Abandoning Norm Referenced Tests Means Abandoning it’s By-Products

September 18, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Diane Ravitch’s post titled “The Obsolete and Costly American Faith in Testing“. The post draws from an Education Week article by Alyson Klein which calls for a more holistic approach to testing… but her article falls short of what is really needed, which is a total and complete abandonment of any effort to use tests and data to rank and rate individual students and schools.

As I noted in a comment I left on Ms Ravitch’s post, the faith in norm-referenced testing is rooted in our need to compare. As parents, if we worried less about how our child was doing compared to our neighbor’s child we wouldn’t be testing for anything: we would, instead, be celebrating our child’s growth and their unique talents and skills. Instead too many parents obsess over how their child is doing compared to other children and “the norm” and norm referenced tests that yield a bell curve are perfect for doing that. Norm referenced tests were introduced in the 1920s as a means of sorting and selecting children for placement into tracks… and they took hold because we love to compare. If we really believe and expect ALL children to learn, we should abandon norm-referenced tests as a metric… and while we’re at it we should abandon everything associated with norm-referenced tests: tracking; determining “valedictorians”; identifying “gifted and talented” students; and separating out “special education” students. All of these are by-products of norm referencing.



Hurricane Florence COULD Be a Teachable Moment for Those Wishing to Drown Government in a Bathtub

September 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a heartfelt post yesterday to friends in the Carolinas that appears below in its entirety:

Dear Friends,

We are watching the ordeal of your region with concern.

The whole nation is watching.

We send you warm wishes for your safety.

At a time like this, we are reminded about why people need to work together, help one another, and count on their neighbors and communities. In times of crisis, everyone stands together, without regard to race or religion or economic status. It should be like that without a crisis.

We look forward to the day when your beautiful part of the world is rebuilt, restored, and revived.

Meanwhile, stay safe.

One of the commenters noted that “…only 3% of the people in North Carolina carry flood insurance, and 8% in South Carolina. With climate change and crazy storms the new normal, homeowners should rethink the value of flood insurance for their properties. That $400 hundred dollars that you think is unnecessary could wind up costing you many thousands or even your home.”

As I noted in a comment I made on the post, WE are insuring them with our tax dollars… and that’s not a bad thing from my perspective. The Koch brothers and the GOP want us to forget that one of the reasons we pay taxes is to create a pool of funds that people can draw on when they find themselves temporarily in need of food, clothing, and shelter. By demonizing the so-called “takers” the anti-tax crowd has convinced the public that they will never need to avail themselves of the government services they are starving by avoiding taxes. MAYBE a silver lining from this will be a realization that government IS the solution to large and complicated problems like a hurricane that floods communities…. But, alas, it is also possible that the cuts to FEMA and the redirection of FEMA funds to ICE will result in long waits in line or unanswered phone calls or emails that will be blamed on “incompetence” when the real culprit is the GOP’s desire to drown government in a bathtub.

Perversely, it takes a disaster like Florence to drive home the point that government is NOT the problem and COULD be a solution IF it was funded adequately and rationally. Will that lesson be learned? If so, who will teach it?

Vulture Philanthropists Overshadowed by Tech Philanthropists… and They Like it That Way

September 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Peter Greene, who writes the Curmuducation blog, recently wrote a post titled “Stop Calling it Philanthropy” that decried the so-called generosity of the technology moguls who are trying to “reform” education.

In theist he describes the recently widely publicized “reform” efforts of Mark Zuckerberg, Lorene Jobs, and Bill Gates, each of whom has donated substantial sums of money to persuade schools to invest in strategies that will arguably increase their corporation’s profits. But Peter Greene’s protest is more heartfelt. AS a public school teacher he resents seeing some technology titan imposing his or her will on his life’s work in a way that allows them to take credit without assuming any responsibility:

…(the philanthropists) get to feel like philosopher kings and queens without having to do any of the hard parts. And they get to avoid the part where someone of lower stature says, “Your ideas are bad and destructive and dangerous.” It lets them have control without responsibility or consequences for their bad choices.

But I think the situation is even worse than Peter Greene describes… because a lot of the “reform” money is coming from hedge fund philanthropists who made their $$$ as vulture capitalists. These “philanthropists” dodge federal, state and local taxes which starves public schools of the money they need to operate effectively. These same “philanthropists” then invest in “grassroots” tax-exempt organizations, some of whom promote the notion that market competition is the solution to all problems and others of whom promote the notion that standardized test scores are the ideal proxy for “success”. These “philanthropists then persuade the public that they have a “product” that can improve the “failing” schools. In some cases the “product” is a technology-based solution like ECOT, but in most cases the solution is the same blunt instrument they’ve used in the private sector: outsourcing the work to lower wage employees who can deliver the same product for a lower cost.

