Thursday, December 29, 2005

Educational Malpractice

I've been meaning to make a post on this topic but put it off until I was reminded about it by the Wingard Report.

An article ran in the Oregonian a couple weeks ago that really is exhibit A for what is wrong with our elementary schools, colleges of education, state education departments and teacher certification agencies.

The article softpedaled the central point, but it was clear nonetheless: our schools have available to them reading and math programs that are absolutley proven to be effective, but the schools choose less effective programs because teachers don't like to teach the way the proven programs require.

In other words, they knowingly use ineffective programs to mollify teachers. Imagine if a hospital did the equivalent: choose ineffective therapies because the doctors found the effective ones to be professionally unrewarding. Wouldn't we call that malpractice?

The article starts out saying exactly this: "

"Two elementary school reform programs with roots in Oregon show the best evidence of raising student achievement, a new study commissioned by the
federal government shows, yet they are barely taught in Oregon classrooms."

I know something about these programs. The Arthur Academy charter schools, of which I am co-founder, uses one of them: the Direct Instruction Program based out of University of Oregon. This phonics based reading program and traditionally-sequenced math program is quite simply the most research validated elementary school curriculum in the history of mankind. (Believe it or not, that is not an overstatement.)

Yet the program is openly scorned by the vast majority of teachers and the colleges of education that train them. Even the University of Oregon college of education treats the Direct Instruction people there like some kind of family secret.

I've written about this for years. I got so frustrated by what I saw as an education establishment that shamefully ignored the overwhelming empirical evidence in favor of this program because of their own ideological aversion to direct teaching, that I decided to create a network of charter schools that used it, just to prove that it works.

The Arthur Academy Neighborhood Public Schools. Take a look at our results.

Then ask your elementary school principal if he or she has ever heard of Direct Instruction. You'll probably get a scornful smirk.

This is really a scandal.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lighten Up!

Front page Metro Section in today's Oregonian - the story about former state senator Neil Bryant, who had to withdraw his nomination to be a board member of OHSU. Why?

Because, for a joke, he wrote "white/male" in the box asking whether he had any disabilities.

OK, now am I alone in finding that kind of funny? Sure, perhaps it's a little inappropriate, given that the form is an official government document and all, used for vetting applicants for the senate confirmation process.

I don't know what is worse - Bryant having to withdraw, or the fact he found it necessary to act so nauseatingly obsequious in his apology.

Am I wrong here? Is that really so offensive?

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Relatively Credible"

It is good to see my stature is intact with all the folks in the education establishment.

Article in today's Statesman Journal about the fact that only one candidate has filed to run against Susan Castillo for State Superintendent.

John Marshall, a lobbyist for the Oregon School Boards Association, was quoted in the article by way of explaining the absence of candidates. He said:

"I think of the race of four years ago, when a relatively credible Rob Kremer ran against her and couldn't even force a runoff."

High praise indeed. Relative to whom, I wonder?

Friday, December 16, 2005

My radio show survives!

We were the Tookie Williams of Sunday morning talk radio. Except we survived.

KXL had made the decision to cancel "Kremer & Abrams" along with the other shows on the Sunday morning lineup, but we got a last minute reprieve. In part it was no doubt due to emails and phone calls to KXL.

Standard TV and Appliance will become the title sponsor to "Kremer & Abrams," and we will start back up after the new year, on January 8th.

If you need any household appliance this Christmas season, please shop at Standard. I know I will.

Latest KATU segment

My co-host and I spar over the war on Christmas:
12/15/05 - Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Friday, December 09, 2005


Reaction to Castillo's call for repeal is flooding in. I do admit I am enjoying it.

If you are interested in some pretty in depth background on the whole issue, read my long post from last May that explains the CIM/CAM system, its theoretical and philosophical underpinnings, and its practical flaws.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Castillo Surprise Friday

Susan Castillo is giving a speech at the City Club tomorrow. She's going to call for the elimination of CIM and CAM.

I heard it from Steve Carter, education reporter from the Oregonian, who got an advance copy of her speech.

She apparently won't get too specific (and of course it isn't exactly the proper forum to do that) but she will say that it is "time to turn the page on CIM and CAM," that "people don't understand it," and that "we should replace them with different assessments." (This is my memory of what Steve read from her speech, so they are not direct quotes.)

To say the least, I am surprised. I've spent the better part of the last four years trying to get rid of CIM and CAM and replace Oregon's flawed assessment system with a less expensive, less time consuming system that gives us more useful and more reliable data. Castillo opposed my efforts at every turn.

