Chicago school officials snub American Educational Research Association (AERA), researchers

Teachers and others from all over gathered to hear the latest in educational research presented at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), held April 9 - 13, 2007, at the Hyatt Regency, 151 East Wacker Drive, Chicago, and several other downtown Chicago hotels.

Nearly 20,000 AERA members from more than 60 countries attended the meetings.

Exhibits, lectures, seminars, and poster displays were held at the Hyatt Regency, the Fairmont, the Marriott, the Sheraton, and the Swissotel, on both sides of the Chicago River from Michigan Avenue to east of Columbus Drive and as far north as Grand and as far south as Wacker.

This range presented a problem for some in getting from one site to another easily, including one lady in a wheel chair who was unaware of the distances between sites before she came to Chicago. In addition, it snowed about two inches on Wednesday, April 11, adding to the difficulty in moving about.

Despite these difficulties, the turnout was great and the interest huge.

Substance staff members attended a number of the sessions, including those noted here. The last time AERA met in Chicago five years ago, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), through its Testing Committee, encouraged the participation of classroom teachers, and as a result many attended, receiving substitute coverage for the time spent. At that time, Deborah Lynch was CTU president. The current union administration, under President Marilyn Stewart, abolished the Testing Committee, and there was no CTU presence at AERA this year.

The previous AERA Chicago conference also featured a major presentation at Jones High School, sponsored by the CTU and featuring several prominent critics of high stakes testing. These included University of Texas Professor Angela Valenzuela, writer Susan Ohanian, Phi Delta Kappan columnist Gerald Bracey, Fair Test director Monty Neill, and others. This year, it was not clear whether the leadership of CTU was even aware of the event, let alone of its importance to public schools.

Also notably absent from AERA were top officials of the Chicago Public Schools. Considering that this was the host city, the omission was noteworthy. The chief of the CPS “Office of Research, Evaluation and Accountability,” Dan Bugler, told Substance that he was not going to participate in AERA, although he said he had in previous years. Although several sessions were devoted to Chicago and hundreds of sessions (especially those on No Child Left Behind) were relevant to Chicago, officials of the Duncan and Daley administrations were conspicuously absent.

Selecting from the hundreds of tantalizing choices of seminars and lectures in the two-pound AERA program was like being in the proverbial candy store without enough money. The program was more than 500 pages long, roughly the size of the Chicago White Pages phone book. There were so many lectures and seminars to choose from and not enough time to attend even a small number of them.

This reporter attended two seminars held at the Hyatt Hotel and the Sheraton Hotel and also a poster display, one of approximately thirty-two showing the work of postdoctoral fellows, in the Sheraton Ballroom.

A seminar at the Sheraton Hotel covered the topic “Do State Testing Programs Yield Reliable Indicators of Student Progress? Gauging the Effects of NCLB” (No Child Left Behind). According to the catalog the Chair was Gail Sanderman of Harvard University. Participants were Jaekyung Lee of State University of New York - Buffalo and Bruce Fuller of the University of California - Berkeley. “Discussants” were Douglas N. Harris of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, Gary Orfield of the University of California - Los Angeles and Lauren B. Resnick of the University of Pittsburgh.

There was widespread criticism of the Bush administration’s approach to education reform. One speaker stated that according to President George W. Bush, the fourth grades showed more progress in the last four years than in the prior thirty-three years. However, the progress began before the implementation of NCLB. He also stated that there were ethnic gaps. Between 1992 and1994, there were drops in the scores of Latinos and African-Americans, but between 1994 and 2004 the racial gaps closed. The reason for this was not known. After NCLB was signed in 2002, the gaps remained stable/static.

The next speaker said that by 2014, all students must be “proficient.” It is hard to track how reliable state test score progress is. Massachusetts is the only state where state and national scores match closely. (Another speaker mentioned that Massachusetts is one of the least diverse states in the union) Elsewhere, state scores rise above national scores.

Some reasons suggested for the gap increasing between state and national scores were that 2014 is approaching and teaching to the test is taking place in regard to state tests.

The first panel member asked: How do you evaluate accountability? What are the effects of NCLB on students? Has NCLB created productive changes in achievement? And, separate from achievement, what are the effects on children?

The next panel member wondered: How effective is the use of tests as a policy for raising achievement? She mentioned that there has been some progress on test scores, that the testing system definitely is changing things and that the things that kids are doing in the classroom are much closer to what they will be expected to do on a test. Currently we have the basic skills accountability of the 70s. A revised policy might lead to a more demanding and interesting kind of test.

