Batching Based on Standardized Tests from Birth to Kindergarten: The Inevitable Consequence of the Factory Model
Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday lamenting the recommendations of “From Crawling to Walking” a recent report from the New America foundation. The report examines the learning gaps that exist when children enter school and offers a set of recommendations on how to fix those gaps. Their solution is predictable: set age-based learning standards from the very outset of life, give standardized tests to determine if the children are meeting the standards, and collect data to determine the most effective way to provide effective instruction. This is a terrible idea for a number of reasons… but one that is entirely predictable given the tenacity of the factory model of schooling that aligns learning with age and confuses learning rates with intellectual capacity.
As long as we group and assess children by age cohorts standardization will prevail. The grouping of children by age cohorts leads to the notion that a “child is not ready” for Kindergarten which leads to policy makers objectifying and quantifying “Kindergarten readiness”. These “readiness standards” are then mapped backwards to age levels— a constant that is easy to determine— and then measured by “standardized tests”.
Over 25 years ago Ron Edmunds decried the fact that we had it backward in our public schools: we had time as a constant and learning as a variable. And here’s the real shame: we are about to see Congress pass yet another bill that mandates that standardized tests be administered to batches of students grouped by age… the factory school model from the 1920s lives on!
And here’s the real shame of it: we have the capability to match our curriculum to the child instead of setting the curriculum and then proclaiming there is a “gap” between the child’s “ability” and the ultimately arbitrary standards we set. We need to get it right. We need to make time the variable and learning constant.
I was disheartened to read two recent articles describing the impact of money on public policy, an impact that is undercutting the ability of our country to function as a democracy. This post and one tomorrow illustrate how this is happening and what we need to do to stop it.
“A Wealthy Governor and His Friends are Remaking Illinois”, Nicholas Confessore’s article in today’s NYTimes describes how a small cadre of billionaires in that State supported fellow billionaire Bruce Rauner’s election to Governor and how they are transforming the way politics are handled in that state. Voters in Illinois, whose last ten Governor’s include four who were convicted of various corruption charges, whose legislature and elected officials have a dismal record when it comes to operating effectively, and whose economy has been hit hard by the loss of manufacturing. were particularly ripe for the message Rauner sent: “…cut spending and overhaul the state’s pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions.” The message penetrated in large measure because it echoed that of a small group of businessmen who donated millions to Rauner’s campaign, which– at $65,000,000— outspent his opponent 2:1 and massively outspent the public unions none of whom donated anything close to a million.
Spending on elections is nothing new… but the massive outpouring of funds that followed Rauner’s election is unprecedented. Since his election, two donors contributed over $20,000,000 to help Rauner implement his agenda. Indeed one donor, hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin, contributed $13.6 million to Mr. Rauner through the end of 2014 — more than the combined sum donated to his gubernatorial opponent by 244 labor unions in the state.
But while Rauner arguably bought his way into office, he did not as yet buy the hearts and minds of voters in the state:
For Mr. Rauner, the election results affirmed his agenda to shrink government and make the state more friendly to business.
But voters seemed torn. Along with electing Mr. Rauner, they gave Democrats a supermajority in both houses of the legislature.
They also approved two advisory ballot measures. One proposed an increase in the state’s minimum wage, something Mr. Rauner had told a candidate forum he was “adamantly, adamantly against raising.” Another urged lawmakers to amend the Illinois Constitution to allow a millionaires-only income tax increase, something Mr. Rauner had campaigned against.
Rauner is undeterred by the voice of the people on either of these issues, and as a result he is at loggerheads with the legislature over his budget proposal as well as some of his proposals to effectively eliminate public sector unions. His solution to this conflict: spend more of his money and that of his fellow billionaires.
In June, after Mr. Rauner and lawmakers failed to reach a budget deal, Turnaround Illinois (a PAC funded by Rauner and his billionaire friends) spent close to $1 million on television ads assailing Democrats.
The true impact of their financial muscle may not be felt until the legislative elections next fall, in which Mr. Rauner’s allies could again exploit an opening in the campaign finance law to spend unprecedented sums. (The same provision that removed the caps on Mr. Rauner’s campaign lifts them in any legislative race in which a “super PAC” spends more than $100,000. Mr. Rauner’s group has enough money to trigger the law in more than two dozen races.)
