In his own blog post, that was picked up by Diane Ravtich and Naked Capitalism, Arizona State professor Gene V. Glass explains why he no longer wants to be referred to as a “measurement specialist”… an in doing so gives a history of education measurement over the past 50 years. The post is full of revelations from a statistician who witnessed the corruption of testing. After getting his doctorate from University of Illinois, Glass worked for several years trying successfully to devise tests that would help teachers assess students based on the student’s learning style. This paragraph describes what happened next:
Around 1980, I served for a time on the committee that made most of the important decisions about the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The project was under increasing pressure to “grade” the NAEP results: Pass/Fail; A/B/C/D/F; Advanced/Proficient/Basic. Our committee held firm: such grading was purely arbitrary, and worse, would only be used politically.The contract was eventually taken from our organization and given to another that promised it could give the nation a grade, free of politics. It couldn’t.
It was around 1980 that politics and testing began to intertwine… and their relationship to the “decline” in American schools was clear to Glass:
The degrading of public education has involved impugning its effectiveness, cutting its budget, and busting its unions. Educational measurement has been the perfect tool for accomplishing all three: cheap and scientific looking.
International tests have purported to prove that America’s schools are inefficient or run by lazy incompetents. Paper-and-pencil tests seemingly show that kids in private schools – funded by parents – are smarter than kids in public schools. We’ll get to the top, so the story goes, if we test a teacher’s students in September and June and fire that teacher if the gains aren’t great enough.
Eventually, the “…cronyism between corporations and politicians” disgusted Glass so much he’s decided to change his teaching assignments:
When measurement became the instrument of accountability, testing companies prospered and schools suffered. I have watched this happen for several years now. I have slowly withdrawn my intellectual commitment to the field of measurement. Recently I asked my dean to switch my affiliation from the measurement program to the policy program. I am no longer comfortable being associated with the discipline of educational measurement.
Many veteran educators I know share Glass’ disdain for the direction schools have headed and feel that the mission of education has changed for the worse…. and in some cases they have not only withdrawn their intellectual commitment to public schools but also withdrawn their political commitment to their improvement. In the coming months those of us who believe education is the best means for eliminating the vicious cycle of poverty need to work to get officials who support the mission of public education elected to offices in all levels of the government.
The NYTimes review of Dale Russakov’s new book, The Prize, describes the failed effort of the Newark Public Schools to take full advantage of a $100,000,000 donation from Facebook founder and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. These two paragraphs from the review, written by Alex Kotlowitz, provide a good synopsis of the idea behind Zuckerberg’s gift and why it quickly headed south:
When Zuckerberg declared his grant, the agenda was pretty clear: Turn the Newark schools around in five years and make it a national model. But from the get-go, there seemed little agreement as to how best to proceed. More than anything, Christie wanted to break the hold of the entrenched teachers’ unions. Booker wanted more charter schools. Zuckerberg wanted to raise the status of teachers and to reward teaching that improved students’ performance.
Their five-year plan gets off to a rocky start. Initial funds go to a bevy of consultants, most of them white, most of them well connected, some of whom are getting paid $1,000 a day. One educator labels them the “school failure industry.” Moreover, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a top-down effort, with politicians and the well-to-do setting the agenda. When Booker sets up a local foundation to handle Zuckerberg’s gift, the seats on the board go only to donors of at least $5 million. You can begin to see where this story’s headed. Booker shows more interest in his own political career than he does in running his city. Christie hires an ideologue as his point person on the Newark schools. And Zuckerberg, a newcomer to philanthropy, seems frustrated by the inability to negotiate a union contract that would quickly raise the salaries of promising young teachers and pay substantial merit bonuses for high performers.
I’ve blogged on Mark Zuckerberg’s largesse in Newark on several occasions, lamenting the fact that the $100,000,000 donation could have done much more for the city and schools had it been used to renovate or replace decrepit schools or provide access to broadband in large swaths of the community, and bemoaning his notion of using the funds to “reward teachers” since negotiated pay scales require that incorporate “merit pay” require assurances of continued funding. But one point that Rusakoff makes warrants emphasis:
Public education is the bedrock of democracy — and yet when it comes to repairing our schools the democratic process is too often ignored. What ultimately derails this grand experiment is the unwillingness of the reformers to include parents and teachers in shaping the reforms.
