Archive for April, 2013

HERE’S Why RTTT is a Problem!

April 30, 2013 Comments off

For months I’ve been blogging about the fact that RTTT and the corporate reformers are reinforcing the factory school model and working against the kind of individualization that is possible today thanks to technology…. and here’s an article and report that drive that point home!

The report, Competency Education Series: Policy Brief One [PDF], points out that, although the federal government has supported some aspects of competency-based learning, implementing the new model can be difficult because of federal restrictions.

The greatest conflict stems from disconnect with the work on the ground and federal accountability and assessment systems,” the report states. “Implementers faced with this disconnect have no choice but to juggle two systems: one required by federal law and one developed by the educators, students, parents, and community leaders committed to successful implementation of competency education.”

And where is this disconnect most evident: in the area of TIME, where the federal government wants to hold time constant while accepting variable performance while those of us who value mastery learning want to see performance as the constant while having time be the variable. The article describes the conflict as follows:

Time is the biggest point of contention between the two systems. The federal government measures school accountability as well as student achievement through time-based modules. Seat time and annual test results are the primary ways that the government keeps schools accountable, categorizes them, and targets them for intervention. And required end-of-year tests focus school instruction timelines in specific ways that do not allow students to move at their own pace, a key element of a competency-based system.

With the competency models, students take summative assessments at various times throughout the year. They demonstrate what they’ve learned as they’re learning — not just during one or two big testing seasons, as most schools do.

I would make one minor but non-trivial correction: most schools do NOT have “one or two big testing seasons”… in fact very few have “big testing seasons”. The advent of NCLB created the “big testing season”… many schools recognized the inappropriateness of summative assessments and were moving in the direction of formative assessments.

The article also explains the difference in testing between the federal NCLB/RTTT model and competency based learning:

Another big difference between the two systems is what gets tested. Competency-based learning focuses not just on content, but also on “soft skills” like communication, collaboration, and other higher-order thinking skills. In contrast, the federal assessments focus on the subjects of math and English Language Arts aligned with academic achievement standards, but not necessarily with core competencies. In other words, everything is based on a number score, not on whether the student can demonstrate that he can do each individual task determined to be a core competency.

Federal accountability standards track student achievement, not growth. Many competency-based models are tracking progression in career and college readiness as well as core competencies, and those can’t be reported to the federal government under the current rubrics.

NCLB and RTTT are obsessed with using data to track teacher and school progress; competency based testing generates information on individual student performance… and guess what parents care about? …guess what students care about? Parents care about their child’s performance and students care about their own performance. The federal government’s obsession with schools and teachers is misguided: it doesn’t meet the needs of parents or students, erodes the public’s confidence in public education, and reinforces a model of education that is outdated and counter-productive.

The only part I didn’t like about the article on competency based education was the concluding paragraph:

The KnowledgeWorks report doesn’t give a smoking-gun solution for the various problems it raises. Instead, the group intends to continue investigating how federal policies could encourage competency-based learning by studying the effects of the few programs the government has decided to fund in this area. The organization also plans to pull together best practices from states moving ahead despite the challenges and to figure out how competency-based education could be assessed in a more comparative way.

As a consultant who works extensively in New Hampshire, one of the states cited as moving forward with competencies, I’m afraid there isn’t much to see so far because districts who could benefit most from competencies are obsessed with getting their NECAP scores higher. Sadly, the “reform minded” federal government is blocking real reform by using tests given to age-based grade level cohorts as the basis for accountability.

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Homeland Security Spending Overtakes the New Deal

April 30, 2013 Comments off

This TomDispatch post is a couple of months old… but as our legislators debate budget cuts it is timely. The post incorporates an article written by Mattea Kramer and Chris Hellman that includes these paragraphs:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which celebrates its 10th birthday this March, has grown into a miniature Pentagon. It’s supposed to be the actual “defense” department — since the Pentagon is essentially a Department of Offense — and it’s rife with all the same issues and defects that critics of the military-industrial complex have decried for decades.  In other words, “homeland security” has become another obese boondoggle.

