Today’s Taking Note blog post in the NYTimes reports on Governor Cuomo’s decision to close down the State’s “Doctor Report Card” web site because ” it costs too much at $1.2 million a year“. Well going into the new Common Core New York was spending over $10 million per year on standardized tests and the new testing program that is required to provide Value Added Measures will require an even greater outlay of state funds.
So… at the same time Cuomo is closing a relatively inexpensive web page that provides worthwhile and helpful information about doctors he is promoting a costly and statistically flawed method for assessing the performance of teachers whose information is worthless. I suspect in both cases his political donors might be influencing his thinking.
Last week Eduardo Porter’s column, “The Promise and Failure of Community College” highlighted the conundrum community colleges face: because so many students who enroll are unprepared for the coursework they drop out before completing the coursework. For decades I have offered a straightforward cost-effective solution to this problem: require high school sophomores to take the community college placement examination before making their course selections for 11th and 12th grade. These test results could be used as a diagnostic and vocational tool illustrating to students the specific gaps they need to fill in their remaining years in high school if they wish to pursue post secondary schooling. By alerting the students to those gaps with two years left in high school it would be possible for a larger number of them to avoid paying for non-credit-bearing courses when the enroll in the community college in their state. More importantly, the results could be used to begin a conversation between the guidance counselors and students about how the final two years of high school could help prepare them for the future.
Why wouldn’t this idea work? One of the realities that Porter and other columnists fail to mention is that community colleges and similar two-year institutes would lose large sums of money if they didn’t offer remedial courses…. and for that reason the post-secondary schools might push back if legislators insisted that they standardize their placement examinations and allow them to be administered in the 10th grade. Administering diagnostic preparation tests in 10th grade would be far more beneficial than administering summative standardized tests in 11th grade and would cost states far less than the standardized assessments required today. So… what are we waiting for!
As readers of this blog realize, I have written thousands of words over the past three years expressing opposition to NCLB and its misbegotten step-sister RTTT. Thus, when I read today’s NYTimes editorial calling for a continuation of the testing regimen put in place as a result of NCLB, I wanted to fill the comment box with my reaction… but, alas, was limited to 1500 characters.
Here’s what I found especially maddening about the conclusions of the Times: they identified the underlying problems with NCLB but failed to address them in their solution! For example, they ordered the following insights:
Congress missed a chance to fix this problem when it failed to reauthorize the law as scheduled in 2007. Had lawmakers taken up the matter, they could easily have reduced the overemphasis on test scores by giving some weight to other indexes, like advanced courses, the strength of the curriculum and college admission rates. Instead, Congress did nothing and left it to the Department of Education to address the problem as best it could through administrative means.
Although the federal law required only one math and one English test per year, it led to a wave of over-testing that swept this country’s schools during the last decade. Some school districts reacted to the fear of being labeled “failing” by adding layers of practice tests, effectively turning education into mere test preparation.
In the end, though, instead of advocating the use of a different metric, the Times bemoaned the fact that Congress was intending to shift the responsibility for accountability to the states while unquestioningly accepting the premise that only annual testing mandated by the Federal government would provide the “basic policy tool kit…essential for improving schools”.
After reading the flawed logic and faulty assumptions that led to bad conclusions, I decided to offer a shortened version of the bill I’d lie to see Congress undertake:
Over 12 years of testing has proven what we already knew beforehand:
==> Schools serving children born in affluence outperform schools serving children born in poverty
==> States that spend more on schooling outperform states who spend less
==> If tests are used to punish and reward teachers and schools, teachers will focus all their time and energy on boosting test scores
We’ve also learned that:
==> State legislatures have no penalty if they do not address funding disparities that state courts deem unconstitutional.
==> State departments and the federal government do not have the wherewithal to “take over” failing schools
If we wanted to use federal legislation to improve “failing” schools, we would: ==> Direct ALL federal funds, including those for special education, to districts whose budgets are constitutionally underfunded.
==> Require each state to convene a team of public school teachers, administrators, school board members, post secondary institution leaders, and business leaders to devise an accountability framework that each state will use to develop their own unique means of measuring school effectiveness
==> Provide funds to develop preschool programs to serve children raised in poverty with wraparound support.
Most importantly, we should abandon the belief that vouchers and/or deregulated for-profit schools are the answer. If we want top tier schools for all we will need to spend more: more for teachers; more for social services; and more for technology.
This article gives an excellent overview of how standardized testing has changed the tone of public education. As one who gave what I hoped were motivational speeches at the beginning of the year, it saddens me to think that the speeches today are about metrics…. but that is the world we live in thanks to NCLB and RTTT… and here’s hoping we learn from the experience of Germany!
