Black Lives Matter and the Education Industrial Complex"


The Journal of Educational Controversy announces a new "call for papers" for its 2017 issue:

BLACK LIVES MATTER AND THE EDUCATION INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

Controversy Addressed:

Along with drawing attention to the police as occupying armies in Black American communities, the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the deep roots of institutionalized racism in the United States.  Starting with the fundamental question, Do Black Lives Matter in the U.S. Education Industrial Complex?,  this issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy seeks to explore the various questions raised by Black Lives Matter in relation to U.S.  educational institutions, policies, and practices as they impact men, women, and children of color intersectionally, with respect to gender, gender identity, and class.  These questions could include the status of schools as institutions of control and sites of reproduction of racist ideology; the possibility of schools as sites of liberationist  transformation; the institutional history of schools alongside the development of institutional racism; the institutional response of schools to incidents of racial violence; the history of black studies programs in relation to black liberation movements, and the appropriation and sanitizing of terms like diversity and multiculturalism.

Publication Date: 2017
Manuscripts Due: December 31, 2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

David Stovall to Speak at Western Washington University on “Justice Does Not Happen in a Vacuum: Race, Rights and the Possibility of Now”


As part of the Diversity Teach-Ins at Western Washington University, David Stovall will be speaking on “Justice Does not Happen in a Vacuum: Race, Rights and the Possibility of Now.”   The event will take place on March 8th in Fraser 102, 4-6pm, on the Western campus.     
 David Omotoso Stovall, Ph.D., is a professor of Educational Policy Studies and African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

His talk is entitled, “Justice Does Not Happen in a Vacuum:  Race, Rights and the Possibility of Now.” He will be discussing state-sanctioned violence against Black communities (and other communities of color), situating contemporary youth movements within a context of community resistance to systems of racialized oppression and violence, ultimately urging educators and community leaders alike to move beyond tough talk.

The Journal of Educational Controversy is co-sponsoring the event along with the Woodring College of Education, Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, Education and Social Justice Minor, Associated Students Social Issues Resource Center, Ethnic Student Center, Diversity Fund, Office of the Provost, Academic Affairs, WCE Equity and Diversity Committee.

Watch for the journal’s next call for papers on “Black Lives Matter and the Education Industrial Complex.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Here’s What Exemplary Teacher Education Looks Like

Editor: With so many critiques of teacher education in the news, we would like to highlight an exemplary program that prepares future teachers here at our own college – the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University.  We would like to thank Professor Lauren McClanahan for permission to share this video with our readers.  Lauren produced the video.


Creating Community-Whatcom Middle School Fall 2015 from Lauren McClanahan on Vimeo.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Interfaith Messages for the New Year


Welcome back to our blog for the New Year.  We start 2016 with a message from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, an organization that we have featured on our blog on different occasions.  Check out their resources and programs for teachers and principals at https://tanenbaum.org/programs/education/

Below Tanenbaum shares the wisdom from across the world’s faiths and beliefs to guide and ground us throughout 2016. 

African Indigenous Religions
It is not always physical bravery that counts. One must have the courage to face life as it is, to go through sorrows and always sacrifice oneself for the sake of others. African Traditional Religions Kipsigis Saying (Kenya)

Baha’i

Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. Bahau’ullah, Tablets of Wisdom

Buddhism

Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings) of great strength delight in reconciliation of conflict. Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 8

 Christianity

All of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8

 Confucianism

All you have to do is take this very heart here and apply it to what is over there. Hence one who extends his bounty can bring peace to the Four Seas; one who does not cannot bring peace even to his own family. Confucianism: Mencius I.A.7

Hinduism

What sort of religion can it be without compassion? You need to show compassion to all living beings. Compassion is the root of all religious faiths. Basasvanna, Vachana 247

Islam

A man once asked the Prophet what was the best thing in Islam, and the latter replied, “It is to feed the hungry and to give the greeting of peace both to those one knows and to those one does not know.” Hadith of Bukhari

Jainism

Have benevolence toward all living beings, joy at the sight of the virtuous, compassion and sympathy for the afflicted, and tolerance towards the indolent and ill-behaved. Tattvartha Sutra 7.11

Judaism

The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace. Talmud, Gittin 59b

Native American

Respect for all life is the foundation. The Great Law of Peace

Secular Humanism

There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. Bertrand Russell, Russell-Einstein Manifesto

 Shinto

To be helpful to others and in the world at large through deeds of service without thought of rewards, and to seek the advancement of the world as one whose life mediates the will of Kami. Jinja Shinto Principle

