Archive for December, 2015

Thank You, Yves Smith, For This Cross-Post!

December 31, 2015 Comments off

Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism’s primary blogger, cross posted an article by Pam Vogel titled “5 of the Worst Examples of Biased and Distorted Media Coverage of Education in 2015″…. and they were ALL doozies! To save your clicking, here’s a synopsis:

5 – Campbell Brown’s 74 Website

4 – National newspaper editors perpetuating myths of union strength and activism

3 – Fox News

2 – The complete and total absence of K-12 education in Presidential debates

1 – State newspapers baseless attacks on unions

The details are all on point!


NY Times Editors Botch Another Analysis

December 31, 2015 Comments off

A few days ago I wrote a post critiquing the article written by Mokoto Rich on the erosion of graduation standards. Today’s NYTimes has an editorial on this topic that is wrong in so many ways that it warranted multiple comments… but rather than pick the particular flaws to pieces I decided to focus on the underlying problem which is (no surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly) the use of standardized tests administered to students in age-based cohorts as the primary merit for measuring school performance:

Standardized tests administered to students grouped in age-level cohorts are based on the assumption that all children learn at the same rate and begin their schooling with the same foundational skills. Neither of these premises is valid. Yet when test results remain stagnant the “solution” is never the abandonment of the age-based cohorts that were instituted in the 1920s when such groupings were seen as the most “efficient” way to deliver instruction… an era when children who couldn’t meet graduation standards could find work in factories that ultimately provided them with a living wage.

ESSA, the NYT editorial board, and the test-and-punish “reformers” reinforce the existing structure of schooling by emphasizing the results of standardized tests administered to students batched in age cohorts. If we really want to provide an education that lifts up those students who are struggling in school now we should provide a robust preschool program for all children and use technology to individualize instruction in a fashion that allows each student to progress at a rate that assures their success. In this model teachers provide individual guidance and assistance to students and spend time with them one-on-one.

If you want to see evidence that this model works look no further than the way we train and test for the issuance of drivers licenses where performance assessments, not bell-curved standardized tests, are used to measure performance.

Instead of focussing on the wrongheaded premise that testing is a valid means of measuring school performance, college readiness, and workforce preparedness, the times criticized teachers unions, state legislatures, and “weak tests” for the lack of qualified high school graduates. Worse, the editorial board made no mention of poverty, economic and racial segregation, and funding inequities in their analysis. When the editorial board of the “national newspaper of record”, a supposedly liberal paper, cannot get the facts straight on the cause of disparate and low performing public schools it is hard to imagine a time when the public’s thinking about schooling will change.

A Sad, Insightful Story About Philadelphia Schools, Where Choice and Cuts Lead to Resegregation

December 30, 2015 Comments off

Aaron Traister’s Fusion article, “Public Schools Are Still Segregated. These Parents Are Making It Worse” , is a lament for the decline of public education in Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods which I recall were a bastion of integration in the early 1970s. Traister, a Roxborough parent activist, describes his efforts to persuade neighbors to attend the neighborhood school instead of the charter schools at an event that was billed as “…“mixer” for local schools and parents of children about to start kindergarten”. Traister saw it for what it was: a recruiting fair where charter schools with brand new facilities and mostly white and affluent students competed against neighborhood schools. Traister captured the difference between the twin this paragraph:

The charter on the other side of my neighborhood has a new $13.5 million state-of-the-art-building and “learning pond” on their campus. My children’s school has a drain in the playground that backs up and floods the basketball courts every time it rains.

Traister does an excellent job of capturing the feel of the neighborhoods in NW Philadelphia and he also does a good job of describing the inherent hypocrisy of parents who choose to live in the city but fail to support their public schools by “showing up”.

The hardest thing about the school conversation is that most parents aren’t thinking about race and class when they choose a school, everyone just wants to do what is best for their kid. But why do so many parents assume that what is best for their kid exists in a bubble that is too often separated by race and class? Why have we decided that what’s best for our kids is divorced from what’s best for the communities and larger cities they grow up in? To the point where we abandon our communities, or remove our children to exclusive schools outside our neighborhoods, in effect isolating them from kids who would naturally be a part of their world…

Everyone says the right things about the choices they make when it comes to schools, but to not acknowledge the fact that those choices have created a world in which schools are one of the last socially acceptable excuses for white flight and racial and economic segregation, is to not be completely honest.

I did have one criticism of the article: neither Traister nor the public school Principals he interviewed were hard enough on the political forces that created this situation. The playground that has water doesn’t drain is the consequence of budgets that are held hostage in Harrisburg. This underfunding leads to the disintegration of facilities, increases in class sizes, devastating cuts to programs and services… and all of this fuels the privatization movement in Philadelphia. What parent, given the choice, would send their child to a school with a playground that floods regularly when they could choose to send that child to a spiffy charter school?

The funding inequities contribute mightily to the resegregation of schools— and that connection cannot be understated.

