Yesterday six Republican hopefuls met in Londonderry NH to respond to questions posed by Campbell Brown, a wealthy former talking head from CNC who has created her own education policy website “Seventy Four”, which is devoted to promoting vouchethe and privatization. The gathering Ms. Campbell organized, called The NH Education Summit, featured three bona fide contenders, Jeb Bush, John kasich, and Scott Walker, and three long shots, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindahl, and Carly Fiorina. The NYTimes article covering the event did not report on privatization or choice, in all likelihood because all the candidate held the same view: privatization is necessary to create a vibrant market for parents to choose from and vouchers are where we need to head. The article DID emphasize one area of dispute: the Common Core. While every single candidate called for higher standards, only Kasich supported the Common Core. In doing so he made the eminently reasonable argument that if the candidates wanted uniformly high standards they needed to adopt a uniform set of standards. In the final analysis, this is the conundrum facing those who favor the use of standardized tests as the primary means of accountability. Standardized tests need to be based on standards…and as we witnessed before and after NCLB, different states have different standards. MS’s standards are different from MA’s standards…and consequently different children are held to different standards. The fix to this, a set of NATIONAL standards, is an anathema to Republicans who favor having STATE standards, seemingly willing to accept variability in exchange for keeping control out of the hands of the Federal government.
The NYTimes reporting captured this conundrum well, but in so doing made Kasich, a stridently pro-privatization and anti-union Governor who has underfunded public education in his state, sound like the most reasonable candidate of the six. The NYTimes also repeated the urban legend that the Common Core was a product of the State School Chiefs when it was, in fact, the product of Bill Gates’ largesse.
David Bornstein’s Fixes column yesterday, “Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grades and Lives“, describes several studies that demonstrate a positive relationships between positive social skills and a host of positive outcomes from school. After describing the studies and their findings, Bornstein writes:
These studies suggest that if we want many more children to lead fulfilling and productive lives, it’s not enough for schools to focus exclusively on academics. Indeed, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness — strengths that are necessary for students to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life.
The conclusion of the article described the efforts of the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, also known as Casel, which has been working for three to four years to help school districts embed social and emotional learning throughout their systems and described ongoing studies in this arena. The description of one of the studies caught my eye:
This year, researchers from Teachers College at Columbia University did some number crunching to estimate the economic value of six different social and emotional learning programs that had strong track records. They looked at the programs’ impact on things like future wages and social costs (pdf), and found that the programs yielded an average return of $11 for each dollar invested.
It’s a shame that our obsession with measurement and economic value are the means of “proving” the worth of civility and self-awareness…. and a shame that these same obsessions are compelling us to measure the effectiveness of Kindergarten teachers by the amount of reading and math students are learning and to measure the effectiveness of college by the post-graduate job placements. Civility and self-awareness are skills that schools should be inculcating explicitly, but they are often viewed as by-products instead of ends in themselves. Schools only have a limited time with children, and using that time to teach skills that could be learned through programmed instruction (e.g. basic math and reading skills) seems like a waste of teacher talent. We’re so obsessed with “getting ready for college and careers” by the end of 12 years that we overlook the most important elements of life: getting along with others and understanding ourselves.
The more I read about and think about the effort to repeal NCLB, the more I hope that no compromise will be reached. The latest brouhaha over the bill involves the Booker-Murphy Amendment, which is supported by the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) a think tank that supports the neo-liberal test-and-punish reforms advocated by the likes of Cuomo, Christie and Walker. Charles Barone, DFER’s policy director, summarizes the amendment’s elements as follows:
The amendment simply sets forth what we see as two non-negotiable principles that, in exchange for billions of dollars in federal aid:
1. States will assess school performance based on real and measurable results – not just for all students on average but for historically-disadvantaged groups of students including black students, Hispanic students, students from low-income families, students with disabilities and English Language Learners.
2. States or districts will intervene in schools where historically-disadvantaged groups of students consistently fail to meet state academic benchmarks.
“It’s on the second point that the underlying bill reauthorizing ESEA is most in need of improvement. Unlike the underlying bill, the Murphy amendment would not allow states and school districts to neglect schools that are chronically under-performing. It would not dictate hopelessness to parents whose children are trapped in those schools. It would not accept dropout factories that perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline.
What’s not to like about these premises? Well, in an open letter to Bernie Sanders who signed on to this amendment, a group of disaffected teachers and unions leaders argue against any quantitative measures:
Quantitative measures are invalid. They are masks for social inequalities. They merely highlight and then reflect economic and racial inequalities. Mel Riddile, “PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid'” at the blog, “The Principal’s Corner”, found that numerical performance of districts mirrors the scale of economic inequalities of those districts. Statisticians have proven over and over again that the use of value added modeling is logically flawed. NCLB drove the use of value-added modeling (VAM) which negatively transformed the teaching and learning processes in the nation’s schools.
