Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

Patty Murray and “Bi-Partisan Seeking” Democrats Should Recall Jeffords in NCLB Reauthorization

June 30, 2015 Leave a comment

In reading an account in the ASCD Journal about the tug-of-war over the reauthorization of NCLB I recall the original bi-partisan passage of the bill. During the final negotiations, Jim Jeffords agreed to vote for the bill because it was supposed to include a proviso that would fully fund the special education law. This was a key issue for Jeffords whose home state, VT, included scores of small districts who constantly struggled to balance budgets when students with extraordinary special needs moved in. When the final bill was adopted Jeffords saw that his Republican colleagues pulled that proviso out of the bill, an action that contributed to Jeffords decision to pull out of the party and create a slim Democrat majority in the Senate.

Whenever I read about the desire for “bipartisan agreements” and promises of provisos that will include elements that ensure more equitable funding I think of Jim Jeffords. I hope Patty Murray does not fall victim to the same shenanigans… but expect to see vouchers and abandonment of the replacement of national common core tests with state developed tests as elements in whatever bill passes the Congress… Alas, Murray and other bi-partisan minded Democrats have nowhere to run.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

End of School Year Article Suggests Alliance Among TRUE Reformers

June 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Ruth Coniff’s Common Dreams post last week provided a good synthesis of the dismal year public education experienced in 2014-15 and suggested a brighter future IF those who oppose the privatization of public schools can get their agendas aligned.

The overview for the past year was necessarily grim. The “failing government school” meme continued to gain traction in legislatures who enacted ALEC inspired legislation expanding vouchers, public funding of deregulated for-profit charter schools, and diminishing the power of local school boards and teachers unions. But there are some signs that things have gotten so bad that the public might be ready to re-examine the direction their states are headed and the way USDOE has led the states.

  • The opt out movement grew, especially in NYS where one out of six students stayed home rather than take the standardized tests linked to the common core.
  • The common core itself has fallen into disrepute with many of the governors who once championed the idea of a tough national curriculum now disowning their positions. This is particularly the case where those Governors might be aspiring to the Presidency (e.g. Walker, Christie, Kasich, Jindal).
  • The mismanagement and outright corruption in charter schools has become headline news, particularly in those states where regulations were eliminated in the name of “flexibility” and states who advocated on-line learning as a cheaper and more effective means of educating children.
  • In some states, the general public is pushing back against vouchers, seeing that they are hurting children raised in poverty and effectively subsidizing parents who were previously paying for parochial schools themselves.
  • Finally, some elections over the past school year indicate that the public wants to take back their schools. The election of Ras Baraka as mayor in Newark, NJ, the election of governor Tom Wolf in PA, and the election of Tom Torklason as State Superintendent in CA were all the result of a grassroots movement to push back against privatization and regain Board and voter control of local schools.

Coniff’s article concludes with a section titled “Now What?”… and she suggests that MORE grassroots activism is needed and among groups that have a common interest in maintaining the current governance of schools while ensuring there are sufficient resources to improve those schools:

Superintendents, school boards, as well as administrators of local public schools have been writing letters and testifying against the privatization and defunding of public education.

Parents are engaged as never before.

Communities, from urban mostly black and brown districts to conservative, rural areas, are rising up against budget cuts and the threat of school closures.

“It’s not too late,” one impassioned letter from a group of school superintendents declared, urging citizens to stand up and resist the defunding of public schools and their privatization.

Let’s hope they are right.

Indeed… let’s hope it’s not too late to undo the damage done in states that have drastically cut funding to schools and stripped the programs that bring joy and depth to public education.

