In an article in today’s NYTimes, Kate Taylor reports that NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has let it be known that he is no longer in support of tying teacher evaluations to test scores and his recently announced Task Force on the Common Core is expected to incorporate such a recommendation in its findings. The Times infers that by creating the Task Force the governor is giving himself political cover to reverse his thinking on testing and now with the abandonment of the Race to the Top waivers that required such a shift he is free to do so.
One intriguing paragraph suggests that some of the Governor’s “school reform” donors have also accepted the political reality that tests are too dominant, but they repeated their bogus charges about the success rate of students:
It also appears that the advocates and donors to the governor who praised his call last winter for a more rigorous teacher evaluation system would not criticize him if it were now unwound.
StudentsFirstNY, an advocacy group that promotes charter schools and other education reforms, on whose board several of those donors sit, strongly endorsed the governor’s campaign to make test scores matter more in evaluations, saying the existing system bore “zero resemblance” to how students themselves were performing across the state.
Asked this week about a possible reversal, the organization’s executive director, Jenny Sedlis, said in an email, “When only a third of students in this state are performing on grade level, even without evaluations, we know that there’s ineffective teaching going on.”
A key fact the article neglects to mention: the passing grade on the test is not based on a percentage of students mastering a set of predetermined standards, it is determined by the setting of an arbitrary cut score. Cuomo’s reliance on tests to “prove” that “there’s ineffective teaching going on” put him in a box as more and more parents realized the tests were driving the joy out of their child’s schooling and the test results “proving” that school were “failing” were determined by state officials, not by their children’s performance on tests.
I keep hoping that someday someone in political office will stand up to this whole test-and-punish scheme and acknowledge that it is a failed policy. As noted in earlier posts, the reauthorization of ESEA was a golden opportunity for someone to step forward. Alas, we will have to wait for another decade or so to have the debate on testing.
Earlier this week the NYTimes Upshot featured an article by Clair Cain Miller titled “Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family”. I read this article through several lenses: as a parent in a family where my wife and I worked for a decade; as a father and step-father observing children and step-children struggling and juggling; and as a retired school administrator/education consultant/blogger.
The article provides a good depiction of what life is like for college educated working parents where the husband and wife have relatively equal responsibilities and relatively equal aspirations and compensation. Their struggles are real and stressful, but they are logistical as opposed to the existential struggles many less educated and less affluent families face and far less severe than the struggles single parents without an education face. When a single parent is compelled to work two part-time jobs to earn enough money to clothe, shelter and feed her children it is far more daunting than the logistical problems of who will stay with the child when he or she is sick and who will order the diapers. There is no one to share with, more hours to work, and every bit as many complications as a married couple face.
The factory school model does little to support either set of parents. Developed on the assumption that mothers stay at home with children while the father works, the factory school operates at the convenience of the employees in the school and during the optimal time that learning can take place. Ideally, schools should be structured to meet the needs of the families they serve. They should provide before and after care for children, offering group activities for children who are dropped off early or picked up late and offering meals and snacks to eliminate the need for parents to deal with those factors when they are trying to devote as much time and energy to their work and to the emotional well-being of their children. But two factors make this expansion of s school’s responsibility a challenge.
First, there are three groups who would oppose this: one for philosophical reasons one because of personal convictions, and a third for (arguably) practical reasons. One group who would oppose an expansion of the role of public education is the group of parents and taxpayers who oppose public schools because they are “government run”. Given that bedrock belief, any expansion of the traditional function of schools would be seen as an expansion of “government”… which is a bad thing. The second group who would be likely to push back are the 40% of parents who have only a single wage earner. Members of this group with the strongest opposition to this would be those parents who are choose to stay home with their children based on their deep conviction that the time they spend with their children is more valuable than time they might otherwise spend at work. The third group is the large group of people who have no children at home and view any expansion of school as worthless.
The other factor is the obvious underlying one: schools are funded by taxpayers who want to minimize costs… and any chance of expanding the hours schools are open and operating is virtually impossible.
There are some models that could be put in place that might reduce taxes and reduce the burden placed on working couples. Some public schools form partnerships with non-profit organizations to create before and after school programs. Others serving children raised in poverty provide wrap around services in the schools and set the hours of operation to provide child care and flexible hours for children to attend. Changing the use of school facilities would not necessarily require additional costs nor result in savings to parents for before and after school child care… but it could make such care easier to access and far less complicated helping those with logistical challenges…. and it will only happen if parents raise their voices to insist that it CAN and SHOULD happen.
Naked Capitalism provided a link to “The Movement Lives on in Ferguson” a fascinating post written by Drew Franklin that shows a the link between Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Teach For America (TFA) and how both of these groups use social media to advance their cause. And what, exactly, is their cause?
TFA’s seemingly high-minded cause of providing well educated short term teachers to urban schools has devolved into providing temporary low wage staff to for-profit charter schools that displace underfunded public schools. Some pundits disparagingly characterize TFA as a source of scab labor for politicians who want to break the backs of teacher unions.
BLM’s cause seems to be akin to Reverend Al Sharpton’s: self-promotion. Like Sharpton, BLM arguably keeps racial injustice in the spotlight but. also like Sharpton, has done little to advance legislation that could change the condition. Instead, BLM provides spokespersons for the mainstream media and in doing so keeps their “brand” in the forefront.
And both TFA and BLM thrive on disaster. TFA can come to the rescue when schools are “failing” and need to be replaced by charters and BLM can come on the scene when a crisis is brewing that requires a group with media savvy.
Fortunately investigative bloggers like Ms. Franklin and Bruce Dixon see through the seeming idealism of these groups. We need a leader like Martin Luther King who can relentlessly push an anti-poverty agenda that provokes legislation that promotes income equality and racial justice. To this point, TFA and BLM have not exhibited that kind of leadership.