Diplomas Rewarded but Skills Lacking: No Surprise When Time is Constant

December 29, 2015 Comments off

Mokoto Rich’s NYTimes recent article “As Graduation Rates Rise, Experts Fear Diplomas Come Up Short”, indicates that the increase in graduation rates does not translate into an increase in the percentage of students who are ready for college or ready for work. Rather, it reflects a either a willingness on the part of of public schools to offer alternative ways to earn a diploma or a watering down of the graduation standards.

The article detailed the many paths schools offered for high school students to attain diplomas, the continuing laments of businessmen and college deans about the lack of preparedness of high school graduates, and the persistently low test scores on ACTs.

I am not at all surprised by this state of affairs. Why would the class of 2016 perform better on tests when state governments did nothing to increase preschool programming in 2000? Why would the class of 2016 be prepared for a workplace that demands the ability to “collaborate and communicate effectively” when schooling has focused on passing standardized achievement tests, schooling that does nothing to develop those skills? And why would the class of 2016 attain different results on the ACT when the structure of schooling in the grade levels leading up to high school have not changed and the instruction in those grade levels has narrowed to help students pass poorly conceived standardized achievement tests? In short, as long as time remains constant the learning will be variable…. same as it ever was.

But here’s the quote that jumped out at me the most:

“Does that diploma guarantee them a hope for a life where they can support a family?” asked Melanie D. Barton, the executive director of the Education Oversight Committee in South Carolina, a legislative agency. Particularly in districts where student achievement is very low, she said, “I really don’t see it.”

I can only say that if Ms. Barton wants to guarantee high school graduates with “…a hope for a life where they can support a family” she needs to look beyond high schools. South Carolina is one of the States that refused to increase Medicare funding, is a “right to work” state that has led the race to the bottom in wages, and is a state where racial and economic segregation of schools persists. Improving schooling for disadvantaged students is important… but so is increasing the minimum wage, providing health care, and providing equitable funding for schools. If South Carolina and other states retain the same K-12 structure, expect all students to learn at the same rate in the same fashion, and expect underfunded schools to perform the same way as schools in affluent communities we will always get what we’ve always gotten… same as it ever was.

Krugman Overlooks W’s Saddest Legacy: Standardized Testing

December 28, 2015 Comments off

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYTimes, Doubling Down on W“, describes how the Republican candidates for POTUS are not only embracing President George W. Bush’s tax cut strategy, they are advocating even deeper cuts to the wealthy. In writing about the Republican embrace of Mr. Bush’s flawed tax policies, Mr. Krugman laments the fact that his ideology is still advocated by his party despite evidence that it does no good whatsoever.

But, as I noted in a comment I left, there is another Bush era ideology that Republicans and Democrats have embraced, an ideology that, like tax cuts, has no supporting evidence:

One area where W’s ideology HAS taken hold is in public education… and it’s been as destructive as his ideology on tax cuts. The media has made much to do over the “bi-partisan agreement” in the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act” without underscoring the fact that it sustains the emphasis on standardized testing as the basis for accountability. Worse, ESSA’s shifting the test development to states will make it possible for another W to emerge from a state house claiming to have improved schools while actually jiggering test scores to create the illusion of improvement. And worst of all, we now have a generation of students and parents and a cadre of teachers who never experienced schooling before the advent of test driven curriculum. These children, parents, and teachers think school is about getting ever higher test scores when those of us who taught in the 70s, 80s, and even the 90s recall a different, broader, and higher purpose.


Education Technology in ESSA? Dream On!

December 27, 2015 Comments off

Last week the Google Public Schools feed led to “Education Technology in the Every Student Succeeds Act” an article written by Doug Mesecar for the American Action Forum, a self-described Center-Right Think tank. In the article Mesecar describes the kind of personalized education that could be delivered given the technology available to teachers today:

Yet we’ve known for decades that personalized learning is a vastly better approach.  A 1984 study led by education psychologist Benjamin Bloom found that students given one-on-one instruction consistently performed two standard deviations better than their peers in a regular classroom. That’s enough to vault an average student to the top of the class.

Until recently, technology advancements that may have seemed far-fetched a decade earlier have made this personalized approach possible….

Powerful, adaptive edtech means that all students can have — as part of their instructional team — a digital instructor to help them learn what they need to know, when they need to know it, at their own pace and place.

There is no excuse for doing things the old way, and federal legislation is trying to ensure the old way goes away.  ESSA strongly encourages personalizing education, including through blended learning, as well as attempting to ensure more equitable access to technology and digital learning experiences. It also highlights blended learning as a practice that can help struggling students.

Mesecar then proceeds to make a case that ESSA somehow provides the means for States to use Federal funding to launch a program that will personalize education in the way he describes in these paragraphs, an argument that overlooks two major mitigating factors: the funding provided is paltry and the testing regimen that is continued in ESSA contradicts personalization.