And why is the democratic process ignored? Because the “reformers” like Zuckerberg are used to operating in a world where they control things without pesky elected boards and opportunistic politicians like Christie and Booker want to make a splash, reward their donors, and advance to the next level of government. In the meantime, the three major players in this drama, Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg, decided to proceed without a clearly agreed upon plan: they couldn’t even use the democratic process among themselves!
Democracy and business do not mix. Democracy requires deliberative give-and-take and business requires fast and focussed action. Democracy works best at addressing complex problems that have no clear answer. Business approaches work best addressing complicated problems that can be fixed by engineering. I, for one, was not surprised to see the $100,000,000 prize frittered away given the lack of clarity on how it should be spent. Here’s hoping that Zuckerberg’s next foray into supporting schools works better. Given this description of the project, I’m rooting for him:
…The one individual who appears changed by the experience is, somewhat surprisingly, Zuckerberg. Last year, along with his wife, Priscilla Chan, who as a pediatric intern cared for underserved children around San Francisco, Zuckerberg announced a gift of $120 million in grants to high-poverty schools in the Bay Area. This time, though, they declared their intent to include parents and teachers in the planning process. But more to the point, a key component to their grants includes building “a web of support for students,” everything from medical to mental health care. Zuckerberg came to recognize that school reform alone isn’t enough, that if we’re going to make a difference in the classroom, we also need to make a difference in the lives of these children, many of whom struggle against the debilitating effects of poverty and trauma. Here is where this story ends — but also where the next story begins.
Brittany Bronson’s op ed column in today’s NYTimes points out the many flaws with the voucher legislation passed recently in her home state of Nevada. But unlike many of the earlier columns I’ve read on this topic, which tend to focus on some of the obvious problems (e.g. giving $5,000/year to parents who are already paying for private school education and home schooling using computer-assisted-learning modules), Ms. Bronson digs deeper, noting the link between the working conditions parents in poverty face as compared to those faced by typical middle class parents. She writes:
In Nevada, about one in four children live in poverty, not because their schools have failed them, but because their parents juggle multiple jobs on a stagnant minimum wage, have little job security and are denied paid time off.
These economic challenges present direct conflicts with the type of parental involvement and support that are necessary for quality education. Erratic and unpredictable work hours make it difficult to organize transportation to and from school and after-school child care. Long workdays limit parents’ ability to ensure that children’s academic responsibilities outside of school are being met. Low wages without benefits make it impossible to afford enriching activities outside the classroom or quality health care that plays a crucial role in academic success.
Ms. Bronson’s analysis of the impact of the “on-demand” workplace and parent engagement is cogent and long overdue. Those who want to find comfort in the fact that charter schools outperform neighborhood schools often overlook the fact that the enrollment process to get into a charter school requires the ability for the parent to make and keep appointments at the school they wish their child to attend or take time off from work to wait in line to register. A parent working unpredictable part-time hours whose continued employment is contingent on showing up for work whenever their employer needs them cannot, in many cases, keep an appointment AND keep their job. Those of us who worked predictable hours in full time jobs have trouble grasping how challenging it is to raise children with the schedules many parents face today.
One other point Ms. Bronson emphasizes is one made by the Anna E. Casey Foundation:
The Anne E. Casey Foundation argues that improving the well-being of children in poverty requires a two-generation approach, meaning you can’t improve the situation for children without addressing the economic realities of their parents. Its 2015 report states that, “Boosting low family income, especially early in a child’s life, can have lasting positive effects on cognitive development, health, and academic achievement.”
As I have often lamented in this blog, politicians and taxpayers want a cheap, fast, and simple solution– like vouchers— to a costly, slow, and complex problem– like the seemingly intractable cycle of poverty. If we want to break the vicious cycle of poverty, we need to show compassion for those trapped in its web, be willing to share some of our resources, and be patient.
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.
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.
The NYTimes reported that the opt out movement can no longer be ignored and that the huge increase in opt outs might be posing some major problems for the state… and perhaps the nation. According to data released from NYSED, 20% of students opted out of the states annual tests, quadruple the number who stayed home in 2014. Worse for the state, most of those who stayed home were from the cohorts that scored the highest. And the increase in NYS opt outs could have national ramifications:
Politically, however, pressure has been mounting on lawmakers to give the opt-out movement a wide berth. Last year, the New York Legislature forbade school districts from basing promotion decisions for students on test scores, and from putting them on their permanent records. There is no legal right in New York to remove one’s child from the state assessments, but no law prohibits it either.
The movement has also been weighing on Congress this year as it debates revisions to the law known as No Child Left Behind. A House bill says that the students who opt out will not be counted against their state’s participation rate. A Senate proposal does not go quite so far, but it would allow states to create their own test-refusal policies.
