Earlier today I wrote a comment to a post by Diane Ravtich that read:
I think the opt out movement needs to focus on developing viable alternatives to standardized testing. Otherwise they will be characterized as “anti-accountabilty”. And they COULD use the CCSS and “big data” to help them.
The post included a link to one of my posts from earlier today, and my post, in turn, elicited this comment from Dwayne Swicker:
“And they COULD use the CCSS and “big data” to help them”
Please explain how.
This gave me a chance to reduce some of my recent thinking to writing… and reminded me that I really need to spend some time in the coming weeks getting my thoughts on technology applications down on paper. Here’s what I wrote in reply to Mr Swicker’s query:
If we want public school diplomas in ALL districts in ALL states to serve as proof that students mastered skills we agree are essential, we need something like the CCSS… otherwise kids in TX will believe dinosaurs and men lived on earth at the same time and kids in some districts or some states will get a diploma that is worthless… We COULD use the existing CCSS— which, “reformers” protests notwithstanding is a de facto national curriculum— as a framework for teachers to build on to develop an organic “wiki-curriculum” that would be the basis for defining what EDUCATORS expect students to know and be able to do in order to earn a diploma.
The possible uses of “big data” require more space than is available here (and more knowledge of algorithms than I possess)… but if Pandora can identify with fairly eerie consistency what kind of music I like I think it is possible that some kind of learning program could be designed to format lessons in a fashion that match the learning styles of individual students… We’ve unwittingly made a deal to trade our personal preferences in order to gain access to the “free” internet and those preferences result in marketers developing personal profiles on each of us who take advantage of the resource… This kind of “profiling” could be used to help us engage students.
I believe we’re missing the boat on curriculum development and technology applications. We’re using the CCSS and technology to prepare kids for standardized tests that reinforce the early 20th century model for schooling that batches and compares students in age-based cohorts. We COULD be using those same tools to individualize instruction to ensure that each student given sufficient time can meet the expectations educators set so that when they leave school they can find their way in the world. We have the capacity to have time be a variable and learning be the constant instead of the other way around.
At some point I’ll elaborate more on the these topics.
The NYTimes reported on two rallies held today in Albany: one featuring Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking to groups of students students and teachers released from classes at the Success Academy charter schools headed by Eve Moskowitz and the other featuring NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio speaking to public school supporters. The two are on opposite sides of the fence on two issues regarding public education: the need for charters to pay for space instead of being given a free ride; and the means of paying for prekindergarten. Here’s the article’s recounting of deBlasio’s position on “co-location” of charters in public school space, which shows where these two issues intersect:
During his mayoral campaign last year, Mr. de Blasio said that “well-resourced” charter schools should be charged rent to use space in existing school buildings, known as co-location. He also said he would impose a moratorium on the practice of closing low-performing public schools, which has opened up valuable real estate for use by charters.
One of his first acts in office this year was to reallocate $210 million from a fund originally reserved for charter schools and other nonprofit groups. That money is now likely to be used for prekindergarten classes.
And then last week, the mayor made his most aggressive move yet, reversing the policy set by his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who agreed to provide free real estate to the schools so they could open new programs this fall. The three schools had already hired principals and teachers and were in the midst of recruiting students.
The mayor said last week: “I’m not going to mince words about what I feel about how the Bloomberg administration made decisions on co-locations. I think it was abhorrent.”
Cuomo, on the other hand, championed charters, saying:
…people were hungry for new ideas and more choices, which explains why so many parents are on the waiting list for charter schools. (Roughly 70,000 children are educated in 183 charter schools across the city, many in poor neighborhoods.)
“Parents deserve a choice,” he said.
Mr. Cuomo promised to ensure that charter schools have the “financial capacity and physical space and government support to thrive and to grow.”
The article neglected to mention several facts which I garnered from some simple mathematical calculations and the invaluable archives of Diane Ravitch’s blog:
- While 70,000 is a big number, it is only 6% of the students in New York
- And those waiting lists? Read these posts from Diane Ravitch if you think those lists are for real… It seems that if one student signs up for four schools they are counted four times by charter advocates… and if a pro-charter mayor or Governor closes a “failing” school all of the students in that school are placed on a “waiting list”. Bottom line: waiting lists are a myth.