 

Common Core Testing: Wedding Planners Deciding the Fate of Teachers

June 24, 2015 Leave a comment

“Grading the Common Core: No Teaching Experience Required”, a matter-of-fact article by Mokoto Rich in yesterday’s NYTimes, describes the techniques national standardized testing consortia are using to grade their Common Core tests… and it’s not a pretty picture! Instead of hiring trained and carefully screened teachers and professors to grade the tests as ETS does for its AP tests, PARCC and Pearson are hiring temporary employees recruited through want ads… and here are the results:

There was a onetime wedding planner, a retired medical technologist and a former Pearson saleswoman with a master’s degree in marital counseling. To get the job, like other scorers nationwide, they needed a four-year college degree with relevant coursework, but no teaching experience. They earned $12 to $14 an hour, with the possibility of small bonuses if they hit daily quality and volume targets.

I found it fitting that the linchpin of the factory school— the standardized test— was graded using the factory model perfected by fast-food chains, as described by a Pearson executive below:

Officials from Pearson and Parcc, a nonprofit consortium that has coordinated development of new Common Core tests, say strict training and scoring protocols are intended to ensure consistency, no matter who is marking the tests.

At times, the scoring process can evoke the way a restaurant chain monitors the work of its employees and the quality of its products.

“From the standpoint of comparing us to a Starbucks or McDonald’s, where you go into those places you know exactly what you’re going to get,” said Bob Sanders, vice president of content and scoring management at Pearson North America, when asked whether such an analogy was apt.

“McDonald’s has a process in place to make sure they put two patties on that Big Mac,” he continued. “We do that exact same thing. We have processes to oversee our processes, and to make sure they are being followed.”

An article several years ago disparagingly compared students to widgets being manufactured in a factory… and now we have an executive favorably comparing his corporation to McDonalds… which effectively compares students to raw meat being converted into hamburgers for mass consumption.

One thing Rich’s article did not mention: these tests were inextricably linked to RTTT grants that, in turn, mandated the use of these test results to evaluate teachers. The net result: wedding planners and retired radiologists being paid $12-$14 dollars per hour are determining the fate of experienced classroom teachers across the country. But hey… it’s cheap, it’s fast, and it’s politically popular. What’s not to like?

 

Presidential Politics: “Appearances” vs. “Assurances”

June 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Let me put my biases regarding the 2016 election on the table: I am 100% behind Bernie Sanders for President because he is the only candidate to date who has made it explicitly clear that he would abandon the practice of relying on standardized tests to “measure” school and teacher performance, made it clear he opposes the privatization of public education, and made it abundantly clear that he opposes the gutting of union contracts.

His opponents in the Republican party all hold the opposite view. To a person they want to use “objective measures” to evaluate teachers and schools, apply market forces to public education, and heap public scorn on “greedy teachers” with “tenure” that makes it “impossible for administrators to get rid of bad teachers”.

The position of Mr. Sanders opponent on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, is less clear, as a recent article by Allie Bidwell in the US News and World Report indicates. In describing Ms. Clinton’s positions on various K-12 initiatives, Bidwell wrote that she “…appeared sympathetic to union concerns about testing and support for teachers” and she “…appears poised to depart from aspects of the Obama administration’s K-12 education agenda that have alienated some rank-and-file members of the Democratic Party” and that “…the two national teachers unions and national advocacy group Democrats for Education Reform – sides that have often been at odds – all appear pleased with Clinton’s campaign thus far.”

 

Eight years ago I voted for Barak Obama on appearances. He appeared to be supportive of someone like Linda Darling-Hammond to be Secretary of Education, appeared to be opposed to the mindless testing that drove No Child Left Behind, and appeared to be someone who supported the kinds of anti-poverty programs that were needed to close the widening economic divide. We cannot have another candidate elected on appearances. We need assurance that the standardized test driven eduction policies are eliminated and replaced with policies that will provide equitable resources to all schools and equitable opportunities to all children.

