The Network for Public Education (NPE), a non-profit organization that promotes progressive education, recently issued its first report card of State education policies, a report card that counters those devised by conservative organizations funded by pro-privatization billionaires. Mother Jones writer Kristina Riga interviewed Diane Ravitch, the founder of NPE, on why a new report crd was needed… and as expected Ms. Ravitch made a compelling case.
There were all of these state reports coming out from right-wing groups like Students First and the American Legislative Exchange Council arguing that the definition of success is getting rid of public education and taking away any right that teachers might have. These create a climate when there is report card after report card agreeing that the future should be privately managed [charter] schools. There is nobody on the other side other than the unions, which are immediately discredited. There need to be two sides to the debate. Right now [the education conversation] is presented as what Students First is promoting is all that works.
We felt it was important to set up this other criteria and show how effective school systems operate: They are adequately funded, have preschools; they make sure that their teachers are professionals, and they don’t give away their authority. This is how the best nations in the world operate. They don’t operate through vouchers and charters.
One of the factors Rizga flagged was the NPE data point that indicated the gap in spending per student in poor schools compared to rich schools had grown 44 percent in the last decade. Ms. Ravitch’s explanation for this widening gap?
One important reason is that the federal policy has tilted completely toward testing and accountability and away from equity. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was all about equity and equitable resources for low-income students, and then in the 1990s that began to change. In DC, policymakers think that if we can only have high enough standards, tough enough tests, and hold people accountable, we can close the achievement gap. And it hasn’t happened. Yet the new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, is based on the same test-based and market-driven framework and ideology, except it lets the states do it.
Ms. Ravitch could have also noted that when states cut back on their funding it has an especially devastating effect on those communities that do not have the local property tax base to offset the cuts and this exacerbates the difference between per pupil spending in rich districts and poor ones. Underfunded equalization formulas lose their impact, and almost every state has diminished their funding since the 2008 market collapse and few have restored their funding since the economy “recovered”.
In the coming months it would be heartening to see the NPE report card referenced in the mainstream media the way Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst Report Cards were promoted… but based on my Google feed it does not appear that local small town newspapers are reporting on NPE’s findings… but then more and more of those “small town” papers are owned by the people who are drawn to “reform” and want to believe that schools can be fixed by “getting rid of bad teachers” the same way that the deficit can be closed by “eliminating waste fraud and abuse”. Wishful thinking is always preferable to hard work.
Bravo to The Mountain Echo, Mount St Mary College’s student newspaper, for publishing an account of their newly appointed college President’s plan to increase the college’s retention rate by pre-emptively culling out students likely to drop out before they counted as part of the statistical baseline. Applying logic that, from all accounts, works well in the private sector, newly appointed college President Simon Newman devised a plan to identify likely failures as soon as possible and counsel them out of school quickly. Here’s an overview of the plan Mr. Newman devised and the purpose for it:
By a certain time into the first semester, the federal government requires colleges to issue a report on the number of students enrolled. This number is the baseline used to calculate drop out rates. For Mt. St. Mary’s that date was September 25.
In an effort to lower that baseline figure by 20-25 students, Mr. Newman developed and administered a survey that all newly enrolled students would take. The students and teachers were told this survey was “…developed by a leadership team here at The Mount, and it is based on some of the leading thinking in the area of personal motivation and key factors that determine motivation, success, and happiness. We will ask you some questions about yourself that we would like you to answer as honestly as possible. There are no wrong answers.” What the teachers weren’t told initially was that these survey results would be used to help identify students at risk of dropping out of college. In a subsequent email to President, the college Dean, after learning the true purpose of the survey posed this question:
“If this is not an anonymous survey, nor even a confidential personality test, but a highly intrusive, and misleadingly framed administrative tool, can we proceed without disclosing to our students’ what’s at stake?”
The Dean was not the only administrator who questioned the plan. There was strong opposition from most of the cabinet once they found out the true purpose of the test. One of the strongest opponents of this was Dr. Greg Murry, who headed a program for incoming freshman. Hurry was even more appalled when President Newman asked him to compile a list of freshmen whom professors in his program “…had determined were not likely to complete their freshman year successfully.”
This pushback led to a meeting with three of those officials and the President, a meeting that included this exchange and sequence of events:
According to Murry, during the course of the conversation, Newman said, “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies…put a Glock to their heads.”
Economics professor Dr. John Larrivee was also present and confirmed Murry’s account of the conversation with Newman.
Sources close to the president’s culling plan also confirm that the Mount Cares Committee was asked to provide names of freshmen to be dismissed.
Ultimately, the president’s plan was thwarted as no names were provided by the extended Oct. 2 deadline. “We simply ran out the clock,” Murry said.
A banker who came from an industry that heartlessly issued bogus mortgages to unsuspecting homeowners might not view students as “cuddly bunnies” and might be willing to “put a Glock to their heads” in order to get better numbers for US News and World Report, but fortunately for the students at Mt. St. Mary’s their administrative team defied the edict from the president.
