Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

A State Report Card that Measures What is Important: Equity and Opportunity

February 5, 2016 Leave a comment

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.

Unsurprisingly, when the states were measured against the criteria NPE established, they fell short of the mark as the map below indicates:Maps

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.

College President from Finance Has Solution to Drop Out Rate: “Drown the Bunnies”

February 2, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Chris Hedges “Pity the Children” Underscores Need to Change Schooling to Address Violence

February 1, 2016 Leave a comment

Truthdig blogger Chris Hedges writes prolifically and forcefully about the dystopia we have created for those living in poverty and the urgent need for action. “Pity the Children“, his post today, does just that. Using the life story of a young man convicted of murder and sentenced to 35 years in prison, data on crime and poverty, and the writings of criminologist Lonnie Athens and a book about Mr. Athens by Richard Rhodes, Hedges paints a picture of our country that is distressing:

Violent criminals are socialized into violence. And a society that permits this to take place is culpable. Over 15 million of our children go to bed hungry. Every fifth child (16.1 million) in America is poor. Every 10th child (7.1 million) is extremely poor. We have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. We have scaled back or cut social services, including welfare. Our infrastructures—including our inner-city schools, little more than warehouses—are crumbling. Police regularly gun down unarmed people in the streets. The poor spend years, sometimes lifetimes, without meaningful work or nurturing environments. And these forms of state violence fuel acts of personal violence…

In past societies, such as medieval Europe—where corporal punishment, especially of children, was widespread, along with domestic violence, sexual abuse, public floggings and executions—there was a corresponding higher rate of violent crime. In 13th-century England, Rhodes points out in his book on Lonnie Athens, “the national homicide rate was around 18 to 23 per 100,000.” The United States has a homicide rate of 4.5 per 100,000. But when you look at impoverished inner cities you find homicide rates that are astronomical. St. Louis has a homicide rate of 59.23 per 100,000, Baltimore 54.98 per 100,000, and Detroit 43.89 per 100,000. Some impoverished neighborhoods within American cities have even higher homicide rates. West Garfield Park in Chicago, for example, with 18,000 people, had 21 murders last year. This gives the neighborhood a homicide rate of 116 per 100,000 people.

Hedges, a radical writer who strongly opposes the neoliberal direction our nation has taken, does not believe things need to be this way. We do not have to impose austerity measures on the poor, cut their social services, and abandon them to commit murders against each other. Given his strong assertion that violent criminals are socialized into violence, a premise that drives the work of Lonnie Athens, he sees a way we could pull people into the world we live in and develop a future that is less dystopian than the current course we are on today.

Violent criminals, like all of us, begin as vulnerable, fragile children. They are made. They are repeatedly violated and traumatized as children, often to the point of numbness. And as adults they turn on a world that violated them, as the criminologist Lonnie Athens—himself raised in a violent household—has pointed out.

All of us, Athens says, carry within us phantom communities, those personalities and experiences that shape us and tell us how to interpret the world. The impact of these phantom communities, Athens writes, “is no less than [that of] the people who are present during our social experiences.” The phantom community, Athens says, is “where someone is coming from.” When your phantom community is a place of violence, you act out with violence. Violent criminal behavior is not a product of race. It is not even, finally, a product of poverty. It is a product of repeated acts of violence by figures of authority, including the state, upon the child.

And Hedges catalogs the way the State as it is constructed now bring violence into the lives of children by placing too many of them in overcrowded and dysfunctional foster homes, placing most of them in dilapidated and underfunded schools, and by shortchanging the very social services that could serve as a lifeline to them. The solution?

“Give the poor a chance economically by providing jobs, integrate them into the social order, provide vigorous protection and quality education for children, make possible a life of dignity for families, secure neighborhoods, end mass incarceration. If those things are done, violent crime and drug addiction will dissipate. If we continue down the road of neoliberalism and austerity, violent crime and drug addiction—the way many of the broken cope with the stress, humiliation and despair of poverty—will grow.”

For schools this does not mean more tests or more “no excuses” schooling, for those both look like the work of authority figures imposing themselves on children in the same way the violent community does so in their everyday lives. Hedges and Athens both want to introduce love and compassion into shelves of those being raised in violence… and and both believe if we continue down our current path we are doing it at our peril.

VAM Nailed in NYS as 250 Educators Receive Erroneous Ratings

January 27, 2016 Leave a comment

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….