Mr. Rauner’s closest supporters hope to elect more Republicans. But some wealthy families, mindful that Democrats are likely to control the legislature for the foreseeable future, have financed an even more ambitious goal: to carve out a new faction of Democrats more willing to reach a compromise with the governor.
That effort has raised more than $14 million, in donations that rival the largest contributions in the presidential campaign. One million dollars came from Helen Zell, Mr. Zell’s wife, and $2 million from the head of a financial firm in which Mr. Rauner is an investor. The largest disclosed contribution came from hundreds of miles beyond Illinois: The former Texas energy trader John Arnold and his wife, Laura, gave $5 million.
Rauner’s strategy in a nutshell: if I spend enough money strategically I can get voters to elect a legislature that agrees with my desires to shrink government, reduce taxes on me and my friends, and eliminate unions and pensions. Rauner is shrewd enough to know that many voters will vote against their own self interest in the name of cutting taxes and other voters, resentful of the jobs, pensions, and benefits they lost will vote to reduce their neighbors pensions and benefits to help fund that tax cut.
Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that Rauner is a great advocate of privatization of all public services including public schools. Like many of his billionaire buddies, Rauner believes that businesses can operate these services more effectively and efficiently than “government” and they can do so with less corruption. Like his billionaire friends Rauner cannot see the paradox here: they are spending millions of dollars to advance their self interest while protesting the impact of public sector unions who spent hundreds of thousands to advance the self-interest of their employees. Too bad the unions don’t have the same access to the press as Rauner. As Confessore wrote:
The Chicago Sun-Times reversed its no-endorsement policy to back Mr. Rauner, who was a part-owner of the paper before he ran for governor.
Money can get a newspaper to reverse it’s policy… here’s hoping money won’t prevail in it’s efforts to undermine public policy in the coming years.
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.
Let me begin this post by sharing an essay I wrote in 2002, lamenting the passage of NCLB:
The Bush bill to improve public schools is deeply flawed for the following reasons:
NCLB perpetuates the school factory: Grade levels, seat time, and sorting of students and schools based on standardized test results— key elements of the factory school— are incorporated in the legislation.
NCLB relies on tests that measure what’s easy to test instead of what’s important to test: The time line for implementation of the NCLB testing effectively requires the use of existing off-the-shelf pencil and paper tests.
NCLB will channel limited resources to underachieving students: The ranking of schools based on average yearly progress will compel school boards, administrators, and teachers to work on improving the performance of low achieving students to the detriment of average and above average students.
NCLB assumes that the private sector can accomplish better results than the public sector with the same amount of money: The ultimate “school choice” is not between public schools and sectarian schools, it is between public schools and for-profit schools. The for-profit schools and for-profit tutoring services are eagerly awaiting the lists of failing schools to target their services. We will learn soon that the problem with low achieving public school students has less to do with the instruction that occurs six hours per day than with the environment students live in 18 hours per day. In order to leave no child behind, we will need to coordinate student resources the same way we are now coordinating our law enforcement resources.
That was written shortly after NCLB was passed, and I’m sad to say the predictions in that essay were 100% accurate… and even worse, it exacerbated the divide between affluent school districts and those with limited resources. Following the passage of NCLB I had the good fortune to work from 2003-2011 in one of the highest performing school districts in the nation and NCLB had no impact whatsoever on our day-to-day instruction in the classroom. With the exception of two years where students in the special education cohort fell short, the schools in the district all exceeded the minimum test scores required without any modifications to our curriculum or instruction. Upon my retirement when I consulted in less affluent districts I saw a completely different and unsurprising world: a world where test results dominated the instructional practices. It was unsettling to realize that the children in these districts received a completely different (and much more dispiriting) education than the children in the affluent district I led.
