Archive for September, 2018

NYTimes Reporting on Tests Gets a “D”… the Lowest Passing Grade Possible

September 28, 2018 Comments off

NYTimes reporter Eliza Shapiro’s article on the release of last year’s test results gets a passing grade because it is factually accurate, but it gets a “D” because of what it fails to report. It factually recounts the reasons why last year’s results cannot be compared to previous year’s tests. It also factually reports on the opt out movement data and accurately contrasts the Mayor Bloomberg’s overemphasis on test results as compared to his successor, Bill de Blasio. But here are the points Ms. Shapiro missed:

  • Ms. Shapiro writes: “Just five years ago, it seemed the state was poised to have some of the toughest teacher evaluations in the nation, based on some of the most intensive exams.” The “tough evaluations” Mr. Bloomberg championed were based on VAM, a statistically invalid and discredited method of evaluation– not discredited by teachers unions, but by statisticians!
  •  Ms. Shapiro writes: “This year’s scores are the latest confusing data points in a long history of zigzagging test results in New York, but what they do tell us is how much the political pendulum has swung on standardized testing.” One VERY possible reason for the “zig-zag” in test scores, as any education writer should realize, is the fact that the definition of a “passing score” is not based on how students perform compared to a fixed set of standards: it is based on a cut score that can be set arbitrarily by those who designed the test… and, surprise… cut scores have proved to be a function of political variances and not a function of teaching variances. That is, political forces swing the pendulum on test scores and parents, teachers, and many voters are beginning to realize that reality. Ms. Shapiro’s article makes no mention of this, leading an innocent reader to believe that performance, not the cut score, zig-zagged. This only adds to the public’s confusion about the data points.
  • Ms. Shapiro oversells the differences in test scores… even after she wrote in one of the opening paragraphs that “…the (State education) department cautioned that the exams cannot be measured against previous tests and should be considered a new baseline.” What Ms. Shapiro fails to realize is that if they can’t be measured against a previous baseline, they can’t be analyzed by comparing how one group of schools did as opposed to another set. Despite this reality, Ms. Shapiro compares the performance of charter schools to regular public schools and regular charter schools to “Renewal schools” and draws a long series of faulty conclusions as a result.
  • Ms. Shapiro downplays the bottom line: all of the “reforms” in NY have made no difference whatsoever. She writes: “Although state exam results have fluctuated wildly in the past 10 years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the gold-standard measure of academic growth, found that New York City’s students did not make progress in English or math between 2015 and 2017.” 
  • And last, but not least, Ms. Shapiro concludes her article with this: “This year’s results will no doubt influence fresh questions about education policy in New York, including the state Board of Regents’ decision about whether to use exam results in teacher evaluations.

So Ms. Shapiro got the facts right… but she got the conclusions all wrong… and the public, as a result, is getting the message that reforms advocated by the billionaires are doing well (i.e. charters “outperform” public schools) but the reforms advocated by progressives like the Mayor are not making a difference (i.e. the renewal school scores are flat) and that VAM is still a viable means of evaluating teachers. Ugh!


Bloomberg for President? A Reformer’s Dream… and Public Education’s Nightmare

September 27, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch shared a San Diego Free Press op ed article by San Diego City College professor Jim Miller titled “After the Education Wars: Someone Needs to Save Us from our Billionaire Saviors”. Mr. Miller opens his essay with this tidbit about one “reform minded” billionaire drawn from recent political news:

After failing to prop-up Antonio Villaraigosa’s flagging gubernatorial campaign last June, Michael Bloomberg apparently spent the summer pondering whether it would be wiser for him to personally save the United States rather than waste his time trying to rescue California by proxy.  Last week the New York Times reported that Bloomberg was mulling a run for the Presidency as a Democrat because that represented the most viable path to victory.

Mr. Miller then turns his attention to why Mr. Bloomberg’s candidacy would be devastating to public education, drawing extensively from Andrea Gabor’s new book After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform. The book echoes Diane Ravitch’s premise (and mine) that the “reform” model reinforces everything that is backward about education and suppresses any opportunity for students to experience the joy of learning. I found this quote from Ms. Gabor especially on point:

The business reformers came to the education table with their truths: a belief in market competition and quantitative measures.  They came with their prejudices—favoring ideas and expertise forged in corporate boardrooms over knowledge and experience gleaned in the messy trenches of inner-city classrooms.  They came with distrust of an education culture that values social justice over more practical considerations like wealth and position. They came with the arrogance that elevated polished, but often mediocre (or worse), technocrats over scruffy but knowledgeable educators.  And most of all, they came with their suspicion—even their hatred—of organized labor and their contempt for ordinary public school teachers.

