My daughter, who lives in Brooklyn, posted two links on Facebook regarding the urgent need for Mayor-elect diBlasio to appoint someone to Chancellor of NYC schools who will abandon the testing regimen. One link, from ParentvoicesNY includes a well produced video featuring faces and voices of parents and students decrying the time wasted on test preparation, time that diminishes the chance for students to pursue their favorite subjects in order to keep their schools open. The other link was to a New York magazine article titled “The Opt-Outers”, describing parent groups who are mounting a movement against the standardized tests that involves keeping students home on days that the city administers its tests. One paragraph in the article gives a sense of how intense the testing regimen is in NYC:
From the third through eighth grade, two major state tests loom large every spring—the ELA and math. Formal preparation takes weeks, and informal preparation, as Oscar learned, begins as early as the second grade. For kids just trying to stay at grade level, New York City is unique in how it ties promotion to those state scores. Anything less than a “proficient” rating of two on a scale of one to four, and you’re held back. For children hoping to excel, the fourth-grade ELA and math tests have become a sort of SAT—a do-or-die score that many of the selective, application-only middle schools use to screen kids.
As readers of this blog realize, my biggest concern with schooling today is the retention of the age-based grade-level grouping of students that implicitly assumes that all children grow at the same rate intellectually… an absurd notion on its face but one that persists because it has been inlace for three or more generations. With today’s technological advances it is possible to tailor schooling to meet the unique individual needs of each child, but instead we are using technology to monitor student performance against a mythical “standard” that expects linear and orderly intellectual development.
The New York article does an excellent job of using personal anecdotes of parents to illustrate the consequences of adopting the testing regimen and in explaining the derivation of the Common Core State Standards that are the basis for the grade-level outcomes:
….David Coleman (now president of the College Board), is an educational consultant who worked out a set of standards based on an elegant, seemingly unimpeachable methodology: to reverse-engineer the test results of high-performing college students by raising primary-school standards to be more in line with what prepares them for college-level work. For example, the Common Core’s elementary-school math standards focus tightly on the building blocks of algebra—addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions. Traditional curricula are more varied and, in Coleman’s view, “a mile wide and an inch deep,” clogged with superfluous drills about patterns and combinations. “Imagine you have an assessment system where you can pass a fourth- or fifth-grade math test without knowing fractions ’cause you’re covering so many topics?” Coleman said at a Harvard conference last spring. “If you pass that test, are you on your way to success?”
So… the Common Core is based on reverse-engineering of college entrance exams with no thought of developmental realities or the number of hours that might be required for some children to attain those standards and with no thought to the reality that we don’t need to have all students entering college. Sure enough, complaints starting rolling in from respected educators and teachers unions:
Carol Burris, a high-school principal in Rockville Centre, has noted how it expects first-graders to know the meaning of words beyond their reading level, like cuneiform, sarcophagus, and ziggurat. Standards like that, critics say, will lead to the exact drill-and-kill problem the Common Core is trying to avoid.
Established educators complained that the standards weren’t created with enough of their input—not one of the 135 people on the Common Core panels was a K-3 classroom teacher or early-childhood professional. The unions turned on it, too: American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten recently quipped, “You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse.”
The fallout from the testing may well have been the difference between diBlasio and his opponents in the recent mayoral race… and from all evidence the momentum to have students opt out is increasing. But I fear diBlasio’s new chancellor will need more that the mayor’s support: both Governor Cuomo and President Obama are heavily invested in the grade-level high stakes testing accountability model and neither seems inclined to cede ground… and if a high profile mayor like diBlasio wants to appoint and support a chancellor who wants to opt out of the Regents and the Race to the Top… NYC could be in for interesting times and possibly less State and Federal aid. I hope diBlasio finds the Superman (or Superwoman) the parents desire, and I hope the lack of State or Federal funds are not the kryptonite that brings the new leader down.
Frank Bruni wrote a column today posing this question: “Are Kids Too Coddled?” As readers of this blog can imagine, my short answer would be a resounding NO! Here’s one of the comments I left:
Arne Duncan’s remarks about suburban moms were not only “impolitic”, they were not based on facts. Here are some facts:
=>Suburban schools are NOT failing based on NAEP tests the USDOE use to measure success.
=>Suburban kids are NOT “coddled”, they are under extreme pressure from the day they start school.
=>The Common Core Standards may “…emphasize analytical thinking over rote memorization”, but no one knows WHAT the tests designed to measure student’s knowledge of the common core measure because they were never field tested.
=> There is NO evidence that the common core tests can measure teacher performance and ample evidence that “Value added” tests are flawed.
=> Many parents would love to “look at the results and ask themselves how they can help their children do better”, but they can’t because the neither the parents nor the teachers can see the test questions OR the individual student results.
As a retired school superintendent who experienced 29 years of tests I see the problem with the common core as one of implementation. The teachers who lead classrooms, the administrators who lead schools and districts, and the boards who answer to local taxpayers did not have ample opportunity to offer substantive feedback on the standards. Teachers had NO say on the design of tests and are rightfully opposed to their use as a measure of “added value”. If the NYTimes supports the idea of the common core, it should challenge it’s implementation, not “coddling” parents.
