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Phi Delta Kappa Poll Results are in… and “Reformers” Cannot Be Pleased

August 25, 2015 Leave a comment

For the past 47 years Phi Delta Kappa, a non-political professional organization for educators, issues the findings from a poll of members of the public regarding their thoughts about education. Some results are the same year-after-year, the primary example being that respondents invariably rate their own public schools higher than public schools in general. Occasionally, though, trends emerge and the fact that they are captured in a non-partisan poll often gets widespread attention among school administrators, school board members, and this year, among the general public.

The trend that emerged in this year’s poll is captured in the title: “Testing Doesn’t Measure Up for Americans”. For politicians and the “reformers” who value standardization and the accountability based on standardized test results the response to these questions cannot be good news:

In your opinion, is there too much emphasis on standardized testing in the public schools in your community, not enough emphasis on testing, or about the right amount?

All respondents: 64% say “too much”; 19% say “just the right amount”

Parents: 67% say “too much”; 20% say “just the right amount”

Do you think that all parents with children in the public schools should be allowed to excuse their child from taking one or more standardized tests?

All respondents: 41% say “yes”; 44% say “no”

Parents: 47% say “yes”; 40% say “no”

In your opinion, which of the following approaches would provide the most accurate picture of a public school student’s academic progress? Select all that apply: 

Examples of student’s work: 37%

Written observations by teacher: 26%

Grades awarded by the teacher: 21%

Standardized tests: 19%

And the news doesn’t improve for those who believe tests are the best metric for measuring schools, teachers, or students.

  • 55% of the public opposes using standardized tests to evaluate teachers, an increase in that percentage despite the relentless publicity advocating this method.
  • Only 19% see standardized get results as “very important” in measuring student learning while 7% see them as “not important at all” and 25% rate them as “not very important”.
  • Only 14% see standardized get results as “very important” in measuring the effectiveness of public schools while 13% see them as “not important at all” and 28% rate them as “not very important”.

But here’s the real kicker in the poll:

  • 45% see “How Much Money Schools Have to Spend” standardized get results as “very important” while 3% see them as “not important at all” and 12% rate them as “not very important”.

Not only are the standardized tests being overemphasized in the minds of the public, they are being overvalued! This finding should be informing legislators who are (presumably) putting the finishing touches on a bill that will extend the testing regimen imposed by NCLB for at least another five years and should be informing the philanthropists who advocate for school reform that uses standardized testing as the primary metric for school performance. But maybe the money being spent by those who seek to privatize education and the publicity machinery that trumpets test results will drown out the voice of the public.

This Just In: Standardized Tests DON’T Measure School Quality and Money DOES matter

August 24, 2015 Leave a comment

I’m behind on my [posting a reading and just now got to an Upshot article from the NYTimes by Kevin Carey. In the article, Carey offers data to support the fact that the Federal Government has done little to no intervention in public education and suggests that consequently the ongoing squabbles about the reauthorization/repeal of NCLB are much ado about nothing.

I have two reactions to this piece.

First, like NCLB, it unquestioningly accepts the premise that the effectiveness of a school is determined solely by test scores. This leads to the notion that “data-driven instruction” is needed and that “old school” teachers and administrators who try to cultivate a love for learning need to be replaced by newer teachers and technocratic administrators who see test results as the ultimate end. Here’s what decades of testing have revealed: students who attend schools with high per pupil expenditures in affluent communities outscore students who attend schools with low per pupil expenditures in poverty-stricken neighborhoods or communities.

Secondly, the writer (like the “reformers” and politicians) under-emphasizes one of the key findings of SIG research:

“When districts and schools are given targeted funding—either from philanthropic organizations or the government—they are better positioned to achieve significant change.”

Stated bluntly: money DOES make a difference… especially when it is targeted. The federal government wants neither more money nor more oversight: they want a cheap, fast, and superficial solution to a problem that requires money, time, and comprehensive work by multiple agencies.

Soft Targets Force Hard Decisions: Do We Want Big Brother or Big Guns?

August 24, 2015 Leave a comment

The headline of this post provides a summary of the decision Western Europe faces in light of recent terror attacks. An article by Adam Rossiter in today’s NYTimes describes the difficult decisions given the open borders, the public transportation systems, and the increasingly surveilled streets and individuals. Over the weekend, five unarmed individuals overpowered a Moroccan passenger on a train after he fired a gun and discovered that he had “…dozens of rounds of ammunition, an AK-47, an automatic pistol and a box cutter.” Should they increase camera surveillance in public areas that already have thousands of cameras? Should they deport individuals identified as likely terrorists? Should they increase armed guards on trains?