In a piece of legislation that the Onion could not pass off as satire, the Oklahoma legislature has decided to replace AP History with… wait for it…
… a long list of “foundational documents,” including the Ten Commandments, two sermons and three speeches by Ronald Reagan.
Judd Legum’s Think Progress post reporting on this story selected the juiciest examples from the list of the 58, but it also held back on some unsettling details until later in the story:
Many of the texts are uncontroversial and undoubtedly covered by the Advanced Placement U.S. History course, such as the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and Gettysburg address. But the bill also has an ideological and religious bent. In addition to 3 speeches by Reagan, the curriculum as includes a speech by George W. Bush but nothing from any Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson.
We learned in yesterday’s ThinkProgress post that Oklahoma’s legislative leaders don’t believe in the separation of church and state… today we’ve learned that they also do not believe in the two party system of government or the need to present multiple perspectives on the tough issues we are facing today and Oklahoma students will face in the future.
I’ve written on multiple posts that the process that yielded the Common Core was deeply flawed and the intended use of the Common Core to assess students based on their age is misguided… but the NEED for a common curriculum that provides all American students with the ability to think clearly and make decisions based on evidence is indisputable. If you think otherwise, move to Oklahoma and treat your children to a social studies curriculum that views the Ten Commandments as a “foundational document” that MUST be taught and, therefore, will undoubtedly be part of the standardized assessments used to determine the quality of that state’s schools.
A week ago I wrote a post in response to Frank Bruni’s op ed piece on the purpose of college and this week Mr. Bruni is digging more deeply into that topic with his essay titled “College, Poetry, and Purpose“. Given his support for the “reform” movement it is difficult to reconcile his support for the expansive purpose of college education and the narrow focus dictated by the test-driven accountability the “reformers”advocate.
In Mr. Bruni’s essay last week he recalled his most memorable course in college, which was on Shakespeare. In the past week he heard from the professor who taught the course, Ms. Anne Hall, who currently serves as a lecturer at Penn. These paragraphs describing his reunion with her on Monday of this week got my attention:
But what, in an overarching sense, should students be after? What’s the highest calling of higher education?
When I asked her this on Monday night, she shot me a look of exasperation, though it gave way quickly to a smile. And I remembered that smile from 30 years earlier, when she would expound on Othello’s corrosive jealousy, present Lady Macbeth as the dark ambassador of guilt’s insidious stamina and show those of us in her class that with careful examination and unhurried reflection, we could find in Shakespeare just about all of human life and human wisdom: every warning we needed to hear, every joy we needed to cultivate.
She answered my question about college’s purpose, but not right away and not glibly, because rushed thinking and glibness are precisely what she believes education should be a bulwark against. She’s right.
Ms. Hall responds to Mr. Bruni’s question after several paragraphs describe the changes in college over the past several decades, changes that result from the view of students as “customers” who must be satisfied. As a result of this perspective, campuses focus on food and amenities to recruit students and offer courses that more engaging and graded less rigorously. Ironically, this kind of “market-based” thinking is advocated by “reformers” on the premise that parents will seek out schools that are more rigorous and demanding… a premise that is undercut by the college marketplace. Her response to Mr. Bruni’s questions is captured in the closing paragraph, which is paraphrased in the title of this post:
That brought Hall to her own answer about college’s mission: “It is for developing the muscle of thoughtfulness, the use of which will be the greatest pleasure in life and will also show what it means to be fully human.”
Her response and Mr. Bruni’s essay led me to leave this comment:
Now if we can just develop a standardized assessment that measures “thoughtfulness”… but we couldn’t develop such a test because we need to get the test results “right away” and the results need to be reduced to a single number or set of numbers that are converted to a letter grade.
Because we want to rush to judgment and reduce educational performance to an easily understood “grade” we don’t give students the time they need to demonstrate the kind of deep, thoughtful responses an essay requires… the time you rightfully provided to Ms. Hall. Given your agreement that Anne Hall is right when she says “rushed thinking and glibness are precisely what… education should be a bulwark against” I would hope you would speak out against the mindless standardized tests that are currently in use to “prove” schools, students, and teachers are failing. Those tests are driving the “rushed thinking and glibness” Ms. Hall observes in her Ivy League college students today.
I do not expect that Mr. Bruni will be devoting his next essay to questioning the wisdom of using standardized tests to “measure” school, student, or teacher performance… but MAYBE Ms. Hall will read the comment and agree with it and explain to Mr. Bruni how standardization and thoughtfulness are antithetical.