In two “Dog Bites Man” stories, Valerie Strauss’s July 24 and June 27 describe the flaws inherent in NYS’s Common Core tests— flaws that illustrate the inability of a pencil and paper test to measure the high-minded outcomes expected if the Common Core was implemented.
The July 24 article features a letter from the 3rd and 4th grade teachers at Shaker Road School which is part of the South Colonie School Dstrict, a district that serves relatively affluent parents in the Albany area. The letter describes the flaws in the writing section of the tests administered to grades they teach and notes concerns about “…badly constructed questions and arbitrarily determined cut scores for what constitutes student proficiency on the tests”… flaws that are inherent in ANY standardized test. Indeed, it is the setting of cut scores that determines expectations far more than the standards that serve as the basis for the test questions.
The earlier June 27 post, which can be accessed via a link in the July 24 article, describes the flaws in the Algebra Regents test used to determine if a student can graduate from high school. When the “Regents-For-All” initiative was launched in the late 1990s and early 2000s there was suspicion that the cut scores might be lowered to guarantee higher pass rates. The advent of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards combined with the Blame Teachers First movement (see yesterday’s post), the cut scores were increased and the failure rate increased… which will add fuel to the fire that “public schools are failing” and need to be replaced by private schools that. presumably and contrary to all evidence, will do a better job.
I am glad that Valerie Strauss continues covering the flaws in standardized testing. I only wish her findings were gaining traction in the mainstream media who appear to believe the “schools-are-failing-and-can-be-fixed-without-money” fantasy spun by the privatizers.
David Sirota has been report in on the so-called “pension crisis” for several months, finding mountains of evidence that this crisis, like so many that result in cuts to public services and a demand for privatization, is not only manufactured, it’s exacerbated by politically motivated decisions.
In an article in the July 22 edition of the international Business Times Sirota describes the decisions of many urban mayors and/or governors of states with professional sports teams to subsidize the building of stadiums while simultaneously cutting things like pensions for public employees… and– while it is not noted in the article– funds for public education. The most egregious example of this is Detroit:
Detroit on Monday made itself the most prominent example of this trend. Officials in the financially devastated city announced that current and future municipal retirees had blessed a plan that will slash their pension benefits. On the same day, the billionaire owners of the Detroit Red Wings, the Ilitch family, unveiled details of an already approved taxpayer-financed stadium for the professional hockey team.
Many retirees now face a 4.5 percent cut in their previously negotiated cost-of-living adjustments, which is part of a larger plan to cut $7 billion of the city’s debt. At the same time, the public is on the hook for $283 million toward the new stadium after giving the Ilitches key parcels of land for $1.
While the subsidy is “only” 4% of the total package, it would probably go a long way toward funding either the pensions of the retirees… or the teachers, textbooks, and technology infrastructure needed in public schools. But housing the Red Wings in a new stadium is far more important than preparing their workforce for the future.
Jeff Bryant’s Salon post yesterday gleefully described Michelle Rhee’s fall from glory but noted that someone is waiting in the wings to carry the privatization flam forward.
Bryant’s article recounts StudentsFirst’s loss of revenue, closing of schools, and overall loss of luster in the eyes of the mainstream media and— more importantly– in the eyes of donors. Bryant describes Rhee’s base of support as follows:
Supported by shadowy money and shaky science, these wealthy folks have created a “blame teachers first” campaign that seeks to address education problems rooted in inequality and low investment by attacking teachers’ job protections and professional status. Their efforts are, of course, “for the children.”
Bryant provides examples of StudentsFirst’s diminishing clout as a force for reform and provides many links to the work of bloggers and journalists who undercut Rhee’s claims of “success” in Washington DC and provides evidence of the stonewalling that continues to this day regarding cheating incidents that might have contributed to the marginal test score increases that occurred during Rhee’s tenure. All of this has led to Rhee’s decline in prominence…. but… as Bryant notes, the “blame teachers first” crowd is not cowed by the lack of results or the lack of evidence regarding the privatization movement. They’ve gravitated toward a new icon: CNN’s Campbell Brown. Here’s Bryant’s overview of Brown’s ascension, which is being propelled based on some bogus scare tactics that seem to be getting traction despite their lack of grounding in reality. I’ve added some emphases:
With Rhee and StudentsFirst sinking under the weight of over-promises, under-performance, and unproven practices, the Blame Teachers First crowd is now eagerly promoting Campbell Brown.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Brown launched the group Partnership for Educational Justice, with a Veraga-inspired lawsuit in New York State to once again dilute teachers’ job protections, commonly called “tenure.” The suit clams students suffer from laws “making it too expensive, time-consuming and burdensome to fire bad teachers.”
Actually, Brown has already been warmed up and is plenty ready to take the mound and pitch. As the very same article noted, Brown started her campaign against teachers some time ago, claiming that the New York City teachers’ union was obstructing efforts to fire teachers for sexual misconduct. Unfortunately for Brown, the ad campaign conducted by her organization Parents Transparency Project failed to note that, as The Post article recalled, at least 33 teachers had indeed been fired. “The balance were either fined, suspended or transferred for minor, non-criminal complaints.” Oops.
Further, as my colleague Dave Johnson recalled at the time, Brown penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal accusing the teachers’ union of “trying to block a bill to keep sexual predators out of schools.” It turned out, the union wanted to strengthen the bill, not stop it. Double oops.