NYTimes Believes Philanthropists “Understand” the Problems of Alienated Youth

June 21, 2015 Leave a comment

In an editorial in today’s NYTimes, the editorial board describes a crisis that has been hiding in plain sight for decades: “…the isolation of millions of young black and Latino men, who are disengaged from school, work and mainstream institutions generally.” Except, as they note later in the piece, the problem extends well beyond young black and Latino men:

Nationally, 21.6 percent of black youths are neither working nor in school, compared with 20.3 percent of Native Americans, 16.3 percent of Latinos, 11.3 percent of whites and 7.9 percent of Asians. In nine metropolitan areas, at least one in four black youths are shut out of society this way.

After identifying the crises, the Times editors preposterously declare that the task of solving this problem “…has been left to the philanthropic community, which understands the crisis and has undertaken various educational initiatives.

As readers of this blog realize, the “various educational initiatives” undertaken by the philanthropic community do not display an understanding of the crisis. The funding of selective charter schools that expel students who do not adhere to strict discipline codes and require parent engagement only serve to reinforce the alienation of the 16-24 year olds the Times describes. The philanthropists funding of the Common Core standards and the tests have done nothing to help schools located in neighborhoods with “high poverty, high unemployment, and housing segregation”. Indeed, they have only dispirited teachers working in the schools and parents whose children are assigned to them.

If philanthropists understood the crisis as the Times asserts, it seems that at least one of them would have launched an initiative to provide low income housing in the affluent communities where schools are successful, or initiated mentoring programs that worked to support the ongoing efforts of public schools, or provided apprenticeships and/or training programs within the highly profitable corporations they lead…

Based on the philanthropy community’s spending record, they “understand” the solution to the crisis: replace open admission “government schools” with selective charters and replace “bad teachers” with bright, vigorous, and untrained youthful teachers.

One other point the Times failed to make: if No Child Left Behind was a success and Race To The Top was a good investment of the limited similes funds provided to schools, wouldn’t the number of alienated and adrift 16-24 year olds have diminished markedly? If you need any further evidence that NCLB and RTTT are bankrupt, read this editorial.

Let’s Test Teachers, Too!

June 18, 2015 Leave a comment

I read with dismay Elizabeth Harris’ article in today’s NYTimes titled “Tough Tests for Teachers, With a Question of Bias”. The article describes a nascent movement to require that teachers pass rigorous tests in order to get licensure. The article outlines the pros and cons of testing and indicates the racial disparity in the Praxis test results, and offers this paragraph as rebuttal to the critic of teacher testing:

But many public education officials view rigorous entrance requirements as crucial to improving student performance and ensuring a qualified teaching force in the face of uneven preparation programs. In a court document, an expert defending the ALST on behalf of the state is quoted as saying, “The purpose of a teacher licensure test is to protect the public from incompetent teachers.”

It has been four years since I was a Superintendent, but in the 29 years I served in that capacity I can only think of a handful of my colleagues who saw the Praxis test or tests like it as being a valid means of measuring teacher competence. Testing IS cheap and fast means of determining a candidate’s knowledge base of general content, but it was never clear to me that the general knowledge base required for physical education, secondary science, kindergarten, and art had much in common. Moreover, I had at least two instances where we hired a teacher who did extraordinary work as a substitute in the district on the condition that they pass the Praxis tests only to find ourselves releasing them when they could not pass the test: one was a PE teacher and the other was a Special Education teacher. Alas, the talents– the “competence”— they brought to the classroom were immeasurable by a pencil and paper test but I’m sure an expert in the State department and the State Board members slept well knowing they had protected the public from an “incompetent teacher”.

Student Data Collection and Data Sharing… and Corporate Profits

June 18, 2015 Leave a comment

I read earlier this month week that NYC schools recently replaced their student data web site, as described in this paragraph from the NYTimes article:

The city’s Education Department created NYC Schools to replace Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, or ARIS, a data system built at great expenseunder Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration that was used by only a small fraction of parents. At the end of last year, the department ended its contract with Amplify, the company that maintained ARIS and is run by Joel I. Klein, who was schools chancellor during the system’s creation. Since then, parents have not had a way of viewing their children’s information online.