Sikhism

Now is the gracious Lord’s ordinance promulgated, no one shall cause another pain or injury; all mankind shall live in peace together. Adi Granth, Sri Raga, M.5

Taoism

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love. Lao Tzu

Monday, December 14, 2015

Physicists Respond to Supreme Court Justices on Affirmative Action

To see the 52 pages of signatures to the letter below, go to:
 
 
Dear Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States,


We are writing to you today as professional physicists and astrophysicists to respond to comments made by Justices in the course of oral arguments of Fisher vs. University of Texas which occurred on Wednesday, December 9, 2015. First, we strongly repudiate the line of questioning from Justice Antonin Scalia based on the discredited Mismatch Theory [1]. Secondly, we are particularly called to address the question from Chief Justice John Roberts about the value of promoting equity and inclusion in our own field, physics.


We share the outrage and dismay already expressed by many other groups and individual scientists over the comments of Justice Scalia, which appear to endorse the claim made in the amicus curiae brief of Heriot and Kirsanow, that affirmative action prevents black people from becoming scientists. We take this opportunity to strongly rebuke this claim and offer a rebuttal.


We object to the use of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields as a paper tiger in the debate over affirmative action. We as professional scientists are in strong support of affirmative action policies. As we work continuously to educate ourselves about the obstacles facing students of color, we see, now more than ever, a need for action.


We are working very hard to solve the ongoing problem of the lack of underrepresented minorities in the professional community of physicists and astronomers. In spite of the misguided claims of Heriot and Kirsanow, that “gaps in academic credentials are imposing serious educational disadvantages on... minority students, especially in the areas of science and engineering,” science is not an endeavor which should depend on the credentials of the scientist. Rather, a good scientist is one who does good science. We hope to push our community towards equity and inclusion so that the community of scientists more closely matches the makeup of humankind, because the process of scientific discovery is a human endeavor that benefits from removing prejudice against any race, ethnicity, or gender. Indeed, science relies heavily on consensus about acceptable results as well as future research directions, making diversity among scientists a crucial aspect of objective, bias-free science [2, 3]. Affirmative action programs that aim to bring the numbers of minority students to more proportional levels are an important ingredient in our ongoing work. Blaming affirmative action for our community’s lack of progress in this regard is not only wrong, it is plainly ignorant of what we as scientists have determined must be done to reform our pedagogical and social structures to achieve the long-delayed goal of desegregation.


Affirmative action is just one part of a larger set of actions needed to achieve social justice within our STEM and education fields. In their brief, Heriot and Kirsanow claim that affirmative action causes fewer minority students to enter technical fields because their completion rates are low. Unlike Heriot and Kirsanow, we are scientists and science educators who are keenly aware that merely adding students to a pipeline is not enough to correct for the imbalance of power. The experience of a minority student in STEM is often much different from that of a white student in STEM [4]. Minority students attending primarily white institutions commonly face racism, biases, and a lack of mentoring. Meanwhile, white students unfairly benefit psychologically from being overrepresented [5]. We argue that it is the social experience of minority students that is more likely to make them drop out, rather than a lack of ability.


Before Justice’s Scalia’s remarks on black scientists, Justice Roberts asked, “what unique perspective does a minority student bring to physics class?” and “What [are] the benefits of diversity… in that situation?” Before addressing these questions directly, we note that it is important to call attention to questions that weren’t asked by the justices, such as, “What unique perspectives do white students bring to a physics class?” and “What are the benefits of homogeneity in that situation?” We reject the premise that the presence of minority students and the existence of diversity need to be justified, but meanwhile segregation in physics is tacitly accepted as normal or good. Instead, we embrace the assumption that minority physics students are brilliant [6] and ask, “Why does physics education routinely fail brilliant minority students?”


This is what we see when we look at a minority student in a majority-white physics class: determination and an ability to overcome obstacles and work hard in stressful environments. We see this because we know that many students from minority backgrounds are subjected to social and political stress from institutionalized racism (past and present), a history of economic oppression, and societal abuse from both micro-aggressions and subtle racism. We believe that it is these qualities that make minority students able to succeed as physics researchers.


The implication that physics or “hard sciences” are somehow divorced from the social realities of racism in our society is completely fallacious. The exclusion of people from physics solely on the basis of the color of their skin is an outrageous outcome that ought to be a top priority for rectification. The rhetorical pretense that including everyone in physics class is somehow irrelevant to the practice of physics ignores the fact that we have learned and discovered all the amazing facts about the universe through working together in a community. The benefits of inclusivity and equity are the same for physics as they are for every other aspect of our world.