I’ve read several analyses of the recently passed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act a.k.a. the “Every Student Succeeds Act” or ESSA and I’m afraid we are not only stuck in the factory school rut for the coming decade but also likely to see a marked decline in the support for public schools as a result. The “victories” won by the Democrats, as described by Casey Quinlan in Think Progress, were basically stopping the Republicans from short-changing the bill or reallocating funds in a fashion that defeated ESEA’s original purpose, which was to direct supplemental funds to poverty stricken districts. Their losses, on the other hand, were substantive, including guarantees for assistance for students with disabilities, students of color, and English language learners who fall short of the standards set by States and universal pre-K.
The losses for those of us who seek an end to the factory school model and seek social justice in public education are significant. According to Politico reporter Caitlin Emma the Fordham Institute’s President Michael Petrilli was “especially glad” to see an adaptive testing provision included in ESSA because:
…it “should open the door to true adaptive tests, which will lead to lots more accuracy for kids way above or below grade level (and thus more accuracy in their growth scores — important for schools and teachers)”
The bill’s continuation of testing that facilitates VAM is ironic because ESSA also includes language requiring Title I schools to adhere to “evidence based” instructional practices while effectively encouraging teacher evaluation practices that are NOT based on any evidence whatsoever.
Both articles noted that ESSA shifts responsibilities “back to the States”, which is an enormous step backward when the majority of states are under the control of Republican legislatures who favor the model of “running schools like a business” and privatization as the ultimate solution when schools are found to be “failing”. Astonishingly, I found myself concurring with Margaret Spelling’s assessment of the consequences of giving States and local school boards more autonomy in setting minimum standards:
“This is the era of local control where we lack state and federal frameworks that can keep school districts and superintendents and all of us on track and honest with ourselves about where we’re headed,” Spellings said. “With all these school out of the net, underperformance will reign.”
Without national standards states like TX and school districts like Jefferson County CO can adopt curricula that re-write history and ignore science…. and other southern states can crow about high performance on State tests while downplaying low scores on NAEP… and we will restore the separate but equal school systems that existed following Plessy v. Ferguson in the late 1800s.
Over the past two decades, the presence of police has increased in schools to the extent that students are arguably learning to live in a police state. Two recent articles underscore this trend and led me to the question that is the title of this post.
In a Truthout article last week, GS Potter describes “How Police Became Part of the Public School System and How to Get Them Out.” In the post, Potter uses the recent incident in South Carolina as an example of how police in schools are needlessly using force and goes on to describe the expansion of Student Resource Officers (SROs) from their inception in 1958 and their limited impact until the 1990s. Initially funded solely through small grants and local funds, SROs became a federal initiative beginning in the Clinton administration and expanding dramatically thereafter: :
In the 1990s, though, police presence in public schools nationwide grew exponentially. During this decade, both the National Association for School Resource Officers was formed, and the US Justice Department developed their COPS in Schools grant program. This federal support dramatically increased the number of law enforcement officers in classrooms across the country. For example, according to a report published in Justice Quarterly, “As of July 2005, COPS has awarded in excess of $753 million to more than 3,000 grantees to hire more than 6,500 SROs through the CIS program and more than $10 million to hire approximately 100 SROs through the Safe Schools/Healthy Students program.”
This huge outlay of federal funds continues, with the Obama administration seeking an additional $150,000,000 for the coming year to bring the total number of federally funded SROs to 17,000. The roots of the problem with this program are in the fact that there is no clear delineation of the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement officials and school officials and the fact that most SROs lack the ability to work with emotionally handicapped and diverse populations. Evidence of this inability emerge when one examines the statistics on those arrested by officers for misconduct in schools. Potter writes:
…according to a joint letter written by the US Department of Education and the Department of Justice, “certain racial or ethnic groups tend to be disciplined more than their peers.” Similarly, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights reports that Black students are suspended and expelled three times more frequently than white students, and that Indigenous students are also punished disproportionately. The report also states that students with disabilities “represent 12% of the student populations, but 58% of those placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement and 75% of those physically restrained at school…. Black students represent 19% of students with disabilities … but 36% of these students who are restrained at school …”
The unfair treatment received by disadvantaged students in the classroom has only been reinforced by law enforcement agencies that also have records of unfairly targeting members of disadvantaged populations in their communities.