And Mr. Miller also offers some good insights into the flawed thinking of the billionaire “reformers”:

Wedded to a factory-style approach to education, corporate reformers “focused on a Taylorite effort to standardize teaching so that teachers can be easily substituted like widgets on an assembly line.  This despite the fact that, on average, ‘unions have a positive effect on student achievement’ and the best charter schools are often the independent charters that give teachers voice, often via union contracts.”  All of this reflects the fact, Gabor reminds us, that “the corporate education-reform movement has deeply undemocratic roots.”

What this movement has brought us is not pretty.  We have systematically devalued the “art” of teaching in favor of a dumbed-down, accountability regimen that prefers standardization and over-testing to empowering educators and students to think more creatively and independently.  It has assailed teachers and attacked educational culture to such a degree that it should be no surprise that our society has become increasingly anti-intellectual and hostile to fact-based analysis.

Later in the article, Mr. Miller supports Ms. Gabor’s analysis that insinuates a link between the “reform” movement to the ascendance of President Trump:

Perhaps when you re-imagine the education system in a fashion that is designed to create fewer people interested in “fluff” like arts and humanities or any other discipline that does not put one on the track to gaining only skills that one can monetize, you should not be surprised  that your standardized pedagogy has produced a host of voters with a disdain for educated citizenship.

It may not have been the intended outcome of those who simply wished to produce a more useful workforce, but it does show the profound limits of their debased instrumentalism.  Hence Gabor again observes: “Corporate education reformers cannot be directly blamed for the ascendance of Trump. However, over two decades of an ed-reform apparatus that has emphasized the production of math and ELA test scores over civics and learning for learning’s sake has helped produce an electorate that is ignorant of constitutional democracy and thus more vulnerable to demagoguery.”  

The focus on education as a means of earning money and the metrics that use post college earnings to set a “value” on schooling have debased public schools and the students who attend them. These may be the values of the plutocrats who are seeking employees, but I do not believe they reflect the values of local school board members, parents, or educators. Mr. Miller’s article closes with two paragraphs that support this conclusion:

Thus, there are some insights to be found in approaches that rely on “local democracy” that can help do right for our children and the society at large.  Following these examples, rather than the lead of self-important billionaires, is where we can find hope for a better education system and a more democratic society.

As for Bloomberg, maybe he should just go away and let the people lead.  We’ve had too much “reform” from self-declared rich saviors and philanthrocapitalists already.  In fact, it’s long past time that we save ourselves from them.


WeWork’s “Conscious Entrepreneurship” Conundrum: Should Kindergartners Be Rewarded for Ambitiousness?

September 26, 2018 Comments off

Medium offers thought provoking articles to its subscribers, some of which are recent and others of which, like “WeWork is Going After Kindergartners Now“, are nearly a year old. Written by Bloomberg’s Irene Plagianos, the article about WeWork, whose mission is “to help people do what they love“, has launched a program for Kindergartners that helps them develop entrepreneurial skills.

In my book, there’s no reason why children in elementary schools can’t be launching their own businesses,”(WeWork co-founder) Rebekah Neumann said in an interview. She thinks kids should develop their passions and act on them early, instead of waiting to grow up to be “disruptive,” as the entrepreneurial set puts it.

I can think of one reason why children in elementary schools might not be encouraged to launch their own business: they need a chance to experience a childhood without ambitiousness…. for in our current culture elementary school might be the last and only time children can truly experience the opportunity to be a child. And according to Ms. Plagianos, I’m not the only person who has that notion:

The hands-on, project-based learning, encouraging children to ask questions and take ownership of their education, sounds like what “progressive pedagogy has been teaching for 100 years,” said Samuel Abrams, the director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

But WeWork’s “very instrumental approach” to learning, “essentially encouraging kids to monetize their ideas, at that age, is damaging,” Abrams said. “You’re sucking the joy out of education at a time when kids should just be thinking about things like how plants grow and why there are so many species.”

Ms. Neumann sloughs off that criticism, with an observation that is accurate and underscores a conundrum that comes into play when someone tries to mesh entrepreneurship with progressive education principles:

Neumann argues it’s conventional education that is “squashing out the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity that’s intrinsic to all young children.”Then, after college, she said, “somehow we’re asking them to be disruptive and recover that spirit.”

Ms. Neumann’s concluding observation about how individuals pursue what they love illustrates another conundrum:

In her own family, she said, “there are no lines” between work and life or home and office. “My kids are in the office. I’m doing what I love, he’s doing what he loves, they are observing that, and they are doing what they love.

I AM certain Ms. Neumann and her spouse are doing what they love… but not so sure her kids sitting in the home office are doing what they love… especially if her kids love doing what I loved doing when I was a child, which was being outside! But maybe her children like developing business plans for their lemonade stand using powerpoint.