The purpose of seeking out talented and otherwise overlooked minority students to fill physics classrooms is to offset the institutionalized imbalance of power and preference that has traditionally gone and continues to go towards white students. Minority students in a classroom are not there to be at the service of enhancing the experience of white students.


We ask that you take these considerations seriously in your deliberations and join us physicists and astrophysicists in the work of achieving full integration and removing the pernicious vestiges of racism and white supremacy from our world.


References


[1] Harris, Cheryl I., and William C. Kidder. "The Black student mismatch myth in legal education: The systemic flaws in Richard Sander's affirmative action study." Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (2004): 102-105.


[2] Bug, Amy. “Has Feminism Changed Physics?” Signs: Gender and Science: New Issues 28.3 (2003): 881-899.


[3] Whitten, Barbara.”(Baby) Steps Towards Feminist Physics.” Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering 18.2 (2012): 115-134.


[4] McGee, Ebony O., and Danny B. Martin. "“You Would Not Believe What I Have to Go Through to Prove My Intellectual Value!” Stereotype Management Among Academically Successful Black Mathematics and Engineering Students." American Educational Research Journal 48.6 (2011): 1347-1389.


[5] Bandura, Albert. "Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning." Educational psychologist 28.2 (1993): 117-148.


[6] Leonard, Jacquelyn, and Martin, Danny B. (Eds.). The Brilliance of Black Children in Mathematics: Beyond the Numbers and Toward New Discourse. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishers. (2013)
 

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1OzQiHgplpHpqltEMXHxhwwr-hZqDAUH2zyTv2R4hksw/edit?pli=1

Friday, November 6, 2015

Call for Papers for 2016 - Journal of Educational Controversy, Volume 11

CALL FOR PAPERS
JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL CONTROVERSY

Publication Date - 2016
Papers due - Fall, 2016

Journal of Educational Controversy: http://cedar.wwu.edu/jec/ 


THEME:  Is “Best Practices” Research in Education Insufficient or even Misdirected?

CONTROVERSY  TO BE ADDRESSED BY AUTHORS:


For decades the research agenda for identifying “best practices” for reforming education has been structured around testing hypotheses of either effectiveness or prediction of outcomes.  Within the quantitative approach researchers have used a variety of traditional causal and correlational designs to examine relationships between specific measurable variables. Researchers have also used qualitative approaches to examine implementation of such practices in more depth through observations in the field, interviews with students and educators, and content analysis of curriculum and student work. 
 

However, educational research seeking the best practices can often ignore or minimize the mechanisms that generate the phenomenon studied.  From school-to-prison and mass incarceration, racial-gender disproportionality in special and vocational education, to school dropout rates, correlations abound, but they don't by themselves explain the phenomenon.  Good intentions frame much educational research, but can over-dramatize correlations at the expense of deeper explanation.

 
This volume seeks papers that exemplify the "paradoxical" nature of educational research.   Submissions should focus on two things: the intentions or motivations that (often) inform educational research, but where the results or outcomes are unintended or unanticipated.  We seek papers that go beyond descriptions of educational issues, however detailed, as well as beyond explanations that repeat initial intentions or motivations.  Papers should reveal and discuss the specific forces and mechanisms that generate the topic of analysis, be it educational practices (teaching, assessment), outcomes (achievement, court decisions, enrollments) or events (protests and emergent social movements, school shootings, drop outs) that are the subject of the paper. 
 
 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Presidential Candidate Ben Carsen and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

I have been thinking lately about the paradoxes that are emerging from the 2016 presidential debate and the implications for us as educators.  Presidential candidate Ben Carson and his political remarks have been receiving much criticism along with some admiration of a certain segment of the public that appears to be mesmerized by his inexplicably na├»ve statements – Obamacare is the moral equivalent of slavery, Jews could have prevented the holocaust if only they had the right to bear arms, etc., etc.  (By the way, we are talking about a public who largely went through our schools on the way to “enlightened adulthood.”)