The hedge fund philanthropists view “failing” public school districts the same way they view “weak” corporations. Their plan is to take them over the same way they’ve taken over businesses in the private sector: by getting enough seats on the boards to dictate the “corporate policy”. They are using their vulture capitalism skills to take over the school boards… then replace experienced teachers with high legacy costs with low-wage charter school chains or CAI companies they operate. They can then pocket the “profit” and use it to start the cycle all over again. These vulture philanthropists look at the tax dollars currently going into public education as a pot of gold… and they are going after the big fish in the urban pond first knowing that eventually the smaller fish will follow.

Robert Reich Connects the Deregulation Dots: Guess Who Wins and Who Loses?

September 16, 2018 Leave a comment

In a short but comprehensive essay in Truthdig that fittingly features a picture of Betsy DeVos, Robert Reich connects the dots on deregulation and explains how it benefits the wealthy while punishing the poor. The post in Truthdig also includes this excellent video explaining how deregulation benefits the shareholders at the expense of “customers”:

As I wrote on my Facebook post, the GOP motto should be caveat emptor.

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The teacher pay penalty has hit a new high: Trends in the teacher wage and compensation gaps through 2017

September 15, 2018 Leave a comment

This EPI study looks not only at WAGES but also TOTAL COMPENSATION… and in doing so flags one of the points made in several earlier posts: voters’ resentment against teachers is based on the favorable benefits teachers receive. As the chart below indicates, over the past two decades the benefits advantage between teachers and other employees has expanded. The result: as teachers health benefits and pensions have improved over time many voters have encountered the opposite and so their resentment toward teachers has increased.

Source: The teacher pay penalty has hit a new high: Trends in the teacher wage and compensation gaps through 2017

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Here’s an Idea for Philanthropists… and Our Country: Spend on Children!

September 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Quartz offers articles from a wide range of sources on a wide range of topics and earlier this summer they published an article by Jenny Anderson and Dan Kopf titled “Dear Powerful People, Here’s the Case for Investing More in Little Kids“. The article highlights recent research done on small children that shows that small investments in medicine and food can make a huge difference in the well being of children in all nations.

When I read the article I immediately thought of two sets of “powerful people” who might heed this advice: philanthropists who are looking for a chance to use their money to help those less fortunate; and developed countries who are seeking a way to influence the thinking of citizens in countries that are war torn. Maybe if philanthropists spent as much on small impoverished children as they spent on fancy university buildings we might have fewer “failing schools”… and maybe if our country spent as much on refugee children as they spent creating those refugee children with drone strikes our nation might be viewed more favorably.

Washington Post Incomplete and Misleading Headline

September 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Wednesday’s business section of the Washington Post featured a story by Heather Long and Jeff Stein that featured this headline:

Middle-class income rose above $61,000 for the first time last year, U.S. Census Bureau says

With this level of income, clearly our quality of life is also rising, right?

Not exactly. This sentence in the middle of the article explains WHY family incomes are increasing:

The extra pay from having another person in the home working again or working additional hours is the largest factor contributing to rising income.

And another paragraph describes how comparisons to THIS year’s income levels to those of the past might not be accurate:

Crossing the $61,000 mark signals the American middle-class may have finally earned more than it did in 1999, although the Census Bureau cautions that median income last year was not statistically different from 1999 or 2007.A change in methodology in 2013 makes precise comparisons difficult. All the income figures have been adjusted for inflation and are reported in 2017 dollars.

Well, at least the increase in family income is a sign that poverty is abating, right? Well… yes and no:

The Census Bureau also reported that the U.S. poverty rate declined modestly to 12.3 percent, the lowest level in years and a sign the economic devastation from the Great Recession is subsiding.

But by other measures, the economy is still not working for everyone. The percentage of Americans without health insurance stalled last year after several years of progress to extend coverage to more people under the Affordable Care Act.

The Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, who notoriously underpays his employees and compels them to work on-demnad, only sees silver linings, though.

Still, economists say the trends on income and poverty are moving in the right direction and have been showing improvement for the past three years as the unemployment rate has fallen. Incomes would likely be rising even faster if wages were growing more.

But, alas, if incomes for employees increased and their working conditions improved and pesky clean air and water regulations were reinstated then profits for shareholders would decrease and the stock market would soften and “economists” would be VERY upset.

One other point as a former public school administrator: if test scores improved as modestly as these wage figures, the headline would NOT read:

Test Scores rose above “X” for the first time last year, U.S.D.O.E. Reports

It would more likely read:

Public Schools are still not working for everyone.

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