Nevertheless – or as The Post reporter put it, “undaunted” – Brown has now decided to take on teacher personnel policies on behalf of, she claims, “millions of schoolchildren being denied a decent education.”
Bryant provides a detailed analysis of the funders of the Blame Teachers First crowd and highlights research conducted by Rutgers professor Bruce Baker which concludes that:
…finding enough good teachers to staff its schools – especially those serving high-needs kids – is not obstructed by tenure or seniority policies but more so due to the fact it “is abundantly clear that New York State school districts – especially those serving the state’s neediest children – lack the ability to pay the necessary wages to recruit and retain the workforce they need.”
But addressing that issue would require the Rhee-Brown campaign to attack a different target instead – not teachers, but political leaders and lobbyists who influence legislation that keeps teacher compensation inadequate and school districts underfunded.
Sadly, those of us who are committed to making substantive changes to public education are mis-labelled as defenders of the status quo and/or union sympathizers while those who want to reinforce the current structure with standardized testing are called “innovators” and “reformers”… and the media are only too happy to emphasize this false dichotomy.
I just received a “breaking news” email from the NYTimes” that had a link to a lengthy investigation article “Cuomo’s Office Hobbled State Ethics Inquiry. This in depth article by Times reporters
What resulted provided a grim assessment of state government as “a pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks,” and offered a long menu of recommendations to curtail the influence of money in Albany.
The commission also unsettled the governor when they began digging into lobbies that were designed to keep the names of donors anonymous. Why? It seems that:
…the biggest lobbying spender in 2011 and 2012 was one that was created to support the governor’s own agenda: the Committee to Save New York, which spent more than $16 million and did not disclose where its money came from.
The governor’s office responded to this NYTimes article with a 13 page rebuttal full of non-sequitors. As the article reported, Cuomo created this “independent commission” to “…root out corruption in state politics”, and made multiple assertions that the commission that could look at anything they wanted to look at including “… me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman”… but once a commission started rooting out corruption in HIS sphere he changed his thinking. His 13 page rebuttal is now asserting that “A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive” because “It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test.” As I noted in a comment left on this article, at least one reader is laughing in bewilderment at this logic!
What does all of this have to do with public education? Readers of this blog and followers of “charter school politics” recall that in the clash between Bill deBlasio and charter maven Eve Moskovitz Cuomo appeared at Moskovitz’ rally supporting her for-profit charter school’s demand for free space in public school facilities while deBlasio was rallying to get more funds for NYC schools. Was this part of the “pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks”? I was hoping the Moreland Commission might find out the answer to that question… and hoping the NYTimes might be looking for the answer as well. The Moreland Commission is out of business but the Times still has a chance to get an answer… here’s hoping someone at the Times will ask.
I just finished reading “The Billionaire Boys Reinvesting a Small Percent of the Spoils of Capitalism“, a blog post on The Progressive’s web page written by Jan Resseger. The post opens with this short, concise, and accurate description of why the billionaires have so much to give:
One reason the Billionaire Boys have so much to invest through their mega-foundations is that tax cuts at the federal and state level have been tilted to favor the extremely wealthy and burden those whose incomes are far lower, exacerbating inequality and the plight of those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
The post then covers the questionable effects of the trickle-down philanthropy-based economy, whereby a small group of extraordinarily wealthy billionaires get to determine public policy based on THIER beliefs and values. The post offers a series of ethical questions raised in a blog post by Reverend John Thomas. He enumerated “…three problems embedded in venture philanthropy”, attributing the identification of these broadly defined problems to Lester M. Salamon, Director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at The Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. The three problems are particularism, paternalism, and insufficiency. That is, philanthropists tend to give to organizations whose missions and values match theirs, whose outcomes are of interest to them, but, in doing so, provide far less money than would have been available to the general welfare had the taxes been collected without loopholes.
The post concludes with a synopsis of an article Joanne Barkan wrote for Dissent magazine, describing the effects of this philanthropy-economy on public education.
Barkan describes the interests and passions in which the three giants of education philanthropy have been dabbling: “choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don’t rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher.”
Resseger is concerned because the funding is continuing for these boilerplate initiatives despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that they are working. She concludes the post with this lament:
The fact that the Billionaire Boys can buy an extensive and long-running public relations and media campaign is one reason we haven’t had a thorough public conversation to compare the experiments of the philanthropists with our historic system of public education—publicly funded, universally available, and accountable to the public. We ought to be asking which sort of schools do a better job of balancing the needs of each particular child and family with the capacity to secure the rights and address the needs of all children.
Here is what I find particularly distressing: after the recent Supreme Court decisions determining that campaign donations are a form of “free speech” I see no changes to the “test-punish-privatize” mantra. With “only” 4.35 billion spread over several years, RTTT became a de facto directive for districts to adopt the common core, to use standardized tests to measure everything about schooling, and to begin using Big Data to collect and store information on teachers, parents, and students. This proves Resseger’s point that “…controlling just a few billion dollars” of the $500 billion spent for public schools can make a huge difference.
Looking ahead, I would guess that most of the contributors to both parties campaigns are enthusiastic about the direction the federal government is leading us in terms of privatization of public schools, and the payback to technology companies, for-profit start-ups, and test companies will increase… for the campaign contributions to both parties won’t add up to “billions”… and I’d predict that those political contributions will have a great return on investment for the billionaire boys!