Despite his much acclaimed (at least from what I read) skills as a neurosurgeon, his political acumen sinks to a rather low level given his offhand and often ill-conceived and ill-formed remarks on political issues.  Perhaps, there are many types of intelligences and proficiency in stem education does not assure wisdom in social, political, personal and historical understanding.  But simply limiting our discussion to departmentalization might actually do us a disservice if it moves us away from a more fundamental question we should be asking about the purposes of public education in a liberal democratic society and the development of "enlightened adulthood.”  Over the last decade, this nation has been consumed in debates on how to achieve better test scores in reading, mathematics, stem education, etc., along with outcomes and standards that can be explicitly formulated.  (Ok, for those who reflexively respond that these are important things to know, let’s just concede that point so it doesn’t distract us.)  What is important, is that it has been a distraction from the kind of conversation we should have been having about the purposes of education.

There is an ancient philosophical, religious and political goal that never enters into these discussions.  How do we help the next generation grow in “wisdom” and enlightened adulthood?  This ancient concept, from both a secular and religious perspective, encapsulates the kind of holistic pursuit that allows us to see the world from a larger, more empathic, vantage point.  It is one that Socrates saw containing a certain humility to exercise.  And Proverbs 4:7 reminds us that “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”  It cannot be easily operationalized and tested on some standardized test. And, as a result, it can be easily dismissed.  And so to our peril, we have a certain blindness when it comes to raising questions about what it means to live a life fully and the knowledge and virtues that such a life entails, and instead continue with the same diatribe that has dominated our national discourse.

I just throw out this idea as a seed to plant and perhaps as a community to reflect upon, explore, and “evolve” in our thinking.  Perhaps, we should have a special issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the topic so we can start to probe more deeply on exactly what we mean and whether it is worthy of our attention.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

National Education Policy Center Continues its Critical Look at the Claims of Charter School Research

Editor: In our continuing look at charter schools, we are providing below the National Education Policy Center’s most recent critical look at charter school research focusing on the so-called “No Excuses” schools. Earlier, the Journal of Educational Controversy published a critical examination of the “no excuses” schools in an article by Alice Ginsberg, entitled, “The Dog Ate My Homework”: Embracing Risk in the Chilling Climate of No Excuses Schools.” Readers can find the article in our 2011 Volume6, Number 1 issue. While the National Education Policy Center reports on the inflated research claims made for such schools in the post below, author Alice Ginsberg gives us a vivid look inside.


Charter Researchers Promoting“No Excuses” Schools Republish Inflated Claims


Reference Publication:
Review of No Excuses Charter Schools

Arkansas researchers temper, but don’t correct, errors

Contact:
William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058; wmathis@sover.net
Jeanne M. Powers, (805) 893-7770, jeanne.powers@asu.edu
URL for this press release: http://tinyurl.com/numtqep


BOULDER, CO (October 9, 2015) – In December 2014, the “Department of Education Reform” at the University of Arkansas published a meta-analysis of the effects of so-called No Excuses Charter Schools. The report was subsequently reviewed by Professor Jeanne Powers of Arizona State University, for the National Education Policy Center. Powers raised several serious questions, and she criticized the report for its overstated claims about the potential of these types of schools to close the achievement gap.

A new version of the report was recently released by the National Center for Studies of Privatization in Education (NCSPE), and Professor Powers has now provided a short follow-up review, published along with the initial review on the NEPC website. She finds that the NCSPE version has a revised introduction and conclusion, wherein the authors do note additional limitations to their study. However, the report’s major shortcomings remain. In the follow-up review, Powers explains, point-by-point, her remaining concerns with the study:

1. The primary (and repeated) claim of the report is that “No Excuses” charter schools can close the achievement gap. Powers explains that the underlying research that this report relies upon only supports the more limited and appropriate claim that the subset of No Excuses charter schools have done relatively well in raising the test scores of the students who participate in school lotteries and then attended the schools. The claim that these schools can close the achievement gap is supported by nothing other than an arithmetic extrapolation of evidence that comes with clear limitations.

2. A common and well-recognized problem in charter school research is “selection effects.” That is, parents who choose “No Excuses” schools may be more educated, more engaged in the school-selection process, and differ in other significant ways from those parents who did not choose such a school. This would logically be a major concern for oversubscribed “No Excuses” schools, but the findings cannot be generalized to all parents.

3. Over-subscribed schools that conduct lotteries for student admission are, one would assume, different from less popular schools. Nevertheless, Cheng et al. imply that the findings can be generalized to all No Excuses charter schools.

4. The prominent and oversubscribed “No Excuses” schools are often supported by extensive outside resources. Offering an extended school day, for example, may not be financially feasible for other schools, and the scaling-up costs of doing so are not addressed. A charter that takes the No-Excuses approach yet lacks the additional resources should not be assumed to show the same results.