Potter describes the impact of SROs on minority and disabled students in detail, but overlooks the subtle impact the poise presence has on the entire student body. The presence of SROs disempowers the administration in the school since their power to punish is small in comparison to that of the police. The presence of SROs also undercuts the Principal’s ability to create a culture of caring, a climate that could mitigate the need for any forceful discipline. Finally, the presence of SROs sends a message to students that the only means of having a safe environment is to have visible police presence everywhere.
After reading Potter’s blog post in Truthout, I found an article by Mak Ojutku in yesterday’s Jersey Post especially chilling. The report describes a partnership between the Jersey City School Board and the Jersey City Police “to create a new way for students, faculty, and parents to report inappropriate activity in and around city schools.” WeTip, a 24/7 hotline to the police department, will make it possible for students to report:
“…anything from school bullying to major crimes. Depending on the information provided, the tip will be forwarded to the district’s security office or the police department.
The article doesn’t explain who will make the determination as to whether an incident warrants intervention by the police… and as a high school disciplinarian for six years I can assure you that the police and schools have different standards when it comes to defining misconduct.
The article concludes with the numbers one should call to make a report:
The hotline can be reached at the following designated numbers: 1-800-78-CRIME, 1-855-86-BULLY, 1-800-47-DRUGS, and 1-800-HIT-N-RUN.
I think it’s time to call 1-800-PEACENOW, reduce the number of SROs and use the funds to bring in guidance counselors and social workers for students.
I generally support the notion that decisions are best made closest to the action and, therefore, generally support the idea that State and Local school boards should be delegated as much latitude as possible in setting policy and determining the program of studies for their schools.
I generally oppose the imposition of academic standards based on the desires of businesspersons because they tend to focus on workplace skills and diminish the value of the humanities.
But I also strongly support the notion that we need a common set of facts to draw from if we want to have an informed electorate: we need to have a common understanding of history and accept the rarity that scientific facts change and when they change whole theories change with them.
As I’ve written previously in tho blog, the Common Core is a good idea that was poorly executed… and idea that should be– indeed MUST be– recast. In a post where I proposed an education platform for the 2016 presidential campaign I offered this recommendation for the Common Core:
- Revise the Common Core: Recent actions by state legislatures (g. Texas) and local school boards (e.g. Jefferson County, CO) underscore the need for a common set of standards for education. The Common Core, underwritten by extraordinarily wealthy businessmen, was developed in response to this legitimate need. Unfortunately, the Common Core was developed without any meaningful input from classroom teachers and, to make matters worse, once it was issued the authors of the Common Core were not responsive to the revisions recommended by teachers, academics, and child psychologists. We should not scrap the Common Core because we need to make certain that students across the country learn the facts about health, science, and history. But instead of unilaterally imposing these standards from Washington, we should use the Common Core as the basis for the development of a standard curriculum for each state. If elected I will require each state to create Standards Teams to use the Common Core as the basis for the creation of a rigorous but realistic set of State standards. The Standards Teams will include curriculum content experts from state universities, representative classroom teachers, and developmental psychologists.
Stories like this one about the Texas school board from the Christian Science Monitor reinforce the need for a national set of standards. The headline and subheading say it all:
Texas rejects allowing academics to fact-check public school textbooks
Texas’ education officials rejected allowing university experts fact-check textbooks approved for the state’s 5.2 million public-school students.
And why might some fact checking be needed? This anecdote explains:
The Board of Education approves textbooks in the nation’s second-largest state and stood by its vetting process — despite a Houston-area mother recently complaining that a world geography book used by her son’s ninth grade class referred to African slaves as “workers.”
This is the same group who do not allow teaching on climate change, evolution and other myriad scientific facts that are contrary to their cultural norms. It is important in this day and age that we face inconvenient truths and weigh evidence carefully. But when children are being taught that African slaves were “workers” it is difficult to see how they will understand the root causes of the civil rights movement and why Black Lives Matter.
The reauthorization legislation before Congress effectively hands all curriculum decisions back to states. I am dismayed that children in some parts of this country will graduate from high school with gaps in their scientific knowledge and warped perspectives on history.