In the opening paragraphs Mesecar throws around funding figures that sound robust. He writes that “Up to 60 percent of the grant funds — almost $900 million — can be used for innovative edtech strategies (importantly, though, no more than 15 percent can go toward technology infrastructure).  This is approximately 4 percent of the overall authorized funding in the bill.” It is the phrase in parenthesis that is crucial: if only 15% can be used for infrastructure that means that only $135,000,000 will be available to connect 23% of the schools that lack any internet services and the countless schools that lack wi-fi within the schools. How will students have “…a digital instructor to help them learn what they need to know, when they need to know it, at their own pace and place” if their school lacks an internet connection or wi-fi? And how will ESSA “…ensure more equitable access to technology and digital learning experiences” if it provides less than $3 per pupil per year for technology infrastructure?

Mesecar’s biggest oversight, however, is the impact ESSA’s testing will have on the notion of providing each student with “…a digital instructor to help them learn what they need to know, when they need to know it, at their own pace and place.” Standardized testing measures students progress against a predetermined “pace and place” and penalizes any student who fails to be at the right place at the right time.

I share Mesecar’s desire to use technology to increase personalization… but do not share his belief that ESSA will move us any closer to that vision. Until some legislator or Governor champions the vision Mesecar describes and provides the funding and accountability model needed to implement that vision I do not foresee any way to get out of the test-and-punish rut that NCLB created over a decade ago. Until someone takes the leadership on this the change will have to happen from the bottom up… through parents who decide that schools are incapable of providing the kind of learning opportunities their children need and go it alone.

Duck and Cover Versus Lockdown Drills

December 26, 2015 Comments off

As a public school students in the 1950s and even into the early 1960s I recall experiencing “duck and cover” drills where we got under our desks and remaining stationary and quiet while a siren wailed somewhere in the distance. As an elementary student in a small PA town and in Tulsa OK this struck me as silly: if a nuclear attack was going to be launched why would they strike West Chester PA or Tulsa? Wouldn’t the Russians want to hit NYC, or DC, or Chicago or some air force base?

Today’s children are exposed to a different kind of drill: the lockdown. As described by Frieda Berrigan in a TomDispatch post that was republished in The Nation, the lockdown drill is more real and more scary than the duck and cover drill of yesteryear. For one thing, while a school shooting is a statistically remote possibility it is far more plausible than a nuclear attack because of the randomness and unpredictability. Few— if any— nations have the capability of launching a nuclear attack on a city or school, but in our culture anyone can get their hands on a gun and menace a school or community venue… a fact that is reinforced in the nightly news that covers small and large scale shootings that impact innocent citizens in malls, Planned Parenthood centers, and office parties.

But Berrigan asks why we should subject any children— especially three-year old children— to drills designed to keep them safe from predators. And if we must prepare our children for the worst, how do we explain this to them?

Assuming there are more Adam Lanzas out there (and there obviously are), that more gun shops will sell ever more implements of rapid-fire death and destruction, and that more gun lobbyists and promoters will continue to cling to this “God-given, constitutionally enshrined right,” my son does need to endure more lockdown drills.

The consensus of school security experts is certainly that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (only 80 miles from our house), would have been much worse if the students and teachers hadn’t been practicing for exactly the nightmare scenario that struck on December 14, 2012.

But how can I explain any of this to my little boy when it makes no sense to me? When it makes no sense, period?

She has no answer for this question… but my own thoughts are that we should not subject children to lockdown drills because in doing so we are reinforcing the idea that they are in constant danger and they should be distrustful of anyone who is unfamiliar. This notion of distrust is amplified even more when we have children dress in uniforms and place them in “safe” environments that are shielded from the public by armed guards and monitored by cameras that videotape everything that is happening in their controlled environment.

But I know my perspective on this is different from that of most parents and members of the public. The first time I sensed this was when I was putting together one of my last budgets for the 2011-12 school year. We were still reeling from the hit our community took in the 2008 recession and needing to cut our budget in order to meet a self-imposed cap on spending. One of the items on the table was new locks for the exterior doors in an elementary school. The locks were operable but they could not be unlocked from the outside. This meant that when the students were outside for recess the teachers either needed to keep the doors unlocked or have the students file into the distant front entry way. It also meant that the front entrance either needed to be manned or kept unlocked. My recollection is that the replacement of one-way locks with two way locks would cost over $50,000– or roughly the “cost” of one FTE teacher. I thought the notion of spending that sum of money for locks that operated well was unwarranted given the low probability of a school shooting and that we had other more pressing facility and personnel needs. I was astonished to find that even the most fiscally conservative and actuarily knowledgeable members of the board supported the expenditure… and even more surprised that the Principal of the school, one of the most progressive and humane administrators I’ve worked with, was also in support based on the concern he’d heard from parents about “safety”.

As I get further removed from the day-to-day operations of schools I also have a sense that I am not connected with the fear that grips parents… a disconnection that is probably reinforced by the fact that I have not owned a television for over a decade and am therefore not subjected to the relentless drumbeat of violence on the news. A sense of safety cannot be taught… it can only come from a belief that people are basically sane, healthy, and want to do the right thing. That is not a message we are hearing often enough and, given our lockdowns, cameras, door locks, and security guards,  our children today are being taught the opposite.