It’s unclear to me that the amendment itself would require or even lead to the use of VAM. As I understand it, this rider requires that any test scores be disaggregated by race and socio-economic demographics and require that states do something about “chronically underperforming” districts.
I think that Bernie Sanders is placed in an awkward situation with this bill. He is clearly opposed to privatization of public services, clearly supportive of unions, and clearly supportive of social justice. I do not believe that his support of this amendment is a signal that he supports VAM or that he favors testing as the sole means of accountability. Moreover, the presumptive nominee for the democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, is not subjected to a litmus test based on her support for or rejection of this amendment. My belief: if Hillary Clinton was still a Senator this would be the Booker-Murphy-Clinton amendment.
As I’ve written frequently in this blog, the whole idea of giving STATES the responsibility for determining how to measure school performance is troubling, especially given the direction most States are heading when it comes to issues like VAM, funding equity, and racial discrimination. Here’s hoping the bill dies before the President gets a chance to sign it into law. If it DOES pass, we’ll have at least another six years of testing… and we won’t be testing climate change and evolution in at least nine states in the union.
Take a look at these two pictures and tell me why anyone thinks its a good idea to let States control education? As much as I am troubled by the way the common core was developed and imposed and as much as I wholeheartedly reject the standardized testing associated with NCLB and RTTT, these two pictures show why the reauthorization bill should be voted down. In the event the link doesn’t work, one picture depicts a middle school aged girl with a head scarf and a caption that reads:
In Iraq ISIS has Banned Her From Learning About Evolution
Next to it is a picture of a young girl the same age with American attire with a caption that reads:
In Nine States and D.C. Creationist Voucher Schools Are Doing the Same to Her With US Tax Dollars
In nine states SO FAR… once this bill passes I expect many of the other Republican controlled legislatures and perhaps even NYS to move in this direction. Public education will never be the same… and neither will our collective understanding of science.
Bill Gates Acknowledges His Education Initiatives Fell Short… And Now He Wants to Take on Pre-School?
Nick Kristof’s column today profiles Bill and Melinda Gates, offering an overview of the work of their foundation on it’s 15th anniversary. In general, the foundation’s initiatives in medicine are wholly positive and, like Gates’ corporation, borderless. Absent a well funded international organization with a narrow focus on specific diseases philanthropy can eliminate diseases like polio, Guinea worm disease and, perhaps, elephantiasis and blinding trachoma. These diseases cause suffering to large swaths of the populations of third world countries and can be eliminated through comprehensive immunization and/or infrastructure changes and/or the introduction of specific proven hygiene practices.
Where Gates’ initiatives fall short is in areas like education, an area that has no clear solution and an area that defies the technological/engineering template that succeeds in fighting diseases. In looking back at the successes and failures of his Foundation, Gates acknowledges that “…the foundation’s investments in education here in the United States haven’t paid off as well” and “…started out too tech-focused”. What Gates DOESN’T acknowledge is the need for him to spend as much time and energy retracting his “tech-focused” solutions to education as he spent promoting them. As written repeatedly in this blog and most other progressive education blogs, the use of standardized test scores as the “hard metric” for teacher and school performance has resulted in drastic and seemingly irreversible changes in public education in this country. Standardized tests require a standardized curriculum the same way that software development requires standardization, and whether the curriculum is standardized at the national or state level doesn’t matter in the end… if the quality of teachers and schools are determined by performance on a standardized test of ANY kind the children in the classes and schools will receive instruction designed to have them succeed on that test. As Gates has learned, though, the narrow bore focus that cures diseases cannot improve public schools. Eradicating the causes and effects of poverty, which is inextricably linked to test results, requires a comprehensive approach and the use of the “squishy” metrics Mr. Gates admittedly disdains. Here’s hoping Mr. Gates has learned those lessons before investing in pre-school education.
Today’s NYTimes features an excellent article outlining the ongoing effort to replace NCLB and describing the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill to take it’s place. The article concluded with this quote from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:
“We have to ask the question: Are black and Latino and vulnerable children in places like South Carolina and Mississippi receiving the education that they deserve?” he asked. “And I think the answer is not even close yet.”
Sorry, Arne. You’ve posed the wrong question. HERE’S the question we SHOULD be posing:
“Has a generation of high stakes testing improved the quality of education for black and Latino and vulnerable children in places like South Carolina and Mississippi?”
I think the answer is absolutely not. Here’s hoping someone in the house or senate asks this question as they review their bills.