- According to a report by Geoffrey Decker in Chalkbeat, charter advocates–some of whom are on the board of Eva’s chain–have contributed more than $800,000 to Cuomo.
- Section 2853(4)(c) of the NY State Education Law allows districts to lease public school “buildings and grounds” to charters and to “contract for the operation and maintenance thereof,” (but) it also requires that “any such contract shall provide such services or facilities at cost.”… which is to say that Bloomberg’s practice of co-location is arguably against the law… an argument that is being brought to court by public school advocates.
- When New York State Comptroller Tom Di Napoli informed Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain of his intention to audit its financial records, the corporation sued to block the audit of public funds on grounds it was unconstitutional. This is one reason charters want deregulation: audits might uncover unseemly expenditures such as the fact that….
- (Success Academy) spends over $1 million a year on marketing–such as direct mail, ads on buses and bus stop shelters, flyers, etc.– which pumps up the number of applicants for the schools and helps to build the chain’s reputation. It also paid over $500,000 to SDK Knickerbocker, the high-powered D.C. public relations firm, which includes Anita Dunn, who was interim communications director for President Obama in 2009.
- Ms. Moskowitz pays herself $499,000 to head schools enrolling 7,000 students: more than the Chancellor earns for heading 1,100,000 students.
- While tracking student success is difficult because Success Academy refused to be audited or to make its records public, “according to figures on the school’s New York State Report Card, 83 students entered kindergarten in 2006-07, the school’s first year of operation. When that class reached 4th grade in 2010-11, it had only 53 students — a drop of 36 percent. Harlem Success also took in a 1st grade class with 73 students in 2006. When that group reached 5th grade, it too had shrunk appreciably — by 36 percent. The attrition accelerated as the classes advanced. The 2006-07 1st grade class, for example, did not shrink at all as it entered 2nd grade, but saw one sharp falloff between 2nd and 3rd and another between 4th and 5th.” It does not require a Ph.D. in statistics to see how this could skew progress metrics based on standardized tests!
And when it comes to paying for prekindergarten, as noted in earlier posts Cuomo seems to be willing to shortchange K-12 funding throughout the State to pay for a half-baked prekindergarten program in NYC and other districts while deBlasio has not been at all shy about asking for a tax increase on the top .5%.
This fight has only just begun… and it promises to have national ramifications. Here’s hoping that some of the FACTS Diane Ravitch has shared in her blog find their way into the discourse.
Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss reported last week on the recently formed alliance of three dozen opt-out groups, describing them as “…an alliance to expand efforts to bring sanity to education policy.” Here’s her description of the group’s intentions, with emphasis added to one phrase:
The alliance, which is called Testing Resistance and Reform Spring, will support a range of public education and mobilizing tactics — including boycotts, opt-out campaigns, rallies and legislation — in its effort to stop the high-stakes use of standardized tests, to reduce the number of standardized exams, and to replace multiple-choice tests with performance-based assessments and school work. The alliance will help activists in different parts of the country connect through a new Web site that offers resources for activists, including fact sheets and guides on how to hold events to get out their message.
The notion of replacing multiple choice tests with performance based assessments and school work would have been impossible a decade ago because there would be no way to ensure that the basis for evaluating such assessments would be consistent from state-to-state and no way of knowing whether the school work was completed on worthwhile goals. Ironically, the combination of the Common Core standards and “big data”, both of which underpin the standardized testing movement, could serve as a means of implementing a uniform basis for assessing individual student performance and school work… and absent SOME degree of uniformity in curriculum there is no assurance that students in TX would learn about evolution…. and absent some degree of uniformity in expectations there is no assurance that students in MS would be expected to achieve the same outcomes to earn a diploma as students in MA. I fear the opt out movement’s reflexive opposition to the CCSS and “big data” will work against it’s ultimate goal because absent a viable replacement to standardized achievement tests the opt out groups will be painted as “anti-accountability” reactionaries who are echoing the “union line”.
At this juncture, the length of the list of members of the opt out movement is long, but the money underwriting the movement is a pittance compared to the money behind the testing movement… to win this battle against these wealthy behemoths the grassroots groups need to come up with some kind of viable alternative to testing… and IF that alternative used the CCSS and the available technological tools to its advantage it would use the tools of the behemoths to provide a viable option to their straightjacket standardized tests.