Several stories this past week described the increase in the number of students who opted out of tests and contrary to the narrative promoted by the pro-privatization crowd and mainstream media it is being led by parents and NOT the teacher’s union.
USA Today reported the 155,000 figure on Thursday, based on information provided by United to Counter the Core, whose Facebook page featured this statement:
BRIEF STATEMENT FROM UNITED TO COUNTER THE CORE
As we complete the first round of counts for ELA and move into the first round of counts for math, it is important to remember why parents do this.
Make no mistake, this wave of civil disobedience is not just about Andrew Cuomo and his teacher evaluation plan. Cuomo is the flavor-of-the-month in a long line of ill-prepared, ill-advised education reformers, each worse than the one before. These sometimes well-intentioned reformers have nevertheless damaged an entire generation of America’s schoolchildren going all the way back to No Child Left Behind.
Hundreds of thousands of parents are not making political statements, they are looking at crying, defeated children around their kitchen tables and demanding meaningful change. NY parents and teachers want education reform that is educator-driven, that is tested and proven, that addresses the real problems facing our schools and our children, and that is implemented with a modicum of competency.
A reduction of testing or evaluations does not address the underlying issue. NY parents want what parents have wanted since time began – a better education for our children.
As Democracy Now reported, this figure might be an understatement:
Protest organizers say at least 155,000 pupils opted out — and that is with only half of school districts tallied so far. … More than a decade after the passage of No Child Left Behind, educators, parents and students nationwide are protesting the preponderant reliance on high-stakes standardized testing, saying it gives undue importance to ambiguous data and compromises learning in favor of test prep.
Nadia Prupis’ synopsis of the opt out movement in Common Dreams included the reports from NYS, referenced Democracy Now’s coverage and also included a quote from Juan Gonzalez’ NY Daily News account referenced earlier this week in this blog. Her post noted that the 155,000 figure dwarfed the 49,000 who opted out last year and only included half of the districts in NYS. From these reports, it appears that NYS’ hurried and bungled roll out of last year’s test may be the undoing of the standardized test movement in that state… but Governor Cuomo and the Regents will likely find some way to downplay the opt-outs and/or continue to promote the notion that the unions are behind it. One of the most reprehensible ideas advanced is to permit “high performing districts” to opt out completely, thus creating a de facto two tiered system of assessments whereby affluent schools are not required to take standardized tests.
Say tuned for Week Two of the testing cycle to see how many children stay home during the math tests in NYS… and for the coming weeks win standardized tests are administered across the nation.
A koan is “a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment” and after reading “Technology That Prods You to Take Action, Not Just Collect Data” I have a new koan:
Can technology be used to develop mindfulness?
Natasha Singer’s description of the work being done by Natasha Dow Schüll at MIT would suggest that technology could be used to help develop self-awareness or mindfulness in the same way that the Fitbit develops new exercise habits. The article describes several new self-help technology products that are designed to improve posture, eating and exercise habits, and to monitor one’s moods. As one who believes that the purpose of schooling is to develop self-actualized learners, and one who believes that technology can be used to enhance learning opportunities, and one who practices mindfulness meditation, I find Schull’s work thought provoking and intriguing. As one who also believes that human interaction is essential in learning skills, though, I find the notion of technology monitored self-improvement unsettling. Like the paradoxical anecdotes that serve as the teachings in Buddhism, the notion of technology monitored self-improvement demonstrates the inadequacy of logical reasoning. I’ll need to sit with it….
NYTimes columnist Zeynep Tufekci’s essay, “The Machines Are Coming” describes the impact of algorithms on jobs and offers examples of how computers are increasingly taking over more and more assignments that were formerly thought to require human interaction. Some examples are manning call centers, reviewing medical tests, serving as border guards, and “interviewing” applicants for jobs. One of the rationales for this is cost savings.
Machines aren’t used because they perform some tasks that much better than humans, but because, in many cases, they do a “good enough” job while also being cheaper, more predictable and easier to control than quirky, pesky humans. Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency.
Tufekci describes how machines are deemed to be superior to humans because they don’t “…get sick, ask for higher wages, have a bad day, aging parent, sick child or a cold.” After suggesting way technology could replace humans in the workforce, she does point out one way technology could enhance the quality of the workplace and achieve more than better productivity and efficiency:
In the 1980s, the Harvard social scientist Shoshana Zuboff examined how some workplaces used technology to “automate” — take power away from the employee — while others used technology differently, to “informate” —to empower people.