5. The sample of schools included in the studies Cheng et al. analyzed is largely drawn from major urban areas in the Northeast and is small, particularly at the high school level.
Find Powers’ original review and follow-up review of the “No Excuses” charter report here.
The original Arkansas report is currently available at the following url:
http://www.uaedreform.org/no-excuses-charter-schools-a-meta-analysis-of-the-experimental-evidence-on-student-achievement
The republished version of the Arkansas report is currently available at the following url:
http://www.ncspe.org/publications_files/OP226.pdf

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on the NEPC, please visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/.

Please forward this to anyone you think might be interested. You can learn more about NEPC and sign up for publication updates by visiting http://nepc.colorado.edu/. To learn more about the Think Twice think tank review project, visit http://thinktankreview.org


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Amidst Accolades for her Life Lies the Realities of her Death – Why the Life and Work of Grace Lee Boggs Remains a Clarion Call


After writing a post below on the passing of Grace Lee Boggs, I started to read the many tributes that were coming in including one from the White House that I added to my post.   What struck me was something else I found on a google search.  In her final year, Grace’s friends were left trying to raise funding for her elder care that came to $8000 a month.  https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/support-grace-lee-boggs

After a lifetime devoted to others and their causes, the last days of her life were perhaps the most poignant reminder of how little public effort we extend for end-of-life support and how distorted our priorities have become in this nation.   Her work and message live on.

The Death of a Human Rights Advocate and Voice for Many Causes: Grace Lee Boggs Dies at 100


I was saddened to read of the death of social activist, human rights advocate, and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs in the newspaper this morning.
In 2011, the Journal of Educational Controversy published several reviews of her book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century, written by her with Scott Kurashige.  We broke with publishing tradition by printing a very personal open letter to her by a colleague whose life had been touched by her example along with a more traditional book review by another colleague.  Grace Lee Boggs graciously wrote a response to the reviews on this blog and allowed us to continue the conversation with her.

Below we reprint Grace Lee Boggs’ blog post along with links to the two reviews to which she is responding.

 
Grace Lee Boggs Responds to her Reviewers from the Journal of Educational Controversy
Written with Scott Kurashige

 
It has been a true joy to see so many diverse peoples turn to this little book for help in understanding how and why another world is necessary, possible, and already in the process of being created. The thoughtful responses by Molly and Victor reveal the huge reserves of humanity that have been repressed by our "civilization" and are being unleashed by the movements of 2011 to heal us.

 Their book reviews further help us to understand that people are finding inspiration from the book because they are connecting with a set of ideas whose time has come:

• Maybe it’s because it is giving Americans in all walks of life a more people-friendly view of revolution as empowerment rather than struggle for political power.

• Maybe it helps us view Revolutionaries as Solutionaries, working together to solve very practical problems of daily life, growing our souls by growing our own food.
 
• Maybe it’s giving us the new, more positive view of ourselves that we’ve been hungry for.

 • Maybe it helps us envision ourselves as Revolutionaries, moving away from the wrong side of the world revolution where we have seemed stuck since the Vietnam War.

• Maybe it also helps us see ourselves as Evolutionaries, making the radical revolution of values that Dr. King called for during that war, transformimg ourselves from materialists, militarists, and individualists into a people who can be proud of how we are advancing humankind to a new stage of consciousness, creativity, and social and political responsibility.

 To link to the original book reviews, go to:

 1. A Book Review by Victor Nolet

2. A Personal Open Letter to Grace Lee Boggs by Molly Ware

 Both reviews appeared in the Journal of Educational Controversy: Vol. 6, No. 1
 

To read today's New York Times article announcing her passing, go to:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/06/us/grace-lee-boggs-detroit-activist-dies-at-100.html?emc=edit_th_20151006&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=20720790&_r=0



Statement by President Obama on the Passing of
Grace Lee Boggs
Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of author, philosopher, and activist Grace Lee Boggs. Grace dedicated her life to serving and advocating for the rights of others – from her community activism in Detroit, to her leadership in the civil rights movement, to her ideas that challenged us all to lead meaningful lives. As the child of Chinese immigrants and as a woman, Grace learned early on that the world needed changing, and she overcame barriers to do just that. She understood the power of community organizing at its core – the importance of bringing about change and getting people involved to shape their own destiny. Grace’s passion for helping others, and her work to rejuvenate communities that had fallen on hard times spanned her remarkable 100 years of life, and will continue to inspire generations to come.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Grace’s family and friends, and all those who loved her dearly.

