Yesterday, Sumeer Rao, a writer for Colorlines whose mission is to cover race matters “...from the perspective of community, rather than through the lens of power brokers”, wrote a brief post noting that October 29, 2015, was the 46th anniversary of the Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education ruling by the US Supreme Court. While less celebrated than Brown v. Topeka, it was intended to underscore the urgency to put an end to dual school systems and make it clear that “all deliberate speed”, the language in Brown, meant now. Rao summarized the decision as follows:
In Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education—which was decided on this day in 1969—the Court ruled to underscore their previous mandates in Brown and Brown II and ordered immediate desegregation of public schools. Noting that the “all deliberate speed” language in Brown enabled Southern states to procrastinate, the Court’s decision took no chances, saying, “The obligation of every school district is to terminate dual school systems at once and to operate now and hereafter only unitary schools.”
Brown effectively put an end to Jim Crow laws and practices because it overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, an 1896 case that allowed for “separate but equal” facilities… a phrase, like “adequate schools”, allowed separate substandard facilities to be designated for blacks because some whites had the same kinds of facilities. Ten years after Brown Congress passed the Civil Rights Act which reinforced the court ruling and seemingly put an end to legalized discrimination.
In a fifteen year period during the time I was growing up in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, our nations leaders passed legislation that was intended to put an end to our country’s legacy of racial discrimination. 46 years later, little has changed. Based on my personal experience as a child, student, teacher, public school administrator and parent, I find that the only way one can overcome prejudice is to share a seat in a classroom, a playground, a church pew, or a neighborhood with someone of a different race or culture. When one experiences an individual from a different race or culture, prejudice quickly disappears and that person’s humanity shines through. I know that moving from where we were then and how we are now to a world where we stop thinking of different races and cultures as “the other” will not happen now and cannot be forced. I fear that our current housing patterns and stereotyping will prevent us thinking of different races and cultures as “the other” making it impossible to achieve the kind of world our forefathers and religions of all stripes want us to live in.
As reported in yesterday’s NY Daily News, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer is refusing to release funds for Eva Moskovitz’s PreK Charter school until she complies with the rules set forth by the city. In putting Ms. Moskovtiz on notice, Stringer stated:
“There is no conceivable reason for one charter school to be held to a different standard than every other charter school, and no one should try to skirt the process that ensures accountability, quality and integrity,”
Will Mr. Cuomo allow dual standards to apply to Ms. Moskovitz? Stay tuned!
Outgoing Secretary of Education Duncan said yesterday: “I’ve said on a number of occasions that we should expect scores in this period to bounce around some … this is really hard work, and big change never happens overnight. And, as the President recently said, ‘This is a decades-long or longer proposition.’”
But Kevin Kumashiro sees through this sorry explanation and the “2% solution” President Obama offers. Here’s a quote from the article:
Unfortunately the Department continues to call for annual testing and for making high-stakes decisions based on student growth (gains in test scores), including evaluations of teachers and teacher-preparation programs, despite the critique by researchers that such use of ‘value-added modeling’ has proven to be neither valid nor reliable for such decision-making. Giving states some flexibility in how to use such test data does not address this more fundamental validity problem.
Today’s NYTimes has an editorial that is based on the flawed logic they and legislators have used since the advent of NCLB and the “high stakes tests” that spawned the thinking behind NCLB. I couldn’t recount all of the flawed thinking in the essay in the space allowed for comments, but did offer this rejoinder:
President Obama’s 2% solution will only matter if tests are not used as the basis for closing schools and firing teachers. If a homeowner was told they would lose their home if they failed a test given in June why WOULDN’T they prepare for that test by studying the material on the test and taking preparatory tests that match the format on the June test? If the editors of the NYTimes were suddenly told they would lose their jobs based on a standardized test administered in June, why WOULDN”T they prepare for the test by studying the material on the test and taking preparatory tests that match the format on the June test? If the President wants to require fewer tests, he needs to abandon the notion that any one test is the basis for drastic actions like school closures and the firing of teachers.
Take the stakes out of the tests and all of the other tests will disappear.
The NYTimes Mokoto Rich’s report on the decline in mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress is full of explanations for the drop, but all of the explanations miss the primary factor. Here are the expert’s explanations, in the sequence they appear in the article, and my commentary on each in bold red
…it could be related to changes ushered in by the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states. For example, some of the fourth-grade math questions on data analysis, statistics and geometry are not part of that grade’s guidelines under the Common Core and so might not have been covered in class. The largest score drops on the fourth-grade math exams were on questions related to those topics.
This is highly implausible since many states had not rolled out these standards
…stagnating performance could also reflect the demographic changes sweeping America’s schools and the persistent achievement gap between white students and minorities, as well as between students from poor families and their more affluent peers
This is undoubtedly an underlying factor, particularly the divide between affluent and poverty-stricken schools. But this is not the primary factor.
…with students taking so many other standardized tests, some educators said those who took the national exams, which were administered from January to March, may simply have had test fatigue.
This is implausible. The NAEP is only administered to a small group of students within a district and when it was administered in districts I led it was very low key.
Protests about testing as well as decisions by some parents to opt their students out of testing could have influenced some students who took the national exams.
This completely bogus idea was presented by the Council of Chief School Officers, who are clearly grasping for straws. In order for this to be the case large numbers of parents of high achieving students would need to pull their child from school on the days when NAEP was administered… and unlike the high stakes tests given by States the NAEP has a wide window and is not highlighted in the minds of parents and children.
Of all the explanations, the AFT President came closest to nailing the real problem:
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, linked the drop in test scores to recent educational policies as well as the economic downturn and its aftermath. “Of course we are disappointed” with the scores, she said. “But they should give pause to anyone who still wishes to double down on austerity and make competition, scapegoating teachers, closing rather than fixing schools, driving fear, and testing and sanctioning the dominant education strategies.”
The test-and-punish model implicit in NCLB and exacerbated by RTTT combined with austerity measures imposed on public schools is a close second to the real factor… which is how the focus of teachers’ energy changed when testing became the predominant metric for school success and teacher success.
A quick primer on test construction is needed to see why the teacher’s focus changed. NAEP is a norm-referenced examination, scored by determining the average (mean) test scores. The “high stakes tests” introduced by NCLB are criterion referenced tests whose results are based on the percent of students who score higher than a proficient level that is determined by a (arguably subjective) cut score. NCLB moved toward criterion referenced tests because on a norm referenced test the scores of high achieving students can offset the lower scores attained by struggling students, causing the lower scoring students to be “left behind”.
When NCLB’s criterion referenced testing was introduced it was clear what the consequence would be: teachers would focus most of their time and energy on students whose scores were just below the proficient level the prior year. While those children had been “left behind” when mean scores were the basis for determining if a school was succeeding… the focus on that group of students resulted in another group being “left behind” or, more accurately, “held back”: those in the top end of the achievement level. And when the higher achieving students were under-served, NAEPs mean scores were suppressed.
The solution? I remain convinced that if children were allowed to advance in reading and mathematics at their own pace that norm-referenced scores based on age cohorts would rise and, over time, more students would achieve the benchmarks set for high school graduation. As stated repeatedly in this blog, we have the technology available that can make this happen, we have the human resources in our schools that can make this happen, all we need to do is abandon our idea that students progress uniformly through their schooling based on their age, an idea we hold onto despite decades of evidence that it is absolutely wrong.