Posts Tagged ‘ESSA’

Bad Metrics Not Limited to Education: Employment Rates Mis-measure Our Economy Too

June 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Earlier this week, President Trump effectively released the employment figures before the official announcement and, in so doing, reinforced the notion that low unemployment rates are a sign of economic well-being. But, as Paul Constant wrote in Civic Skunk Works immediately after the release of the employment figures, that is not necessarily the case and, of late, has increasingly NOT been the case. Here’s the nub of his argument:

…if you just report on numbers, it’s very easy to fall into a Trump-friendly video-game mindset, in which larger numbers are an unalloyed good to be accrued at all costs…all these… journalists didn’t ask the most important question of all: we know the quantity of jobs. But what about the quality of those jobs?

Mr. Constant then produces reams of evidence that the quality of jobs in the “new economy” is awful:

As Derek Thompson argued at The Atlantic back in 2012, America’s postwar economy has shifted dramatically. Since the 1950s, he reports, “The manufacturing/agriculture economy shrunk from 33% to 12%, and the services economy grew from 24% to 50%.” And as most anyone who’s worked in the service economy knows, there are an awful lot of awful jobs—low-wage, part-time, no-benefit kinds of jobs—in service.

But this is not just about Walmart. Service jobs don’t have to suck—and many don’t. But I could sit here and list stats all weekend long proving that quality jobs in America are disappearing:

And on and on and on.

The fact is, sometimes in the 1970s America made the switch from high-quality, high-wage employment to low-quality, low-wage employment—and the shift is getting progressively worse.It’s gotten so bad that Axios recently revealed that CEOs openly admitted that the American worker isn’t getting a cut of the economic prosperity anytime soon: “executives of big U.S. companies suggest that the days of most people getting a pay raise are over, and that they also plan to reduce their work forces further.”

The report that Donald Trump touted today only counted the number of jobs created, not the quality of those jobs.

The truth is, this isn’t a jobs story at all. It’s an inequality story.

Mr. Constant concludes his essay with this compelling insight:

By blindly promoting economics numbers as though the highest score is all that matters, we as Americans are agreeing that the most important thing, above all else, is being employed. Never mind if you have to work two or three part-time gigs to pay the rent. Never mind if none of your employers provide health insurance. Never mind that workers are too tired and stretched too thin to find a new job, or to get training that might improve their conditions. Never mind that jobs which were once considered good careers are now paid a pittance.

When we blare the news of a great new jobs report—no matter which party is in power—we are advancing the narrative that as long as we hit our marks, nothing else matters. A job is a job is a job is a job.

Except that’s not true. Gradually, over the last half-decade, and without our consent, the deal has changed. Eventually, no amount of deft media manipulation will be able to hide that fact.

What does this have to do with public education policy? A paraphrase of that first paragraph answers that question:

By blindly promoting standardized test scores as though the highest score is all that matters, we as Americans are agreeing that the most important thing, above all else, is doing well on those tests. Never mind if you forfeit art, music, PE, and play for test preparation. Never mind if none of your school excludes students who score poorly on tests. Never mind that students are taught only what can be tested and fail to learn the soft skills that are needed in a well functioning democracy. Never mind that in the quest for high test scores we sacrifice childhood completely. 

Gradually, over the last decade-and-a-half we have made a decision to conflate good schools with high test scores and no amount to deft media manipulation can hide that fact.



New Mexico Social Studies Curriculum a Peek Into a Orwellian Future

December 19, 2017 Comments off

“vulnerable,” “diversity,” “entitlement,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.”

This past weekend there was a lot of uproar in the press and on social media over the Trump Administration’s edict that the Center for Disease Control ban the use of the seven words listed above. At the same time as this rule was promulgated, the state of New Mexico sanitized its social studies curriculum by making the following changes:

…erased the names of key civil rights leaders, such as Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.

…erased the end of slavery as a result of the Industrial Revolution

…erased key Supreme Court decisions like Roe vs. Wade, which affects the lives of all women in our nation.

…erased key historical actors and factors that are essential to understanding the development of the U.S. economy and industry, and the expansion of our political system and democracy to become more inclusive of working-class men and women, and racial and ethnic minorities.

But social studies was not the only area where crucially information is no longer taught. Several key topics in the curriculum blueprints for the health course were “erased”: nutrition, alcohol, selection of healthy food choices, healthy versus unhealthy relationships, the importance of health screenings, and emotional and physical changes in puberty.

