In an article in today’s NYTimes, Kate Taylor reports that NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has let it be known that he is no longer in support of tying teacher evaluations to test scores and his recently announced Task Force on the Common Core is expected to incorporate such a recommendation in its findings. The Times infers that by creating the Task Force the governor is giving himself political cover to reverse his thinking on testing and now with the abandonment of the Race to the Top waivers that required such a shift he is free to do so.
One intriguing paragraph suggests that some of the Governor’s “school reform” donors have also accepted the political reality that tests are too dominant, but they repeated their bogus charges about the success rate of students:
It also appears that the advocates and donors to the governor who praised his call last winter for a more rigorous teacher evaluation system would not criticize him if it were now unwound.
StudentsFirstNY, an advocacy group that promotes charter schools and other education reforms, on whose board several of those donors sit, strongly endorsed the governor’s campaign to make test scores matter more in evaluations, saying the existing system bore “zero resemblance” to how students themselves were performing across the state.
Asked this week about a possible reversal, the organization’s executive director, Jenny Sedlis, said in an email, “When only a third of students in this state are performing on grade level, even without evaluations, we know that there’s ineffective teaching going on.”
A key fact the article neglects to mention: the passing grade on the test is not based on a percentage of students mastering a set of predetermined standards, it is determined by the setting of an arbitrary cut score. Cuomo’s reliance on tests to “prove” that “there’s ineffective teaching going on” put him in a box as more and more parents realized the tests were driving the joy out of their child’s schooling and the test results “proving” that school were “failing” were determined by state officials, not by their children’s performance on tests.
I keep hoping that someday someone in political office will stand up to this whole test-and-punish scheme and acknowledge that it is a failed policy. As noted in earlier posts, the reauthorization of ESEA was a golden opportunity for someone to step forward. Alas, we will have to wait for another decade or so to have the debate on testing.
Common Dreams blogger Deirdre Fulton reported yesterday on the good news from Jefferson County, Colorado: in a recall election to unseat three school board members backed by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers pro-privatization front organization that spent nearly $1,000,000 to retain their seats, the pro-public school parents won in a landslide: 64-36. One of the newly elected board members, Ron Mitchell, characterized the victory this way:
“We didn’t just win this—we slammed them. What an incredible thing: We the people pushed back against big money, pushed back against an agenda that was not good for our schools.”
And Fulton reported on more good news from Colorado:
Meanwhile, in nearby Douglas County, three incumbents— Kevin Larsen, Richard Robbins, and Craig Richardson—who claimed seats on that school board as part of a reform push several years ago lost their re-election bids. All three backed a controversial voucher program, a market-based employee-compensation system, and what the Post described as “a sidelining of the district’s teachers union.”
And in an election that was not on the national radar but was equally indicative of the public’s disgust over the kinds of “market-based” thinking of some school board members, a slate of pro-parent board members were elected in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
From my perspective, the most important takeaway from this is that in this era where plutocrats have convinced many voters that “government-run” enterprises like schools, towns, and cities should be “run like a business”, every election for every office is important. Those who were unseated in these three elections were all elected at one point. In all probability they either masked their agendas for “market based” approaches or people heard them and decided their ideas were so cockeyed there was no way they would win and therefore stayed home— something that apparently just happened in the Kentucky gubernatorial election. As Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders notes, when the turnout is large, progressive ideas prevail. Vote.
The Washington Post’s education writer Lyndsay Layton (or, perhaps, the headline writers) fell for the “reformers” framing of a recall election in Jefferson County, Colorado, by parroting Jon Caldara, the president of the libertarian Independence Institute in Denver which wants to keep the three conservative board majority in power, who was quoted as saying: “This is a proxy war between education reform and union power.”
The repeated this meme throughout the article and never once made the point that this is ultimately a battle between for-profit privatization by businesses who have no desire to maintain any semblance of democracy. And the money flowing into this election is stunning!
The most recent campaign finance reports filed with the state show that candidates and political committees have raised more than $450,000. But that does not include spending by Americans for Prosperity and other tax-exempt nonprofit groups that are not required to report political contributions.
Michael Fields, state director of AFP-Colorado, said that his group is spending “in the low six figures” on cable television ads, mailings and canvassing in Jefferson County.
It is not surprising that tax-exempt non-profits are funneling dark money into the campaign, because the source of that money is likely hedge fund managers and/or corporation who are waiting to pounce at the opportunity to pick over the carcass of the public school system that will remain should the conservatives retain control. Indeed, Layton does acknowledge that profit-making IS a motive:
Tina Gurdikian, a parent who helped spearhead the recall effort, agrees that the election is a stand-in for a larger national debate about public education and she said she sees it as an ideological fight.