In my campaign for Superintendent (which she won handily) I made an issue out of CIM/CAM and she defended it. All the education establishment groups lined up behind her.

Now, a full three years after the campaign, and after two legislative sessions where my repeal bills were killed by the Democrats, and almost 15 years since the School Reform Act was shoved through by Vera Katz, she has apparently come around.

Well, all I can say is I look forward to working with her to make it happen.

I hope someone at the city club or in mainstream media have the sense to ask whether anybody going to be held accountable for the hundreds of millions of dollars that was wasted over the last 15 years implementing this failed system.

Latest KATU Commentary

Abrams and I discuss Neil Godschmidt, and the effort to taint Saxton with his stench.

12/6/05 - On Ron Saxton's campaign for governor

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Oregon's science standards get an "F"

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has been analyzing and rating state curriculum standards for years. They just released their report on each state's science standards, and they were, er, underwhelmed.

Go take a look at the report. Oregon has been developing this stuff for more than a dozen years, and they still can't figure out how to devise rigorous curriculum goals.

Fordham blisters Oregon's standards for their shallowness and their scant treatment of significant subject matter, such as electromagneticism, electric circuits and others that are completely ignored.

Remember the rhetoric of the Oregon School Reform Act: "World Class Standards." Far from it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Vicki Phillips

I went to the Rotary Club lunch today where Vicki Phillips, Sup't of Portland Public Schools was giving a "report card" on the schools.

Vicki Phillips is a very good big city school district superintendent. She's smart, forceful, and knows what she wants to accomplish. She's tough minded and fair. She's honest. She spoke about her efforts to make the PPS system serve the taxpayers better than it has been doing over the last decade or so.

And I don't doubt she will be able to do it. She will manage the Portland School District better than any previous superintendent, and do it in the most challenging of times.

Unfortunately, that is not what we need. The district needs a leader who will change its structure. A Gorbachov, if you will. Gorbachov knew that the Soviet model was outdated, destined to take its place on the dustheap of failed governance models. He, the last of the communist leaders of the USSR, shepherded its transition to a new model, a new structure.

He understood the inexorable reality of the coming 21st century world, and he let the governance structure of his country collapse, which it was destined to do.

Large urban school districts face a similar choice today. Their structure is completely outdated. Created for a 19th century world, the school district governance structure is uniquely ill-suited to handle 21st century social realities.

There are some big city superintendents who understand this. Oakland Superintendent Dennis Chaconis has spent the last three years aggressively closing failing schools and contracting them out to whoever he thinks will meet the rigorous performance objectives he negotiates with their successors. Chicago superintendent Arne Duncan launched the "Renaissance 2010" initiative, which seeks to start 100 new contract/charter/alternative schools in the district, all held to similar performance criteria.

THAT is the type of action that Portland School District needs. I like Vicki Phillips, but she is not a reformer.

Here's a hallmark of a reformer: Chaconis, Oakland's superintendent/reformer has THREE BODYGUARDS! His life is threatened every single day. THAT's how much he's shaking things up in Oakland.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Portland School District about to make another huge mistake

Tonight there's a certain "action item" on the PPS board meeting agenda. (Action items are those things they expect to vote on with minimal (if any) discussion. The choo-choo is all the way down the track; the fix is in; it's a done deal. No community input wanted. )

Tonight's big mistake: the district is adopting a new high school math curriculum, known as "CPM" (College Preparatory Mathematics.)

This math curriculum and others like it have stirred hot controversy all over the nation whenever gullible school boards listened to their curriculum experts and took their recommendation to buy this faddish curriculum.

You've probably read about this kind of math before. Called "fuzzy math" or "constructivist math" or "reform math," it's based on theories about how kids learn that emanate from those bastions of banality, the colleges of education. They hate any kind of drill or practice of math computation, and especially disdain memorization and application of formulas. They love cooperative group projects, posters and calculators.

These programs have a miserable track record, but the people who push them don't care, because they truly don't believe in empirical measures of achievement such as tests. Of course, the position that tests don't reveal true learning is a very convenient belief when you are in love with math programs that have a crappy track record in raising test scores.

I got a call from an acquaintance today who wanted me to help her derail this train by talking sense into the school board. I laughed. I've seen this movie so many times, in so many places. The educrats don't care whether parents want this type of program or not - they think parents are just an obstacle to be avoided. This decision was made long ago - and the whole process of textbook adoption was a charade.