But here’s the strange thing: unlike the Pentagon, this monstrosity draws no attention whatsoever — even though, by our calculations, this country has spent a jaw-dropping $791 billion on “homeland security” since 9/11. To give you a sense of just how big that is, Washington spent an inflation-adjusted $500 billion on the entire New Deal.

Despite sucking up a sum of money that could have rebuilt crumbling infrastructure from coast to coast, this new agency and the very concept of “homeland security” have largely flown beneath the media radar — with disastrous results.

The article documents the history of the the Department of Homeland Security, noting that it was initially recommended in a white paper expressing concerns about American security written before 9/11. At the very end of the article Kramer and Heller write:

Meanwhile, the same report that warned in early 2001 of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil also recommended redoubling funding for education in science and technology.

In the current budget-cutting fever, the urge to protect boundless funding for national security programs by dismantling investment essential to this country’s greatness — including world-class education and infrastructure systems — is bound to be powerful.  So whenever you hear the phrase “homeland security,” watch out: your long-term safety may be at risk.

Do we have more funding for education? NO… the percentage of our GDP for education has declined since 9/11. Do we have broadband in every household and universal cell phone coverage? NO… you can get more reliable internet and cell phone coverage almost anywhere in the world.

We do have body scanners at airports and hordes of people inspecting our backpacks, suitcases, gel products, and shoes…. and we have cameras all over the place… and we have chips in our cell phones that track our locations (except in the places where cell coverage is checkered)… and we have Big Data warehouses in DC that monitor our internet posts— probably including this one… I wish the trillions spent on these “safety” initiatives made us feel safer… but based on what I read in the media, it’s a scary world out there!


Why State Tests Need to be Field Tested

April 30, 2013 Comments off

In the early 1990s I served on the Maryland State High School Assessment Steering Committee representing the Superintendents in the State. While my technical knowledge was limited in comparison to the committee members with backgrounds in statistics, I did possess a practical, political and operational expertise that the committee members listened to and respected.  As noted in an earlier blog post, Dr. Nancy Grasmick, who was the State Superintendent, supported and advocated for the perspective of Superintendents at the Board level and in the legislature. The MSSP assessments the state used were thoughtfully and democratically conceived and rolled out over at least a two year period with at least one administration of the test completed without the public release of data. This method was followed because the Superintendents explained to Dr. Grasmick that the administration of tests and the tests themselves would likely have glitches and teachers needed to give the test once to get a sense of the content and how students would react. While some of us resented the intrusion of testing on our time and even after the pilot there were some embarrassingly bad questions on tests, no one could claim they were blindsided.

Diane Ravitch’s blog had a link to an article reporting that Indiana, a state who rushed headlong into computer assisted instruction, encountered a few bumps in the road.

Multiple Indiana school districts, including Indianapolis Public Schools and South Bend Community Schools, suspended ISTEP+ testing for the day after students experienced problems with the testing website.

StateImpact confirmed with representatives at MSD Wayne Township, Brownsburg Community Schools and Culver Community Schools that students there won’t continue testing today. A representative of Fort Wayne Community Schools confirmed the district’s schools are “having issues” with testing.

The problem is likely more widespread, though. Messages on an email listserv of school technology directors suggests the problem spans the state, and reports from Twitter suggest other schools are halting administration of the test too.

This wouldn’t be a problem or be newsworthy if Indiana was doing this first-time use of computerized testing as a pilot and wouldn’t be national news if Indiana wasn’t planning to use these tests to evaluate teachers or schools. But it seems that Indiana is not the only state having difficulty implementing a high stakes test without doing the field tests. Over the past week I’ve read several articles on NY, MI, and MN where new tests have been questioned and/or run into implementation problems. I know the argument that “reformers” will make: the need for change is urgent and every year we wait to get these tests “just right” is a wasted year in the life of a child… but how many years are we willing to waste preparing students for poorly conceived and poorly administered tests? Better to wait a year than waste several… and it would be far better to abandon these state level summative assessments altogether and work on formative assessments that can be used for measuring mastery.