“This is really part of a national agenda by special-interest groups like Americans for Prosperity to privatize public education,” said Gurdikian, who has two children in the Jefferson County public schools. “We have a nearly $1 billion budget, and I think a lot of people look at that and want a piece of it. Privatization can work for some things, but not really public education. It really is a common good.”
While Gurdikian’s perspective is broader and clearer than that of Caldara, I see something even more disheartening occurring: the “conservative” group has already shown its aversion to democratic principles and its intent to not only shift the management of schools to profiteers but to re-write history in the process. Opponents to the conservative majority cite facts supporting their contentions that they “…violated open-meeting laws, spent lavishly on legal expenses and hired a new superintendent at a salary significantly higher than his more experienced predecessor.” The Board’s decision to abandon the AP history exam because it presented an unfavorable view of our country got a lot of national coverage as well… including a post on this blog when the students walked out to protest the Board’s action.
So while profiteers want to funnel money to a board that violates open meetings laws, forces administrators to evaluate teachers using bogus metrics, and runs schools like a business, the Post concludes with a paragraph quoting a parent who is echoing the Americans For Prosperity party-line:
“This could start a trend around the country,” Gilmartin said. “That’s what AFP wants. And the unions don’t want to see it. Would it really start a wave across the nation if it goes one way or another? I don’t know. We’ll have to find out.”
The “union members” who get raises every year no matter how the kids do on standardized tests versus the reformers who want to make sure kids do well on the same tests? I don’t think so! It’s the anti-democratic profiteers who want to take control away from teachers and reinforce the outdated factory model for schooling against those who want control for education restored to the teachers and not the corporations.
In a piece of startlingly good news, Kate Zernike of the NYTimes reports that President Obama has decided to back down on the standardized testing regimen that George Bush launched and his administration reinforced… a regimen that has strangled creativity and the love of learning. The lead paragraphs read:
Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.
Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.
The article cites numerous political issues that helped compel the administration to abandon the testing regimen, but in the end, the primary reason the tests are being abandoned is simple: after 12 years nothing has changed in terms of performance as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress:
….a new survey from the Council of the Great City Schools, which set out to determine exactly how much testing is happening among its members…. found that students in the nation’s big-city schools will take, on average, about 112 mandatory standardized tests between prekindergarten and high school graduation — eight tests a year. In eighth grade, when tests fall most heavily, they consume an average of 20 to 25 hours, or 2.3 percent of school time. The totals did not include tests like Advanced Placement exams or the ACT.
There was no evidence, the study found, that more time spent on tests improved academic performance, at least as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a longstanding test sometimes referred to as the nation’s report card.
Zernike reports that Obama, Duncan, and Duncan’s successor John King are all on the same page on this change and that Mr. King will be issuing a “testing action plan” in January that will help school districts determine the scope of tests that will be mandated going forward. I, along with thousands of other educators and millions of parents and school children, eagerly await the detailed guidelines… for they will indicate how profound a change is in the offing.
One other piece of good news that might come out of this: education policy might come to the fore in the forthcoming election— and I have to believe the party that embraces the abandonment of the testing regimen will gain the support of a huge bloc of voters…. and the debate that ensues over accountability will set a new course for schooling in the years to come.
In one of the most disingenuous ploys ever concocted, High Achievement New York, a self-identifed “coalition of teachers, parents, civic, civil rights and business groups who share a commitment to a brighter educational future for every child in New York” is advocating that the state stay with the Common Core standards and offer a seven step plan for implementing them. Here’s the first step of the groups plan:
- Renaming the Standards: Several states have dropped the “Common Core” moniker to put their own stamp on the standards, something Chancellor Tisch suggested last week. For instance, the standards in Arizona, Florida and Iowa are now known as “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards,” the “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards” and “The Iowa Core,” respectively. Survey after survey shows strong support for higher learning standards in ELA and Math, and annual assessments of college and career readiness, but support drops when those components are called Common Core.
One of the Uniserv reps I worked with in MD had a great aphorism for this kind of thing: “You can’t paint C-O-W on the side of a horse and expect to get any milk”… and re-jiggering these standards or shortening the time for summative assessments will not address the fundamental problem, which is the use of common core test results as the sole metric for determining “success” in school and now, in NYS, “success” as a classroom teacher. Nor will it address the fundamental assumption of the common core, which is that all children are expected to develop at the same rate intellectually in all content areas, an idea that is preposterous on its face yet implicit in the way the common core is presented. We won’t get better performance from a re-branded set of standards any more that we could get milk from a re-labelled horse.