So they will make their unanimous decision tonight, and the Portland School District will be one step closer to imploding. Anybody who thought that Vicki Phillips would stop the district from making self-destructive decisions were thinking wishfully. Sometimes I just wish they would hurry up the inevitable.

My last radio show this Sunday

The last broadcast of my radio show, Kremer & Abrams on KXL, is this Sunday. I'll miss doing the show.

The show was cancelled (along with Oregon Crossfire with Randy Leonard and Larry George) due to budgetary issues. Even though the Sunday moring lineup was #1 in the market, KXL couldn't figure out a way to make any incremental revenue from the shows. (At least this is what they tell me.)

The Sunday morning listening audience is obviously a lot smaller than weekdays, so even though we had a good market share, the gross number of listeners was apparently too small to make it worthwhile for the KXL sales staff to sell ads specifically for the shows. After almost three years, KXL management got tired of paying our mega-dollar salaries, and figured that they would run the same ads out of their inventory if they just ran re-runs of talk shows that aired during the week.

It's their business, and it was a business decision. We'll try to pick up with another station in the Portland market, but that will take time.

I really do enjoy doing radio. Having that regular connection with real people is a privilege. In the meantime, my alter ego Marc Abrams and I will continue to do our KATU commentary, and will try to convince another radio station in the Portland market to give us a show on Sundays.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Face 2 Face commentary

My latest "Face2Face" commentary on KATU

11/29/05 - Is it time for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq?

Neil Goldschmidt

The Portland Tribune reported that a lawyer who practices law in San Jose is on a jihad to warn Republican voters that Ron Saxton has ties to Neil Goldschmidt.

I was quoted in the article, saying “For the Republican rank and file, Neil Goldschmidt symbolizes everything that has gone wrong in Oregon for the past 30 years.”

The quote was accurate, and I believe it is very true. I didn't say it, however, in the context like the article framed it, essentially supporting the notion that it is legitimate to try to smear Saxton with the stench of Goldschmidt. I don't think it is.

That is, Ron Saxton is no Neil Goldschmidt clone. I know Ron, and I've discussed with him many times the problems of this state and how to solve them. (For the record, I have not decided who I will support in the Republican primary. It may be Ron. I don't know yet.) Ron understands that Oregon has a public employee union problem, and he wants to take them on.

That said, I do believe that the Mannix campaign will play the Goldschmidt card relentlessly throughout the campaign, and it will probably be effective. It doesn't matter whether or not it's a legitimate issue or just a trumped up tempest in a teapot. Mannix knows if he can get the Republican rank and file to buy the narrative that Saxton is a Goldschmidt crony, he'll win. So he'll do it.

The obvious suspicion about this lawyer, Mark Foster, and his efforts to taint Saxton, is that the Mannix campaign is secretly behind the whole thing. He denies it.

Do I believe that? No.

Here's why: If you want to attack an opponent in a political campaign on an issue that is somewhat controversial, in that it might cause a backlash or bring criticism on you for bringing it up, it is best to have someone else do it for you.

As a candidate, you can just stay on your message and let the hit squad do the dirty work. Kind of like how Tonya Harding eliminated Nancy Kerrigan.

An enterprising campaign manager will set the whole thing up. He'll protect the candidate by keeping him several steps removed from the scheme. The candidate will give the nod, but will have no dirt on his hands. He'll have plausible deniability. Nobody can criticise him for the smear.

I'm guessing that is what is going on here. My take: (and I stress - this is a guess)

This has the smell of a Loren Parks/Gregg Clapper project. Clapper goes to Jack Kane, Mannix's campaign advisor, and pitches the idea: Loren Parks will fund the new group, "Worried Oregonians," find a spokesperson who doesn't have ties to Mannix, and pay for some direct mail hit pieces talking about all the times Saxton crossed paths with Goldschmidt.

They know the media will pick up on it, and write stories that push the message: Saxton has ties to Goldschmidt. The newpaper stories are the real goal; the mail is just a way to get the media to write about it. They want everybody discussing the issue - talk radio, editorial boards, blogs, office chatter. The more discussion there is about whether it is a legitimate issue the better, even if the conclusion is that it is not, because the indelible impression gets left behind - that Ron Saxton is a Goldschmidt crony.

Mannix can stay above the fray, honestly say that he's not behind it; that Mark Foster is acting on his own, so none of the criticism falls on him.

That's my guess.

So, is it fair? Is it a legitimate issue? It doesn't matter!

This is politics. Short of outright bald-faced lying, in the rough and tumble world of campaign politics, this is hardly over the line.