The last panel member ventured the question: Why use the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)? He stated that there is no real comparable measure even though it is imperfect. Some results of such testing are that retention in ninth grade is being done a lot across the nation, that teachers acknowledge others things are being taught less as pressure to increase scores increases and that teachers in schools with greater pressure are demoralized and leave faster.

Next, in response to questions from the audience, members of the panel commented that we should work on what works with NCLB instead of trying to get rid of it, we should have more highly qualified teachers in classrooms, we should allot more money to reading instruction, we should reward schools that show progress instead of punishing schools that don’t, the proficiency level is meaningless as far as it is applied, and accountability is all we have in terms of school reform.

After this seminar, thirty-two posters covering a multitude of topics by postdoctoral fellows were displayed in the Sheraton Ballroom. One display handled the topic: The Interactive Effect of Maternal Parenting and Teaching Styles on Student Outcomes by Victoria Rankin Marks, Ph. D. Her flyer stated that “Black students begin school lagging behind white students on standardized achievement test, and by the12th grade are as much as 4 years behind (Phillips, et al. 1998)” and that while “previous research has examined the effect of parental and teacher style on student achievement; few studies have examined the interaction between parental and teacher styles.” The purposes of the study were to “examine the extent to which children’s home environments differ by race, examine whether congruence between home and classroom environments predict student outcomes, and examine whether congruity between environments mediate the achievement gap.” One outcome was that in fifth grade, structure mattered more than teacher warmth in regard to white teachers and black students.

On Friday, a seminar dealt with the topic: “Children of Incarcerated Parents: Schools, Teachers, and Learning as Protective Factors.” According to the catalog, participants were Vivian L. Gadsden, Susan Bickerstaff, Cleo Y. Jacobs, Jie Yie Park, University of Pennslyvania; Malik C. Edwards, Charlotte School of Law; and James Earl Davis, Temple University. Discussants were John Hagan, Northwestern University; Phillip J. Bowman, University of Illinois - Chicago, Gail Smith, Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM); Paul Skilton-Sylvester, University of Pennsylvania, and Diane T. Slaughter Defoe, University of Pennsylvania.

Among comments made by the above were that most women go to federal prisons which are generally farther away from the children. Also, when a mother gets arrested, children go to the grandparents or the social system. Grandparents often can’t take in their grandchildren because there is no subsidy for the care of grandchildren. A jailed father often doesn’t know he is the father until he is in prison. The child knows the parent is alive but can’t talk to the parent and doesn’t want to tell others that the parent is in prison. Secrecy was a mechanism for coping. Teachers, especially, were not in on the secret in most cases. 60% of students in poverty communities have a family member in prison. And when men return, if they return to public housing, they might be asked to leave.

Results from two studies show that the behavior of boys is affected more than girls.

When a project was begun to connect children with fathers in federal prison, one result showed that the problems were money, possible lack of or cost of hotels near the prison and the distance the federal prison was from the child’s home. Some aspects of the project involving twenty children and their fathers were video-conferencing which took place every two weeks all year, summer camps with structured activities to facilitate conversation and bonding, fathers who took parent-ed classes and maintained a clean record for a year were allowed to participate , and support groups are there for children so that they don’t have to be so secretive.

Problems that showed up included wardens who see this programs as a reward and maintain that if you’re in prison, you’re supposed to be punished, and wardens who are skeptical of prisoners.

Other items that were involved in the study were that the type of crime did not guarantee a clean record in prison, prisoners who had committed sex crimes were not eligible, all except three of the twenty children were living with their mothers, most mothers taking part in this program were doing it for the sake of the children, the request for the child came from the father but had to be approved by the mother, the majority of children were males, only biological children from ages nine to fourteen with the same mothers could take part, no step-kids and no children of another mother were allowed to visit the same father, and there is no longer any parole in the federal system.

Additional comments made were that it should be a part of teacher training that when the child shares the secret that a parent is in prison, the teachers should be given the tools to deal with it.

Another meeting was held that same Friday morning on a similar topic with Emil Jones, Speaker of the House in Springfield, and Senator Danny Davis as participants. (This meeting was covered in the April 25 - May 1, 2007 issue of StreetWise.)

Additional information about AERA — and ways to contact the researchers who did the studies presented at the conference — is available on the AERA website. 

Substance editor George N. Schmidt also covered the AERA conference and contributed to this report.


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