Archive for April, 2015

Retired Superintendent: Standardized Tests Are Stupid: My Grandsons Are Opting Out

April 30, 2015 1 comment

As a retired Superintendent I must confess to being in a quandary on this issue. When I was Superintendent in NH I advocated against VAM (see: and continue to do so today. However, my daughter notes that if my 4th grade grandson in NYC opts out he might jeopardize his placement for middle school because those test results are now part of the algorithm they use. She (and the PTO at her son’s school) are actively working to eliminate the testing… but in the meantime I believe she is doing what is best for her son by permitting him to take the tests. If she lived anywhere else in NYS I am sure her son would be at home. I’m also sure there are many parents like her in NYC, which might contribute to the lower opt-out rates in the city.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Jim Arnold, former superintendent of schools in Pelham, Georgia, explains why he encouraged his grandsons and their parents to opt out.

He writes:

“Just imagine the millions of dollars spent on standardized test development, scoring, actual testing, test training and test security that could be spent to hire new teachers, lower class sizes, restore art and music and elective classes, buy new school technology, books, materials, end furlough days or – gasp – give teachers a raise.

“Imagine an end to the silly insistence that standardized testing is the only way to hold teachers and schools accountable.

“Imagine the return of the authority of the classroom teacher to actually teach their students rather than follow a scripted test-centric routine designed not to improve teaching and learning but to improve test scores.

“Just imagine schools focused on taking students where they are educationally and socially and concentrating on teaching and learning…

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An Unsurprising Finding: Segregation Starts in Pre-School

April 30, 2015 Comments off

Yesterday’s Washington Post published an article describing the unsurprising findings of a new report issued by researchers at the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University:

While states more than doubled their investments in preschool between 2003 and 2013, when 1.3 million three- and four-year-olds were enrolled at a cost of $5.4 billion, most classrooms were economically segregated, the researchers found.

“If every child could be in a high-quality program, we could all go home and not worry about it,” said Jeanne Reid, who wrote the report with Sharon Lynn Kagan. It was funded by The Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank, and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, a civil rights organization. “But a lot of programs are not high quality, and low-income children are most likely to be in low-quality programs.”

Anyone who has followed the expansion of pre-school education closely should not be surprised by this finding: “Universal” Pre-Kindergarten is only “Universal” for districts serving low income school districts and since most “Universal” programs are poorly funded they are generally limited to the most economically challenged school districts. Moreover, as many previous posts note, requiring all children to attend publicly funded full-day pre-school will require huge sums of money which, in turn, will require increased taxes. To make matters worse, many parents would push-back if schooling was mandated at an earlier age because parents do not want their child to be housed in an institutional setting (e.g. school) when they already have arrangements with a relative or more conveniently located child-care center. Finally, as I’ve witnessed in my efforts to offer after-school child care, there are a large number of voters who operate and staff child care centers, many of whom do not have the credentials needed to serve in a publicly funded preschool program but all of whom are satisfactorily and economically providing care for children in either community or neighborhood. All of this makes it politically challenging to mandate preschool for all children and results in our current situation where only low income parents avail themselves of publicly funded pre-school.

The article makes a compelling case for having all children attend an economically diverse preschool, but it overlooks the sad reality that economic segregation is a feature of our housing patterns, a feature that pervades K-12 education as well as preschool education. If affluent parents are unwilling to allow affordable homes to be built in their community, and are unwilling to admit children from less affluent communities into their schools, and are unwilling to increase their taxes so that the programs offered to preschoolers in poor communities and neighborhoods are “high quality”, we will remain stuck where we are today… and economic justice will be denied.

Those Cameras in School— Who Are They Watching? What Are They Recording?

April 30, 2015 Comments off

In my last assignment as Superintendent of Schools, I received a phone call from the High School Principal who was seeking permission to call the school district’s attorney to address a question: could she and the Dean of Students look at the messages on a cell phone a student suspected of selling drugs had willingly surrendered to them? And… in a related question, could they give the cell phone to the police who were conducting an investigation?

When I received this call, cell phones were just becoming ubiquitous and this was unsettled law. After some deliberation,  as I recall our attorney advised against it. I’m still not certain there is a clear ruling on whether a school administrator can review phone messages from a cell phone, but in today’s schools where surveillance cameras abound and students use of social media without regard for the consequences of over-sharing, looking at cell phone messages may not be necessary.

This all came to mind as I read this chilling article from The Guardian titled “Is the On-Line Surveillance of Black Teenagers the New Stop and Frisk“, an article I got to through the Mathbabe blog. The article describes how police monitored social media exchanges among young black males who were suspected of being gang members in NYC. One might accept this premise if police went through the procedures required to do phone surveillance and targeted their monitoring to those who might be the most influential leaders…. but when it affected 28,000 young black males aged 10 and up and involved subterfuge, it is chilling:

The (young black men) are surveilled offline, but also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social media channels. When accounts are set to “private”, police officers sometimes gain access to them by sending friend requests posing as young women or club promoters. 

The article details the extent to which the movements of every young black male are monitored and concludes with an interview with Mike Loudwy, a South Harlem resident, who discusses how police have adapted to the directive to limit the use of “stop and frisk”:

While ordering some food, Loudwy confides the best way to deal with police randomly stopping you is to stay silent and know your rights. “If you start talking, they’ll find a way to throw you in. Any wrong move could be my life,” he says. “You don’t even have to let them search you. They need a probable cause…”

Is he on Facebook? “Hell no. I call Facebook ‘fed-book’. I don’t do Facebook. They’re watching us on there.”

To some, his words may come across a little paranoid; the result of growing up with cameras on the street corner, police watchtowers a few blocks away; too many years being ordered to the ground by an overzealous police force…

And yet, Loudwy’s fears hold up. What is perhaps most alarming is that he and his friends are so used to being treated like suspects that to find out that they are being watched online comes as no surprise. Even without actual proof, it’s something they have just assumed – quite rightly – has been happening all along.

Here’s a question that over-protective parents, teachers, and administrators need to wrestle with in this era of surveillance cameras and the capability of monitoring social media: are we creating a generation that assumes they are being watched 24/7… and if so, is that the world we want to create in the future?

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