These changes were brought to my attention in retired professor Lois Rudnik’s op ed article from the Santa Fe New Mexican… changes, among others, that led her to pose these questions:

For New Mexico history: Is it possible that we can educate “successful and responsible citizens” without their learning about the role of the federal government in creating and maintaining military bases and national laboratories in our state? Can they become effective citizens without learning how a bill becomes a law; about executive officers and their respective powers, or about the impeachment process?

For U.S. history: Is it possible that we can “prepare students to succeed in a diverse and increasingly complex world,” without their learning about the formation of trusts and trust busting? The racial and ethnic conflicts that resulted from the growth of cities in the 20th century? The changes in U.S. foreign policy from isolationism to interventionism? The League of Nations? The role of credit in the onset of the Great Depression? The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan?

The deeper question is: Why would any legislature wanting to ensure the perpetuation of a highly functioning democracy eliminate these items from their social studies curriculum? And the items omitted from the health topics raise another deeper question: Why would any legislature that wants to promote the health and well being of children and adults eliminate these items from their health curriculum?

The only answer I can come up with to those two questions is this: one political party is so intent on demonstrating the ineffectiveness of public schools and government itself that it is willing to topple democracy and its underlying support system: public education.

New Mexico recently went through a battle over changes to the science curriculum when the powers that be tried to eliminate references to evolution, global warming, and the age of the Earth. At that juncture the public protested to the extent that these were put back in place. Ms. Rudnick is hoping the same thing happens this time around with social studies and health:

When (Matt) Montaño (NM’s director of educator effectiveness and development) was asked if the test subjects that have been eliminated could be restored, he said, “Yes, of course.” But he didn’t say that they would be. They haven’t been. And without intense public scrutiny and pressure— the kind that resulted in the restoration of the science standards — they won’t be.

There is a lot to pay attention to in this day and age of redefining reality… Here’s hoping the citizens, teachers, and health professionals in New Mexico push back!

Revisiting Predictions on President Trump’s Impact on Public Education II: ESSA

November 30, 2017 Comments off

A year ago I wrote several posts on Donald Trump’s appointments and where I saw them leading us. For the next five days I am going to revisit those predictions to see how they panned out. Today I take a look at how ESSA is playing out as compared to predictions I offered in 2016.

Here’s the latest information on ESSA, from a Politico post last week:

ALEXANDER LOOMS LARGE OVER K-12 EDUCATION: Sen. Lamar Alexander made a phone call this summer that quickly changed how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was enforcing the law governing how public schools are held accountable for educating kids. The Tennessee Republican had publicly and privately admonished a top aide to DeVos, instructing the aide that the law requires the federal government to keep its hands largely off state education policy. When Alexander’s complaints fell on deaf ears, he called DeVos directly. “She thanked me for it,” Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, told POLITICO. Caitlin Emma has the story.

Soon after the call, the Education Department said it was changing how it reviews state education plans developed under the law, possibly shielding the biggest federal concerns from public view by first conveying them in telephone calls with state officials rather than on paper. The review and questioning of states became less intense throughout the summer. Speculation swirled that the Trump appointee whom Alexander blasted, Jason Botel, was leaving the agency or switching jobs. Botel’s public critiques of state education plans, once lengthy and probing, now mostly ask for missing information or clarifications.

Alexander’s intervention at the Education Department shows how he uses his clout to steer DeVos’ agency and shape policy on a defining piece of his legacy – a major bipartisan rewrite of federal education law called the Every Student Succeeds Act. He said he feels like his intervention helped the department “from going off track.” A senior GOP aide said the agency “stopped giving bad advice to states” and stopped questioning matters that belong to state school officials, like setting goals for students and education systems….

Alexander after Trump’s election also worked to find an Education secretary who would uphold his state-centric, hands-off vision for the Every Student Succeeds Act. And he led the congressional effort to scrap an Obama rule for holding schools accountable under the law. But some worry that Alexander’s actions could translate into little to no federal oversight of state education. Critics note the law imposed certain requirements to protect poor and minority students, whose performance often lags behind their peers. They worry whether states will adequately track and provide equal opportunities for at-risk kids or face consequences from the Education Department if they fail to do so.