As one who has long advocated some kinds of controls on the sale of weapons, I offered this thought in the comment section:

How does someone on a terror list acquire “…dozens of rounds of ammunition, an AK-47, (and) an automatic pistol”? Are those of us who reside in the West willing to trade safe passage on public roads and public vehicles for the right to acquire weapons designed to kill large numbers of human beings? It seems to me that the easiest way top make the entire world a safer place would be to ban the manufacture and private ownership of these kinds of weapons rather than live in a world where cameras survey us 24/7 and armed military units check baggage, patrol train stations and inside trains.

I fully expect many gun rights activists to respond with invective to this idea with some even suggesting that if the five unarmed individuals had a weapon themselves the whole problem would have been solved expeditiously. Why do I say this? Because I see this debate mirrored in our debate about school safety where it appears we are willing to trade the free movement of children in schools and in our neighborhoods for the rights of some individuals to accumulate large numbers of weapons that are designed to kill other human beings. Our solution to the school shootings is to tightly regulate and monitor schools and students instead of tightly regulating regulating and monitoring the sale of weapons. If we worried as much about the dispensing of guns as we worried about the dispensing of marijuana we might worry much less about the safety in our schools and on our playgrounds.

Amazon’s “Profits” = Lost Revenue for States = More Struggles for Schools, Children Raised in Poverty

August 23, 2015 Leave a comment

This past week I was on vacation at the end of one of Maine’s many peninsulas and one of our party discovered he was out of a food provision that was not typically found in a local convenience store…. but it was not a problem. A quick text on the cell phone and within 48 hours a UPS truck was at our doorstep delivering the product thanks to his Amazon preferred membership. The convenience was wonderful… but as I read this morning, it DOES have a hidden price.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) published a critique of a recent column by Joe Nocera who wrote that Amazon had “plowed potential profits back into the company“. After noting that “potential profits” are no basis for reinvestment unless there are gullible investors, CEPR notes:

It is also important to note the big handout that Amazon has relied upon from taxpayers. Amazon has not had to collect sales tax in most states for most of its existence, giving the company an enormous subsidy in its competition with brick and mortar competitors. The cumulative size of this subsidy almost certainly exceeds its cumulative profits in the years that it has been in existence. Any discussion of Bezos success should mention this huge subsidy from the government.

And the ultimate costs of Amazon are paid by publicly funded institutions like schools… and those who rely on public funds for their well-being– like school children raised in poverty and the employees laid off from Amazon’s brick and mortar competitors.

NOLA Makeover Myth Exposed As Statistical Shenanigans

August 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Andrea Gabor, a professor of business journalism at Baruch College of CCNY, wrote a detailed expose of the so-called New Orleans Makeover that occurred after Hurricane Katrina damaged 112 of the 128 buildings in New Orleans, a devastating blow that Arne Duncan described as “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.” In making the statement, Duncan was echoing political “reformers” who were unleashed by George W. Bush, who, looking back on his handling of Katrina in his memoir saw one success story:

The most uplifting change of all has come in education. Public schools that were decaying before the storm have reopened as modern facilities with new teachers and leaders committed to reform and results.

Reformers and conservative and neo-liberal politicians ALL see NOLA as the template. After the hurricane, NOLA laid off 7500 union teachers and replaced them with new, lower paid teachers. They used philanthropic funds to build new high tech schools and used the test-and-punish method to replace nearly all the public schools with privately funded charters. In the years that followed. studies funded by pro-privatization and pro-charter groups crowed about the success story in New Orleans… but Gabor sees through the data they present and sees only misrepresentations and lies. Test scores went up because LA tests were de-graded. Drop outs decreased because methods for their calculation were compromised. And the percent of students attending college increased because the senior cohorts diminished as a result of the “push-outs”. Two paragraphs illustrate Gabor’s findings:

“We don’t want to replicate a lot of the things that took place to get here,” said Andre Perry, who was one of the few black charter-school leaders in the city. “There were some pretty nefarious things done in the pursuit of academic gain,” Mr. Perry acknowledged, including “suspensions, pushouts, skimming, counseling out, and not handling special needs kids well.”…

The rhetoric of reform often fails to match the reality. For example, Paul G. Vallas, the superintendent of the Recovery School District from 2007 to 2011, boasted recently that only 7 percent of the city’s students attend failing schools today, down from 62 percent before Katrina, a feat accomplished “with no displacement of children.” This was simply false. 