Having used up my 1500 characters and still feeling the need to share more thoughts on the subject, I entered this comment:
Are Kids Too Coddled? My answer is a resounding NO!
Those students in the suburbs and upscale urban neighborhoods might appear to be “coddled”… but from the very minute they enter school they are expected to excel. They need to prepare for the Kindergarten entry test that measures their “giftedness”, the Middle School examinations that determine if they are eligible for the “fast track” or the best magnet school; they need to “build a resume” in high school that will make them stand out when they apply to the elite college of their choice…. and heaven forfend if they don’t want to go to college!
Students raised in poverty are seldom “coddled” and too often neglected. A close look at the test results indicates it is that segment of the school population that our public education system fails.
And there are many students who drift through middle and high school disengaged because they know their parents cannot afford to send them to college and the information given to them in the classroom is of no interest to them whatsoever. They are ignored and allowed to drift because there is no place for them in our economy.
The common core is a great idea: we need to have a greater focus on analytic thinking and prepare more of our kids for life after high school… but to do that we might need to do MORE coddling and less testing.
Given Bruni’s extended riff on youth athletics I could have posted a third comment drawn from yesterday’s blog post about John O’Sullivan’s ideas on athletics, but figured someone else might do it.
As the title of this post indicates, I am distressed over the fact that the NYTimes fails to see that public education’s crisis is NOT the result of “bad teaching” or insufficient data on student performance. It is the result of what I would call “rational disengagement” by parents and students who cannot se where school will take them. Several years ago Ted Sizer wrote a book called Shopping Mall High School where he observed that successful high schools exhibited “Three Ps”: purpose, push, and personalization. The common core and the testing regimen emphasizes one of those “Ps”, PUSH, and neglects the other two. Without purpose and personalization there can be do student engagement and without student engagement there can be no school success.
Three recent blog posts capture Arne Duncan’s legacies… and it isn’t a pretty picture.
A few days ago, as reported in Valerie Strauss’ blog, Secretary Duncan spoke to a group of state superintendents and made an incredible statement regarding the implementation of the Common Core State Standards testing regimen. He expressed fascination that opposition to the common core is coming from:
…white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.
Not satisfied that many mainstream teachers are disenchanted with the rapid implementation of tests that are linked to the common core, Arne seems eager to pick a fight with the core supporters of his boss and seems eager to overlook facts doing so. As Diane Ravitch and a host of bloggers and writers have repeatedly pointed out, US suburban schools are performing as well if not better than the other countries in the world on the godforsaken standardized tests that he and his colleagues seem to believe are the be all and end all of performance measurement… So if anything, IF the tests he is rolling out show anything different than that reality, then they ARE specifically designed to show schools are failing in hopes that the privatization movement can gain traction in the suburbs where parents are supposedly overlooking their schools’ shortcomings. Oh, and as Strauss’ post points out, the “game-changing tests” are not likely to be as effective as anticipated. Why? Read on:
As it turns out, neither the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium nor the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers have had enough time or money to develop truly “game-changing” exams in terms of how they can really measure the broad range of student abilities, according to a report by Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education, a panel of educational leaders, which said:
The progress made by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia in assessment development, while significant, will be far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes.
Those old bugaboos: time and money! Like all of his predecessors of late, Duncan seems to think that there is a cheap, fast solution to the problems facing classroom teachers… and his cheap, fast implementation of the testing is likely to backfire.
As for his notion that “…white suburban moms” will be upset with test results… he’s absolutely right, they WILL be upset, but not for the reasons he believes. Cameron Blazer, a self-proclaimed “white suburban mom” wrote an insightful blog post on her opposition to the common core, which was based on the fact that it was NOT developed democratically from the bottom up but rather dictated from the top down by a group that was predominantly non-educators. Her concluding paragraphs:
In our era of sharp polarization and in a country of such cultural, social, regional, ethnic, and religious diversity, it may seem that there can be no hope of a broad-based agreement on what matters, on what our kids need to know, or on how best to measure what they do know. Perhaps that is true. But where there is no widespread buy-in from parents–many of whom oppose the Common Core and even more of whom simply do not know or understand the standards it proposes–the failure of an effort like the Common Core seems destined.
So, let’s pretend this never happened. Let’s bring parents and politicians and teachers back together to start working on the really tough issues. And let’s leave the ad hominem, straw men attacks out of the debate. After all, according to Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing #1, we should have all learned to do that in school.
So two elements of Duncan’s legacy, the Common Core and the tests that accompany the Common Core, are under fire. Ah, but there is one element that folks in Washington (and Wall Street): he’s leaving thousands of post-secondary students saddled with debt as he fattens the coffers of USDOE. As reported in Huffington Post and elaborated on in this Common Dreams post, the USDOE “…raked in $42.5 billion in profit from federal student loans—marking its second highest profit margin ever.”
In a sign of just how important student loan profits have become for the Education Department’s bottom line, its reported gains off lending to students and their families over the last year comprised nearly half of the agency’s total outlays, the biggest share since at least 1997.
So… Arne Duncan’s legacy will be discredited public schools, federally imposed curriculum standards, and indebted college graduates. What’s disheartening for me was the hope that President Obama would do something different than NCLB, something different than the Clintons wanted, something that would change the public’s thinking about education. Instead, we’re getting more of the same… only worse.