Monday, September 28, 2015

More on Charter Schools

Editor: In light of our recent post on the Washington State Supreme Court decision finding charter schools unconstitutional in our state, I thought readers would find this website on educational policy and current research to be of interest.  Readers can find the National Education Policy Center website at http://nepc.colorado.edu/  Below are the most recent comments on charter schools that the center just sent out on its listserv today.  Check out their website for more complete information.


Problems with CREDO’s Charter School Research: Understanding the Issues



Andrew Maul’s rejoinder to CREDO’s response



Contact:
William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058, wmathis@sover.net
Andrew Maul, (805) 893-7770, amaul@education.ucsb.edu


URL for this press release: http://tinyurl.com/p6so45d
 


BOULDER, CO (September 28, 2015) – Earlier this summer, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) published a response to professor Andrew Maul’s review of CREDO’s Urban Charter School Study. The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) today released Maul’s reply, in which he thanks CREDO for the response yet explains, point-by-point, why he stands by the following eight concerns he had earlier raised about that study:


1.     The nature of the comparison between charter and traditional public schools in the CREDO studies is not clear;

2.     The matching variables used in CREDO’s studies may not be sufficient to support causal conclusions;
 
3.      Some lower-performing charter students are systematically excluded from the CREDO studies;
 
4.     CREDO’s reasons for the systematic exclusion of lower-scoring charter students do not address the potential for bias arising from the exclusion;
 
5.     The “days of learning” metric used in the CREDO studies is problematic;
 
6.     The CREDO studies fail to provide sufficient information about the criteria for the selection of urban regions included in the studies;
 
7.      The CREDO studies lack an appropriate correction for multiple significance tests; and
 
8.     The CREDO studies have trivial effect sizes.

Maul’s original review and his short rejoinder are published by the NEPC, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. Maul, an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, focuses his research on measurement theory, validity, and research design.


Find Maul’s original review of CREDO’s urban-charter report and his full rejoinder here or go to: http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-urban-charter-school


The original CREDO report, and the CREDO response to Maul’s review, are currently available at the following urls:
Original report:
http://urbancharters.stanford.edu/download/Urban%20Charter%20School%20Study%20Report%20on%2041%20Regions.pdf
Peterson’s Response:
http://credo.stanford.edu/pdfs/CREDOResponsetoMaulandGabor.pdf


 The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Please forward this to anyone you think might be interested. You can learn more about NEPC and sign up for publication updates by visiting http://nepc.colorado.edu/. To learn more about the Think Twice think tank review project, visit http://thinktankreview.org.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Washington State Supreme Court Rules Washington Charter Schools are Unconstitutional


The Washington State Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the charter school law in the state of Washington violated the state constitution.    After three earlier defeats at the voting booth, Washington voters, in a campaign that was heavily influenced by the backing of big money, narrowly voted for initiative 1240 in 2012, an initiative that created charter schools in the state.

 In a decision that came down yesterday, the High Court found that charter schools do not fall under the definition of common schools as defined in the state constitution.  "Because charter schools under I-1240 are run by an appointed board or nonprofit organization and thus are not subject to local voter control, they cannot qualify as 'common schools' within the meaning of Article IX" [of the state constitution], Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote on behalf of the majority. Indeed, the High Court stated, “Under the Act (I-1240), charter schools are devoid of local control from their inception to their daily operations.”

Because charter schools do not fall under the Washington State constitution’s definition of common schools, funds intended for the common schools cannot be diverted to charter schools.  I-1240 “relies on common school funds as its funding choice,” Madsen wrote.  “Without those funds, the Act cannot function as intended.” 

The High Court found that diverting public school funds to charter schools was a violation of the state constitution.

 Madsen made clear that the issue before the court was not about the “merits or demerits of charter schools,” but only if the voter-approved initiative was in compliance with the state constitution.

 Chief Justice Madsen was joined in the ruling by Justices Charles Johnson, Charles Wiggins, Mary Yu, Debra Stevens and Susan Owens.

 Appellants in the case were a coalition of groups including the League of Women Voters, the Washington Education Association, El Centro de la Raza, and the Washington Association of School Administrators and several individual plaintiffs.

 Readers can read the full decision at: http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/897140.pdf

 The decision follows another one that we reported on in the post below.  In that decision, the court had ruled that the Washington State legislature had failed to adequately fund public education in the state and imposed a $100000 daily sanction on the legislature. See our earlier post