For academics, software developers and corporate and policy leaders who are lucky enough to live in this “informate” model, technology has been good. So far. To those for whom it’s been less of a blessing, we keep doling out the advice to upgrade skills. Unfortunately, for most workers, technology is used to “automate” the job and to take power away.
I believe technology could be a boon to schooling if it was used to “informate” teachers instead of being used to “automate” instruction… and if schooling was based on “informating” instead of “automating” it would be providing children with a completely different set of skills. Pandora does a relatively good job of divining my tastes in music (they introduced me to many new bands and performers)… and the NYTimes and Google do a relatively good job of divining articles that might interest me (the Times sent me this one!)… and Amazon does a decent job of figuring out movies that I might like. But while Pandora plays music I might like, but my music teacher introduces me to music I can master and play for enjoyment… and while Google and the Times send me articles like the ones I’ve read before, I find the articles posted by friends on Facebook whose insights I value give me newer perspectives… and my daughters who go to movies regularly and viewed videos with me for years have a much better sense of the movies I’d enjoy than Amazon’s algorithm. Computer algorithms can give me information that’s helpful but only humans can give me information I trust. Schooling that uses standardized tests to measure performance could replace teachers with robots Schooling that seeks to motivate students to want to learn independently and values character development can only have humans in charge.
To date, teachers are among those workers whose jobs are envisioned as ripe for automation… especially if one holds the belief that schools are factories whose “product” is a batch of students whose “quality” can be measured using a standardized test. As noted frequently in this blog, the factory school paradigm is the basis for the standardized testing paradigm and contrary to the humanistic approach progressive educators value. If one holds fast to the factory school paradigm, automation is the answer to improved productivity and efficiency. If one believes that each human being possesses unique skills “informating” is the only way to go. Here’s hoping the liberal arts majors prevail over those who write code and prevail over the MBAs and engineers who value efficiency and productivity over human interaction.
Today’s blog post title is a play on yesterday’s NYTimes featured an op ed article by Will Miller titled “Want Reform? Principals Matter, Too”. In the article, Miller, who is president of the Wallace Foundation, breathlessly reports that the Principal of a school plays a key role in school improvement… a fact that true school reformers like Ron Edmunds knew decades ago. Miller’s op ed piece recounts all of the reasons this is the fact, touches on some of the research that demonstrates this, and offers some recommendations on how this can be addressed.
One point Mr. Miller overlooked was the impact of VAM on school administrators, especially in New York. The latest thinking on “reform” in NY insists that test scores take greater precedence than principal evaluations. Indeed, Governor Cuomo has so little regard for Principals’ ability to evaluate that he wants to institute a system that requires independent third party evaluations. Why? Because the failure rate for teachers is way too low! To paraphrase Mr. Miller, it’s hard to think of another profession where so little attention is paid to leaders. Organizations like the military, corporations and universities listen to and respect their leaders. If we’re going to do this in public education, a lot has to change… beginning with abandoning the notion that test results can replace direct observation in the classroom as a means of judging teacher and administrator performance.
The fundamental principle that test scores cannot measure the human interactions between a teacher and a student and a leader and a subordinate needs to be brought to the forefront…. because THAT principle matters A LOT more than any Principal.
Today’s NYTimes features an editorial calling for the USDOE to forgive loans issued to students who enrolled in deregulated for profit colleges who knowingly enrolled them in programs that led nowhere. After reading the article I left the following comment:
Deregulated for-profit schools… what could go wrong? We now know the answer: underpaid and unqualified teachers offering a wholly inadequate education to misled students!
But wait! Many governors (including NY’s) promoting deregulated for-profit charter schools as the “solution” to “failing public schools” and taxpayers, like the misled students of for-profit colleges, seem to be willing to allow these deregulated for-profit schools to loot the public coffers.
Deregulated for-profit charter schools… what could go wrong?
MAYBE the Times will see the inconsistency in their advocacy for the deregulated for-profit charters that “reformers” advocate… but their magical thinking on charters seem to mirror the magical thinking of the students who enrolled in deregulated for-profit colleges.