Metrics Can’t Quantify the Most Important Factor in Schools…. LOVE

January 24, 2016 Leave a comment

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”.

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Successful “No Excuses” Primary Students Flame Out in Middle School… WHY?

January 21, 2016 Leave a comment

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.

Libertarians Have Right Diagnosis, Wrong Cure

January 19, 2016 Leave a comment writer Nick Gillespie does an excellent job describing what is wrong with public education today in a post he wrote last weekend:

The heart of the problem is that traditional public schools are locked into a centuries-old model that, to greater and lesser degrees, treats all kids as essentially identical inputs that will be transformed into a desired, essentially identical output after 13 years of schooling. Think of it: Our schools still adhere to an agricultural schedule that even farmers don’t use any more. The result isn’t simply a waste of time and resources. It’s a morally horrifying waste of human potential. “Education is how people fulfill their humanity,” says school reformer Lisa Graham Keegan.

He goes on to note all of the technological advances that have occurred that tailor services to meet our needs:

In virtually every other part of our lives over the past 45 or so years, we’ve experienced a shift to mass personalization where our specific, individualized needs and desires are tended to. Shop online at Amazon and you’re nearly overwhelmed by a proliferation of choices for all sorts of goods. Go to a Starbucks and they’ll make any sort of coffee concoction you can think of—and they’ll give you free samples of stuff you didn’t even know was possible.

But in the last sentence of this paragraph, Mr. Gillespie goes off the rails:

Just about everywhere in our lives there is more choice—except for K-12 education.

Ah yes… CHOICE! Unsurprisingly for a libertarian blog site, choice and the free market are seen as the solution to every problem, including the seemingly intractable problem of the vicious cycle of poverty. According to the faith of the free marketeers, the way out of poverty, racial discrimination, and economic disadvantage is simple: give people choices and they will either make good ones and pull themselves up or make bad ones and suffer the consequences. As in the opening of his article, Mr. Gillespie is clear-eyed in seeing the problem (with the omission of one offending phrase regarding education’s “monopoly power”):

The public school system… has been slow to join the customization revolution and move past the practices of an industrial-era capitalism focused on creating massive amounts of identical products. This model, which served its purpose, is particularly devastating for children growing up in lower-income families, who generally lack the money to exercise school choice by moving into the “right” town or school district, much less pay for increasingly expensive private schools. The result is a system that is constantly shouting hosannas to democracy, class-mixing, and income mobility while replicating the existing class structure and serving the interests of teachers, realtors, politicians, and other powers that be.

But the solution Mr. Gillespie offers falls short of the mark:

It doesn’t have to be this way. As Lisa Snell has shown in a wide-ranging and influential body of work, tying school funding to a specific student—so-called backpack funding because money stays with the kid wherever he or she goes—and other forms of school choice such as charters open up possibilities for education unthinkable to generations of parents and taxpayers who experience public education as a non-responsive bureaucracy.

Indeed, since being introduced in the 1990s, publicly funded charter schools have exploded in number (over 6,000 exist) and popularity (about 5 millions students choose them) for the simple reason they cannot take students (and their funding) for granted. At its best, varieties of school choice give all students (and their parents) the market power to match their interests and needs to a school that can actually serve them.

Ah yes… market power! There are two overarching problems with this thinking. First and foremost is  casting public education as a “monopoly”. By promoting this notion Mr. Gillespie and his fellow “reformers” are viewing public schools as a shopping venue like Amazon or Starbucks without seeing the obvious flaw: children raised in poverty have never gotten on line to buy a product from Amazon nor seen a Starbucks that offers “… any sort of coffee concoction you can think of—and… free samples” in their neighborhood. If you’ve only shopped in the corner bodega you have no idea what choices exist in, say, Scarsdale. Worse, the “backpack funding” that states like Nevada provided in the name of choice would not give children raised in poverty the wherewithal to even enter an online shopping mall like Amazon or a fancy coffee shop like Starbucks.

Schools cannot be viewed as a monopoly any more than police or firefighters can be viewed as a monopoly. Police protection, fire protection, and public education are a public “good” designed to provide all citizens with an equal level of service. More than anything else, the commodification of public services is making our country more inequitable. The only way forward is to join hands and help transform our public schools break out of a “…centuries-old model that, to greater and lesser degrees, treats all kids as essentially identical inputs” by stopping the use of standardized tests that are predicated on precisely that kind of thinking.