This whole sequence of events is a good metaphor for the way charters cook their numbers… they intimidate and repeatedly suspend students who can’t “meet their standards” and build up their graduation rates by leaving a trail of “voluntary transfers” behind. Fortunately for our country, public school teachers still think of their students as cuddly bunnies.
h/t to Diane Ravitch and Peter Greene
An article by Elizabeth Harris earlier this week drove another nail into the Value Added coffin. The article uses lots of obfuscatory verbiage to paper over the blunt headline, “Over 200 Educators in New York Receive Erroneous Scores Linked to Student Scores”. Using language from a letter sent by the NYSED, Harris writes that the errors in calculations effected “less than 1 percent of the more than 40,000 educators who received such feedback” and to further diminish the impact quoted Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the Education Department, who noted that “…that while about 250 principals and teachers received incorrect scores, the error was large enough only to change the growth ratings for 30 educators, all of whom were principals.” The NYSED insinuation seems to be that just because “only” 30 principals got bad scores the system is just fine…. but their actions speak louder than their words:
Nonetheless, (Tompkins) said scores for the more than 40,000 educators would be recalculated at the contractor’s expense; the higher score would be the one that counts.
Sorry, reformers, the recalculation will not restore credibility to VAM….
Last Sunday’s NYTimes featured an op ed column by Robert M. Wachter, a professor and the interim chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the author of “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age.” Titled “How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers“, Wachter’s article focussed primarily on the medical field, but he noted several parallels between the efforts to hold teachers and doctors accountable through the use of objective measures.
Wachter opens with the observation that in both medicine and education we are “…hitting the targets, but missing the point” as we introduce layer upon layer of measurement. Wachter offers this overview of what has happened since the advent of these metrics:
Education is experiencing its own version of measurement fatigue. Educators complain that the focus on student test performance comes at the expense of learning. Art, music and physical education have withered, because, really, why bother if they’re not on the test?
At first, the pushback from doctors and teachers was dismissed as whining from entitled and entrenched guilds spoiled by generations of unfettered autonomy. It was natural, went the thinking, that these professionals would resist the scrutiny and discipline of performance assessment. Of course, this interpretation was partly right.
But the objections became harder to dismiss as evidence mounted that even superb and motivated professionals had come to believe that the boatloads of measures, and the incentives to “look good,” had led them to turn away from the essence of their work. In medicine, doctors no longer made eye contact with patients as they clicked away. In education, even parents who favored more testing around Common Core standards worried about the damaging influence of all the exams.
At the end of his piece, Wachter quotes Avedis Donabedian, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, an eminent expert in medical quality measurement. At the end of his career Professor Donabedian was asked what was the most important quality in the delivery of medicine. His response:
“The secret of quality is love,” he said.
Wachter concludes his essay with this paragraph:
Our businesslike efforts to measure and improve quality are now blocking the altruism, indeed the love, that motivates people to enter the helping professions. While we’re figuring out how to get better, we need to tread more lightly in assessing the work of the professionals who practice in our most human and sacred fields.
And on this Sunday, let us all say “Amen”.
Blogger/teacher Emily Kaplan wrote a thought provoking post earlier this month that Valerie Strauss reprinted in the Washington Post. A teacher who has worked in both public schools and a “no excuses” charter school, Ms. Kaplan describes the regimen “no excuses” charter students face and the success the students who remain in the schools achieve as measured by standardized tests. But when she tracked her “no excuses” students she found that their success was not sustained, which led her to do some soul searching:
Reflecting on my experiences teaching both at this school and at more traditional public schools, I find myself wondering if the methodology that enables young children to achieve so much so early actually hinders their long-term prospects. What if the struggles of graduates of “no excuses” schools reveal deficits that are not academic, but rather socio-emotional? What would happen if, instead of spending nine hours a day engaged in academic tasks determined by a teacher, children were to spend a large portion of their day developing “soft skills” that would enable them to overcome the hurdles they will encounter when they’re older? What if, like their suburban counterparts, they spent large portions of their day in rigorous, developmentally appropriate activities: learning to make friends, make art, and make believe, exploring and creating their interests and their identities?
That is, what if a necessary component of improving the long-term prospects of small children from disadvantaged backgrounds is not accelerating through childhood, but purposefully lingering in it?
Clearly Ms. Kaplan is onto something…. and the questions could continue to the list found in the “about” section of this blog.
- Why do we group students in grade levels based on their age?
- Why do we group students within a particular grade level based on their rate of learning?
- Why do we group students at all?
- Why does school take place in a limited time frame?
- Why do we believe there is “one best way” to educate ALL children?
Ms. Kaplan is witnessing the effects of our factory school paradigm that insists that all children of a certain age must have intellectual growth that is intellectual to every other child that age… a mental model that has no basis in reality. By purposefully lingering in childhood we might change more that the academic well being of children: we might get them to appreciate their experiences in the present moment.