Those who support tests continue to use the bogus civil rights argument:
“Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind,” the chancellor of the State Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, said in a statement. “This cannot happen.”
But the data gathered from those who DID take the tests indicate that Ms. Tisch’s “reform” solution to addressing the neediest students, placing them in charter schools, won’t make any difference… unless the charters are like those in NYC that selectively screen students:
Charter school students performed slightly worse than the state as a whole on the English exams and slightly better on the math. But those in New York City did better on both than charters elsewhere in the state. At Success Academy, a fast-growing network of city charter schools known for a demanding approach to instruction and test preparation, virtually every grade tested had at least a 50 percent passing rate, with half the grades achieving at least 85 percent.
MAYBE the opt out movement will enable the general public to see that testing students in grade level cohorts does not result in “…the progress of our neediest students” and for-profit charter schools are no better than traditional public schools at achieving higher test scores. The reality is that our “…neediest students” need more than grit or rigorous academic programs that begin in pre-kinergarten: they need support and care from the outset of their lives and their parents need jobs that pay them a living wage under conditions conducive to good parenting.
The title of an article in the Well section of the NYTimes by Jan Hoffman caught my eye:
‘Body’ Report Cards Aren’t Influencing Arkansas Teenagers
The article described the results of a study that reviewed the impact of Arkansas’ attempt to reduce adolescent obesity by issuing letters to their parents describing their BMI. The findings: the letters have had almost no effect, at least on older teenagers.
The article notes that several states of taken similar actions, providing parents with an array of fitness measures including their BMIs, their comparative ability to run a mile, do push-ups and sit-ups, and lift their trunk off the floor. The general consensus among the physicians and researchers quoted in the article seemed to be that spending money to tell teenagers they are overweight is pointless— they already know they are overweight or unfit. One of the reactions, though, was especially provocative:
Martha M. Phillips, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who evaluated the annual Arkansas data for a decade, said the letters alone were never expected to change behavior.
Arkansas schools, she said, reinforced the message with many efforts. Some school districts banned vending machines or regulated student access to them, and limited the snacks’ calorie count. Others restricted the number of parties a classroom could hold in a year, to cut off seemingly endless supplies of cupcakes and brownies. Others beefed up staff for physical education classes.
The result? Obesity rates among Arkansas schoolchildren have remained roughly the same since the initiative began.
This, some experts say, constitutes good news.
“It didn’t get worse,” Dr. Phillips said, who noted that obesity rates had been rising steadily for some three decades before the new program took effect.
If the issuance of health report cards is not expected to change behavior, why do we think that the issuance of academic reports cards will change behavior. Indeed, the reactions of teenagers to report cards in the article resonated with me as a former high school administrator:
“The typical 16-year-old’s reaction to getting a letter at home and having your parents tell you to eat right and exercise, would be, ‘Don’t nag me,’ ” said Dr. Gee, an assistant professor of education policy at the University of California, Davis.
Is the teenager’s issuance of a quarterly academic report card any different?
”A letter home in high school doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Dr. Story of Duke, who conducted research in Minnesota on obesity prevention programs for adolescents. “Most teenagers already know when they’re overweight.”
Don’t most teenagers already know where they stand in the academic pecking order the same way they know they are overweight?
The answer in both academics and obesity seems to be the same: earlier intervention and parent engagement is essential. But will an overweight parent who has an unhealthy diet be able to change their eating habits? Will that parent prepare healthy meals to help their child achieve a lower BMI? Will an overweight parent who has not exercised for several years encourage their child to ride their bike or go for a walk instead of playing computer games or watching television? The analogy for academics is self-evident… and, arguably, health, intellectual growth, and well-being are inter-related. Breaking the cycle will require more than report cards, more than increasingly sophisticated measures, and more than schools can provide in six hours beginning at the age of five. More than anything, it will require a belief on the part of parents that their children will have an opportunity for success if they stay fit and study hard. That faith in the future is difficult when all evidence is to the contrary.
- Gene Glass, Explains His Decision to Stop Being a “Measurement Specialist”
- Newark’s Failed Efforts at Reform Revealed in “The Prize”
- NYTimes Column Illustrates Vouchers’ Subtle Shortcomings
- LA Times’ ‘Independent’ Education Project Bankrolled by Charter School Backers
- Phi Delta Kappa Poll Results are in… and “Reformers” Cannot Be Pleased
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