Gabor notes that one of the major problems in assessing the effectiveness of NOLA schools is that complete lack of oversight and does not contend that the system devastated by Katrina was exemplary… but she laments the way the NOLA miracle has been unquestioningly reported in the media and the impact of privatization on the neediest children in the city. She concludes her essay with this caution:

For outsiders, the biggest lesson of New Orleans is this: It is wiser to invest in improving existing education systems than to start from scratch. Privatization may improve outcomes for some students, but it has hurt the most disadvantaged pupils.

While it is wiser to build on the systems in place, it is easier to sell the notion that wholesale reform will solve the ills of the schools, especially when it costs less, replaces “union teachers” with “idealistic…educators who are willing to work 12- to 14-hour days”, and does nothing to help the children of “the undeserving poor”. 

The Children of the “Unworthy Poor” and the Vicious Cycle of Poverty

August 21, 2015 Leave a comment

I just read Serena Rice’s Common Dreams article titled “Our Perceptions About the “Unworthy Poor” haven’t changed” and it reinforced my belief that our political power system is predicated on the continuation of this misperception. According to this concept, anyone who is poor lacks industriousness and is therefore unworthy of any government assistance. This concept can be reinforced by finding singular examples of individuals who are freeloaders— and there are undeniable and verifiable examples of individuals who take advantage of welfare the same way, say, hedge finders take advantage of the tax code— and write an airtight set of laws that penalize those who try to take advantage of the system. The results of these arguably well-intentioned laws is to penalize children born into poverty even more.

Rice’s article offers one example of a State who’s rules required an unwed mother to move back with the father of her child in order to get any benefits for that child…despite the fact that the father was not gainfully employed and despite the fact that he refused to use birth control. When the woman hd a second child out of wedlock, the mother could not collect any additional benefits for that child. Worse, it was more difficult for the mother to find employment, more stressful at home, and BOTH children in the family faced even more abject poverty. The law penalized this MOTHER for being “unworthy” to receive welfare, but the real recipients of the penalty were the CHILDREN. With less money available for each child, no means of providing the children with sufficient food let alone intellectual stimulation, is it any surprise that these children begin school with more deficiencies than those of the hedge fund manager who gamed the tax code.

Progressive blogs and writers expose the flaws in the mental model that characterizes those on welfare as “lazy and undeserving” by illustrating the challenges all workers face in this economy and the way the current system I rigged in such a way that corporations now anticipate their employees to supplement their low wages with welfare. But the mainstream media by and large unquestioningly repeat the conventional thinking of conservatives and neo-liberals-that welfare recipients take advantage of the government’s largesse while corporations make shrewd investments that enable them to avoid onerous taxes. In the meantime the children of “the undeserving poor” are underfeed, under-stimulated and unprepared for entry into school…and we continue to believe that with a mix of grit and good luck they will be able to move up the economic ladder in order to avoid facing the fact that since Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” we’ve seen the demise of social mobility as we knew it.

Education Doesn’t Make a Difference… “Persistent Discrimination” Does

August 18, 2015 Leave a comment

A recent NYTimes article reported on a study conducted by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank that concluded that minorities with a college degree fared far worse in the last two decades than whites with degrees, leading to the unsettling conclusion that even the attainment of a degree does not assure African Americans and Hispanics with an opportunity to advance in terms of their economic status. The study, which focussed on the economic causes of this phenomenon, concluded that many minorities lacked the wealth base of whites (e.g. their parents were not home owners or the wherewithal to pay for their tuition) and so they ended up needing to borrow more for school and had more debt. Thus, whenever there was a downturn in the economy,they found themselves FURTHER behind in their efforts to accumulate wealth that they could pass along to their children and thereby assure their economic standing.

The study also noted that the kinds of degrees attained and kinds of jobs landed by blacks and Hispanics did not compensate as highly as those of whites, which contributed to the wealth disparity.

But the study also cited “persistent discrimination” as a factor…and persistent discrimination cannot be overcome with degrees or even earnings. It can only be accomplished when whites non longer see blacks and Hispanics as “the other” and accept them into their neighborhoods, classrooms, and circle of colleagues and friends. Unfortunately the means of accomplishing this through courts and legislation seem impossible. Desegregation plans, the construction of low income housing in affluent communities,and affirmative action have been resisted by voters and are no longer championed by either political party…. And changing hearts and minds is a slow and uphill battle.

Overcoming “persistent discrimination” will be difficult. Calling it out is an important first step. In a rational political world we would be asking our Presidential candidates how they plan to deal with this issue. MAYBE this will become a major issue in the campaign and we can work together as a nation to help overcome this deep seated problem.