Arizona: Outgoing State Chief Wants to Adopt Far-Right Christian Standards to Replace State Standards

September 25, 2018 Comments off

More evidence that ESSA’s move to allow states to set standards is deeply flawed. If these standards are combined with high stakes tests for graduation we will be turning out a generation of mis-educated students in several states. The Common Core had its own deep flaws, but if public education is to contribute to a common good it needs to be based on a common set of standards. 

via Arizona: Outgoing State Chief Wants to Adopt Far-Right Christian Standards to Replace State Standards

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Concord Monitor Op Ed Captures Current Situation, Backstory in NH Public Education

September 25, 2018 2 comments

This past Sunday’s Concord Monitor featured an op ed piece by Sam Osherson that accurately described the current state of affairs in New Hampshire public education and the backstory that led to where we stand now.

As readers of this blog realize, public schools in New Hampshire are now “led” by Frank Edelblut, a former businessman who ran for Governor in the GOP primary against Chris Sununu and nearly won despite receiving no support from the party leadership. The base of Mr. Edelblut’s support was Evangelicals, anti-government libertarians, and homeschooling parents who saw Mr. Edelblut’s experience as a homeschooling parent as a signal that he would support their continued efforts to operate with little to no oversight.

Once he was apportioned to the position despite his lack of qualifications, Mr. Edelblut’s speeches about public education mirror that of Betsy DeVos. He inaccurately decries the “poor performance” of New Hampshire schools (they are always ranked in the top 3-5 in the nation), the high paid “educrats” who lead the “failing government schools” (NH principals are paid $6,000 below the national average, teachers roughly $2,000 below the national average, and only a handful of Superintendents make a salary in excess of the national average of $156,000), and the need to introduce “choice” into schools to help them improve. Based on his public statements, he seems unaware of the initiatives launched during his predecessors term, initiatives in assessment and instruction that garnered favorable attention across the country.

So why is Mr. Edelblut sending a negative message about public education? The title of Mr. Osherson’s op ed piece explains: “Public Schools and the Push to Privatize Everything”. While Mr. Edelblut may be unaware of the economic theory of Hayek and Freidman that underlies his diatribes against public education, Mr. Osherson is clearly aware of it and clearly aware that it is communicated nationally thanks to well heeled billionaires:

There is now a well-established network of conservative think tanks across the country such as ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – that supplies local right-wing legislators with boilerplate bills that they can introduce into their state houses. In addition, many national conservative organizations, such as Americans for Prosperity, send operatives to states to lobby for bills that support their agendas.

This privatization agenda has consisted of a “long effort to demonize public service workers – a constant theme of anti-government forces to the present.”

And the NH legislature, like Mr. Edelblut, may not be aware of economic theory, they ARE aware of the ALEC playbook and used it extensively in the most recent session to craft legislation that undercuts public schools and promotes privatization. In the last legislative session they came painfully close to enacting a bill that would have allowed millionaires to make tax deductible contributions to education savings accounts and created a de facto voucher system that would have diverted funds from public schools into private schools and even home schooling parents.

In his concluding paragraphs Mr. Osherson issues a call to action to those who want to improve public schools in new Hampshire:

Instead of draining public tax money away from public schools and toward a group of private schools outside of public oversight, we need elected officials who will dedicate themselves to the achievable goal of excellent public schools for all N.H. students.

Like other parts of the common good – affordable health care, our beautiful public lands, the right to vote for all – public schools now need us to step up in their defense. The Nov. 6 election provides an important opportunity for us all to support public education by electing public officials who understand its crucial role in our democracy.

Here’s hoping the public awakens to the agenda of the state and national GOP and turns out in November to vote those out of office who want to destroy democracy through the privatization of public schools.



When Markets Are the Solution, All Roads Lead to Milton Friedman

September 24, 2018 Comments off

In a post Diane Ravitch wrote yesterday on The Business of Charter Schools, she offered this insight:

“…no one ever imagined that there was profit to be found in the public schools, or that the public schools would one day be part of “the education industry.”

Someone DID imagine there was profit to be found… and that someone was Milton Friedman who in 1983 wrote that public schools were a “socialist monopoly”

Twelve years later Mr Friedman wrote that the best way to break up the monopoly was to offer for-profit schools as competition.

When it comes to market worship all roads lead to Milton Friedman…. just Google “Milton Friedman public education” and you will get a trove of information on how profit could be a driver for improvement in public schools. The world reformers live in was envisioned over three decades ago by Milton Friedman and relentlessly promoted by profiteers ever since.

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Who is Behind the Leaders in Education PAC?

September 24, 2018 Comments off

Mercedes Schneider does a thorough analysis of the source of funding for a “reform” group seeking “equity” and discovers it consists of the usual suspects.

via Who is Behind the Leaders in Education PAC?

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