Friday, September 12, 2008

Trafficking in Hyperbole

Thank God, It's Friday!
Feel Free to Reach Out and Smack Someone.

A little firestorm broke out today over at Page One. It seems that Jake Payne has had quite enough of David Adams.
David Adams may pretend that the Bluegrass Institute is an honest think tank. But it’s obviously a right-wing agenda pusher that not only hates public education and stops at nothing to complain about it 24/7. [KY Progress]

This set off a a series of thrusts and parries reminscent of the battling attorneys I had been writing about earlier today. It went something like this:
David: Nuh uh. We don't hate public schools.
Jake: Yeah Huh. You're a hater who hangs out with Frank Simon.
David: Nuh uh. I've got kids in public school.
Jake: Yeah huh. BGI kills your credibility.
David: I may be a right-winger but KDE really sucks.

Or, words to that effect.....

Both blogs stoop to name-calling, which I try not to do, but I suppose I'm sympathetic with Jake's frustration.

Despite trying not to pay too close attention, every now and again, I get my fill of the outrage-of-the-day mentality and petty name-calling that goes on regularly at the Bluegrass Institute blog now. Everybody's a liar, or a fraud - and always an educrat. (By the way, what's the opposite of that? An ignocrat?

For example, Adam's big story of the day at Kentucky Progress was "Cutting through Big Ed's crap" A Richard Innes quote in a wrapper. Adams concludes:
As the Kentucky's mainstream media crumbles, independent researchers like Innes will take on an even more important role in holding government entities like Big Education accountable.

Perhaps so. But if it's wrapped up in an on-going screed about how awful everybody else is, I'm not sure many middle-of-the-road types are going to be able to hear it. Then, BGI's voice only gets further marginalized?

In a normal year, I'd be right in there with BGI fussing to improve assessment methods and results for our kids. I think the CATS concordance idea is little more than a bandaide put on a transition period with the hope no one will notice the 5-7 point bump schools get with the new and easier test. But the dialogic atmosphere is at Kentucky Progress, and now, BGI, is so toxic I'd just rather give KDE a pass and move on the other issues.

It wasn't always that way.

When Adams started blogging for the Bluegrass Institute I expressed my concerns to Innes. My thought was that the style of discourse on Kentucky Progress was inconsistent with what I understood them to stand for. Now I think it was my assessment of what they stood for that was wrong. I was less familiar with BGI overall and didn't make much of an effort to look into it. It wasn't really a concern of mine. I've worked with folks from all kinds of political perspectives for my whole career.

Innes and I managed to work together fairly well on a couple of issues (KIRIS, Barbara Erwin)despite being misaligned politically. We never thought we had to agree on everything to agree on the things we did.

The association probably cost me some credibility with educators in Kentucky.

A close colleague once asked me a question that I can't quite get out of my head. She said, "You've spent your whole life fighting for better schools in Kentucky. How can you stand being identified with the Bluegrass Institute on anything?"

I told her, "We only agree when we agree."

I'm not sure David and Jake are going to be able to hear each other. Jake sees the big picture. David sees individual claims. So today they just "yelled" at each other.

I suspect David isn't half as interested in understanding the implications of the data Innes produces, or the conclusions drawn, as he is in staying on message. I guess it's all about the influence.


Jake said...

The major problem I have with this all: everyone who keeps complaining and taking away from public education without ever offering a solution. Without ever working toward progress. Without ever DOING anything.

We can complain all day long about how government has ruined education but until we offer a fix? Well, there's nothing but posturing going on.

Kentucky Progress said...

Honest reporting of data will move us closer to a fix than than the alternative will.

Spending less money on political appointees and layers of bureaucracy will improve allocation of scarce education resources.

Removing 4th grade portfolios from CATS will put writing instruction back in teachers' hands where it belongs.

Refute my points; not my tone, please.

The Principal said...

Hi Jake,

Thanks for the comment.

Yes. It gets tedious doesn't it.

Yet occasionally KDE, like every other organization I know, deserves a little kick in the pants now and again. If that kick is deserved, is consistent with the historical facts of schooling in Kentucky, and delivered in a clear attmept to make the system better - then it's probably supportive of our student's best interests, and a good thing.

But if it is intended to tear down the system, deny our history of incrementalism and antipathy toward equity, and replace it with a highly localized system of vouchers and charter schools (where one's place of residence and who your daddy is determines your chances of getting a good education) and where "everybody else" goes to public school - then it is unconstitutional and should be resisted.

It's not that BGI suggests nothing in the place of the current system. It's that they propose something that is worse for most (but not necessarily all) Kentucky children.

Add to that all of the name-calling and what not...and we're left with a conversation that fails to advance any clear agenda - and merely undermines the good that has been done in Kentucky schools since reform - about which BGI seems to be in complete denial.

You are correct to complain.

Since the folks at BGI are plenty smart enough to see this - the fact that they consistently refuse to acknowledge Kentucky's progress leads me to conclude that their motives are suspect.

I suppose those motivations to be political; or perhaps motivated by the social agenda of whoever guides the work of the institute.

Afterall, no private person spends the money, time and energy starting a "think tank" without having clearly in mind, whatever it is they already think. There is a preexisting agenda and it's a natural bias against any data that conflicts with that agenda.

In my mind, the only hedge against this kind of bias may be a "think tank" that is organized under a neutral governmental agency that is applying existing law (while suggesting improvements) and which ensures ideologically balanced membership along with studies that are peer-reviewed prior to publication of any reports.

Thanks again for the comment.


The Principal said...

Hi David,

Well...first....tone matters, but I'll leave it at that.

We agree that, to be meaningful, data must be reported honestly. But as we both understand, data can be, and is, manipulated every day.

Your comment, "Spending less money on political appointees and layers of bureaucracy will improve allocation of scarce education resources." is pure political horse hockey. I hear the loaded words...but don't really know what you mean.

It sounds like you want me to agree that all government workers are bad - whether appointed or hired.

I don't.

It sounds like I'm supposed to believe that the bureaucracy serves no purpose.

I don't.

It sounds like you want me to believe that education resources are scarce because of something organic to education.

I don't.

I believe funds are scarce because education is underfunded to meet its present goals.

Now if the General Assembly wanted to lower the goals such that not all kids had to reach proficiency by 2014, then funding levels could be reevaluated in light of the lower requirements. Is that what you're advocating? (I don't really hear you arguing for that.)

But to keep the goals (as described in the law) as high as they are and then starve the system so that it can not achieve its goals is the worst kind of dishonesty. Worse than any misstatement of any single data point in any report.

Learn who it is that wants to underfund the very system we have built to educate Kentucky's children - and prevent the schools from reaching their goals - and you've found the real scandal.

You say, "Removing 4th grade portfolios from CATS will put writing instruction back in teachers' hands where it belongs."

Writing portfolios are difficult.
Because of it's very nature writing defies easy assessment and therefore, quantification is approximate at best. That causes the Data Hawks to question the validity of any writing assessments.

But writing is a critically important skill. In a high-stakes testing environment, what gets inspected, gets respected. For that reason alone, I'd leave them in. Otherwise, I'd be inclined to support whatever encouraged teachers in their efforts to improve writing instruction.

Thanks for the comment, David.