Archive for October, 2013

Great Article on Conversations We’re Dodging

October 29, 2013 Comments off

Jeff Bryant,  a blogger for the Education Opportunity Network hits nail after nail on the head in this well written and cogent essay entitled: The Education Reform Conversation We Need Vs. The One We Have. As readers of this blog might suspect the conversation deals with the effect poverty has on student performance and the erosion of good schooling that has resulted from the “reform” movement. The title comes from this question which an audience member posed at a debate between conservative education proponent Frederick Hess and Arne Duncan:

“When are we going to have the conversation nobody wants to have … that we live in a society that educationally and otherwise has policies that favor some groups at the expense of others? When are we going to have a panel that doesn’t consist of white males in suits who have no children who are at risk?”

“The policies that are in action,” she explained, “I don’t have any say in those. How can we believe that the policies that are created are not doing what they are doing, that they are not designed to create a permanent underclass?”

No one on the panel of “…white males in suits” answered the question, either remaining silent or launching into meaningless platitudes.

Bryant contrasted this exchange with an ACTUAL conversation that took place with Diane Ravitch and a group of diverse panelists on an MSNBC show. You know Ravitch’s line of thinking: poverty and inequity ARE the biggest problem with our schools and despite those obstacles our schools are NOT failing.

We know what needs to be done… but it might cost money or  (gasp) require some extremely wealthy people or tax-avoinding corporations to pay more money into the system to help those children who need help. Let’s do it….

Testing Pushback Begins in Earnest

October 29, 2013 Comments off

A Diane Ravitch blog post and a NYTimes news report show that two influential groups are firmly opposed to the testing regimen inappropriately labelled “reform”.

Diane Ravitch’s post had a link to a letter to parents from the NYS Principals that provided tow lists: “…what we know — and what we do not know — about these new state assessments.” Diane Ravitch posted the “what we know” list, but I found the “what we don’t know” list more compelling. Here it is:

Here’s what we do not know:

1)    How these Tests will Help our Students: With the exception of select questions released by the state, we do not have access to the test questions. Without access to the questions, it is nearly impossible to use the tests to help improve student learning.

2)    How to Use these Tests to Improve Student Skills or Understanding: Tests should serve as a tool for assessing student skills and understanding. Since we are not informed of the make-up of the tests, we do not know, with any level of specificity, the content or skills for which children require additional support. We do not even know how many points were allotted for each question.

3)    The Underlying Cause of Low Test Scores: We do not know if children’s low test scores are actually due to lack of skills in that area or simply a case of not finishing the test — a problem that plagued many students.

4)    What to Expect Next Year: We do not know what to expect for next year. Our students are overwhelmed by rapidly changing standards, curriculum and assessments. It is nearly impossible to serve and protect the students in our care when expectations are in constant flux and put in place rapidly in a manner that is not reflective of sound educational practice.

5)    How Much this is Costing Already-Strained Taxpayers: We don’t know how much public money is being paid to vendors and corporations that the NYSED contracts to design assessments, nor do we know if the actual designers are educationally qualified.

The NYTimes article described how “…a group calling itself Anonymous, in the spirit of the amorphous global hacking network” got its hands on a field test the Montclair NJ school district was planning to administer to help its students prepare for the forthcoming State tests that are aligned with the common core. The group of test anarchists are parents, a group that is increasingly voicing opposition to the testing regimen the Superintendent and Board are introducing in the name of “reform’. Why would parents oppose testing?

Christopher L. Len, 39, whose son is in third grade at the Charles H. Bullock school, said Monday that testing was taking time away from more worthy pursuits. “If they don’t learn now how to initiate a conversation, how to cooperate, how to be a good friend, then I think their elementary school experience will have failed them,” he said.

Most parents understand that school is about more than testing. It’s also about learning how to build relationships and have opportunities to express oneself creatively. Parents in a relatively affluent district like Montclair are especially aware of the absurdity of preparing for tests: they know their schools aren’t “failing” students because the students are going on to college or capable of finding employment upon graduation. They see that preparing for tests takes away time that can be used more productively. And, as this incident indicates, they know how to resist.

So two influential groups are mobilizing in opposition to the “reformers”: principals and middle class parents… and I expect to see more pushback until the “reformers” can answer the Principals questions convincingly and explain to parents why taking time for tests isn’t wasted. I don’t think the answers or rationale will be forthcoming.


Ranking Colleges Based on Worth

October 28, 2013 Comments off

One of today’s front page articles in the NYTimes has a headline with a disturbing announcement: “Lists That Rank College’s Value Are On The Rise”. The article includes a link to a graphic that perfectly illustrates the folly of this enterprise: it displays six different lists with five different colleges ranked #1 with the only overlap being service academies which charge no tuition whatsoever making their value-per-dollar-spent immeasurable.  Among the obvious outcomes that one can expect are that lower cost colleges generally have higher rankings, colleges that focus on engineering and science generally have higher rankings, and selective colleges, whose graduates may be hard-wired for success given existing connections, also tend to have higher rankings.

As the article notes in one of the middle paragraphs:

“…there is no agreement on how to measure the value of a college, and there is no agreement, or anything even close, on what value is in the first place.”

But this is not stopping the Obama administration from moving into a market-based approach. They plan to develop a ranking system and use it as the basis for meting out federal loans. To gather information on what constitutes value the USDOE intends to convene a series of town meetings. This whole thing is likely to generate the kind of information the Chamber of Commerce crowd is looking for whereby employability in the private sector will trump employability in the public sector thereby diminishing the loans for the group of people who are most idealistic to begin with. Specifically, if “value” is defined as “earning power/cost”, the kind of simplistic calculation that is likely if one canvasses the public, then the lower ranked colleges will likely be schools that graduate a lot of social workers, teachers, and nurses will fare poorly in any ranking system based on income…. or State funded schools where undergraduate costs re skyrocketing because of state budget cuts…  and the federal dollars will not go toward students seeking those jobs but instead go to students seeking work in technology-related and business fields.

Here’s the ultimate irony in all of this: the rankings of the colleges attended by three of the technology icons— Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg— won’t be phased by their earnings because they never finished college. Oh, and those four Waltons who are among the ten wealthiest people in America, their colleges would be affected… and I’m sure their college degree made a big difference in their incomes.

Here’s my perspective: the Obama administration should confer with Buddhist scholars and ask them to rank jobs based on Right Livelihood and use THAT ranking to determine the allocation of funds. I’m sure with the assistance of someone in an economics department a mathematical algorithm can be worked out. Under such a ranking system I doubt that service academies and schools sending alumni into business schools will fare as well as colleges graduating teachers and nurses.