As one who began my college career as an engineering major and who ended up with a major in Humanities and Technology, I’ve long been an advocate of the power technology could bring to education. When I was Superintendent in upstate NY from 1997-2002 I aggressively expanded the use of technology in our offices and schools. With the technological capability to collect and use data, my staff and I sought ways to use data warehousing to improve our tracking of student progress and management of the reams of information we collected on our students. When I concluded by career working in an interstate school district in Hanover NH and Norwich VT we instituted the use of Powerschool, Apple’s data management system, It helped us schedule MS and HS students, maintain a common set of baseline information on students, and made each student’s grades available to parents through the use of a password protected portal. Both states in the interstate district developed (or bought) and ultimately required the use of on-line IEP programs and both states developed (or bought) management systems that enabled teachers to use data from State assessments to inform their instruction.

The introduction of technology was difficult in both venues. In New York, where the implementation preceded the widespread use of cell phones, I-pads, or even lap top computers, the daily or even periodic use of computers in lieu of paper was new and different and resisted by teachers, administrative assistants, and even parents. A decade later when we instituted the use of the parent portal the debates had more to do with security (e.g. are we SURE that a hacker won’t get into this?), the change in work expectations (e.g. you mean I have to post my grades on-line within a week of giving a test?), and process (e.g. we usually use a democratic process at THIS school to decide issues like the parent portal!). 

To those who questioned security I indicated we WERE acting on faith that Apple had thought this through and was confident their system was secure— much the same way we took on faith that Amazon, our local banks, and our credit card companies are secure.   

To those who questioned work expectations I responded in honest bewilderment. “I hope you don’t expect me to defend your right as a professional to make a student wait a week to find out how they did on an examination or a term paper… because I can’t.” Fortunately the professionalism of the great majority of the staff stopped that rebuttal in its tracks.

To those who questioned the process I had to acknowledge that decisions about what kind of operating system we would use had to be made in a hierarchical fashion…. and computers made it imperative that we abandon the old days where each school had its own system of listing and collecting names, addresses, and other baseline data which then required the successive school and/or teacher to needlessly re-enter the same information in a different format. This was a clear waste of staff time and resources. Of course this also meant that everyone would need to adapt to whatever changes resulted from the new system that was dictated from our office. While each Principal was involved in the decision regarding the kind of system we would design or buy… once the decision was reached EVERYONE had to use the same system. Bottom line: Choosing the system was democratic; implementing the system was dictatorial.

It’s been four full years since I led a school district, and much has changed in that time period. Indeed, even as I was leaving the office I had a sense that change was in the offing relative to data warehousing and student management systems. The small operation that offered the district in NYS a free demo on school warehousing got bought up by a bigger organization and the last I read they were somehow connected with Pearson. Oh, and Pearson bought Powerschool and became the developer of the assessments whose results would be stored on Powerschool… along with lots of information about a student’s health and well-being. And then I read blog posts like the one in last week’s Mathbabe that included this provocative information:

EBay and PayPal recently changed their user agreements so that, if you’re a user of either of those services, you will receive marketing calls using any phone number you’ve provided them or that they have “have otherwise obtained.” There is no possibility to opt out, except perhaps to abandon the services. Oh, and they might also call you for surveys or debt collections. Oh, and they claim their intention is to“benefit our relationship.”

(And) Given how much venture capitalists (who have invested in many on-line services) like to brag about their return (on investment), I think we have reason to worry about the coming wave of “innovative” uses of our personal data. Telemarketing is the tip of the iceberg.

Schools have a trove of electronically stored information that parents and teachers clearly need and want to use… and private for-profit corporations are gobbling up these services and, as the Mathbabe notes, when they DO take them over they can unilaterally change the see agreements.

There IS a solution to all of this… and that is to pass some kind of legislation to regulate the use of student data so that it is not sold or disclosed to anyone. We can’t go back to filing cabinets stuffed with reams of papers that are impossible to sift through and expensive to keep… but we don’t want to compromise the confidentiality that paper documents generally provided.