This confirms some of the fears I expressed when I examined the possible direction ESSA might head under a Trump presidency. From the outset Mr. Trump signaled his intention to provide states with more latitude in funding schools and that combined with his pledge to “…significantly curb the role of the department’s office for civil rights when it comes to state and local policies” is resulting in a diminished focus on equity, desegregation, and a continued emphasis on test-based accountability and “choice” that includes the opportunity for parents to use taxpayers funds to attend parochial schools. ESSA is becoming the worst of both worlds: it incorporates the standardized testing of NCLB with a trend towards “states rights” that will allow for vouchers that can be used for any schooling whatsoever.

Update on the GOP Platform II: K-12 Education

November 27, 2017 Comments off

This is the second of three posts providing an update on the implementation of the GOP’s education platform using Politico’s synopsis of the elements of the 2016 Republican Platform that pertain to education with my assessment of progress made in bold red italics:

— On school choice: Republicans are, unsurprisingly, very supportive of school choice, “especially … innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits.” The platform specifically cites the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program as “a model for the rest of the country” that should be expanded. “We deplore the efforts of Congressional Democrats and the current President to eliminate this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions,” the platform says. As noted in multiple blog posts, in virtually every state with GOP legislatures legislation enabling the creation of ESAs has passed and in states where the GOP controls the statehouse the Governors have appointed Commissioners who support deregulated for profit schools and, in some cases, the use of tax dollars to pay tuition to sectarian schools. In those same states, legislatures are enacting bills that undercut union membership. As noted in my original post, affluent communities who are more than willing to pay for their kids to get a good education are unaffected by this shift in funding.

— On testing and the Common Core: Republicans “congratulate” states that have “repealed” the academic standards. And on testing, they find some common ground with Democrats: The platform rejects “excessive testing and ‘teaching to the test’ but supports the need for strong assessments to serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs.” The platform also encourages “instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers.” As is often the case, platforms try to have things both ways. In this case, the GOP wants to eliminate “excessive testing” while retaining “strong assessments to serve as a tool. The bottom line on this is that standardized tests are being retained as the primary metric for school success. As for “instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers”, State legislatures are likely awaiting model legislation from ALEC on how to mandate instruction on the constitution and American exceptionalism.

— On teachers: The platform says teachers should be “protected against frivolous lawsuits and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom … Rigid tenure systems should be replaced with a merit-based approach in order to attract the best talent to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.” The USDOE is taking steps to encourage tougher discipline in schools, mostly by ignoring civil rights violations that might have resulted in investigations under the Obama administration. The GOP legislators in Washington and across the country continue to introduce legislation that makes teachers at will employees and requires de facto moral codes for teachers.

— On K-12 spending: Republicans say the Education Department has spent more than $2 trillion dollars “with little substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates.” The platform supports the notion of Title I portability, which Republicans failed to include in a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. “We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them,” the platform says. The GOP budget appears to encourage the creation of “block grants” in lieu of the current format that allocates categorical funds. This approach is being used across the nation as states abandon efforts to ensure “adequate education funding” (see recent post on South Carolina, for example). With no push from USDOE for equity and GOP legislators intent on using the budget to accomplish changes that were not achieved through legislation (i.e. the repeal of “Obamacare”), expect to see funding “following the child” in the future.

When Intelligent Design is Offered, Thank the Bi-Partisan Passage of ESSA Which Enables the Spread of “Stupid Ideas”

November 20, 2017 Comments off

I have long believed that some kind of national standards are required in all curriculum areas, Bill Gates’ unilateral efforts to impose the Common Core via Race to the Top notwithstanding. The pushback to Mr. Gates’ initiative and Arne Duncan’s efforts to impose top-down testing resulted in the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bi-partisan bill that empowered State’s to devise their own curricula, their own assessments, and their own means of accountability.

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article by Cyde Haberman describing on result of this shift of power back to the States: the re-emergence of the debate on whether to include evolution in the curriculum as “scientific fact” or present it side-by-side with theories like intelligent design. And, no surprise to this blogger, the intelligent design crowd is making headway. Mr. Haberman offers a detailed description of a law passed in Louisiana and tested in courts and concludes that other states are likely to pass similar bills:

Thus far, the Louisiana law is proving to be bulletproof. No court case has been brought against it, even if Dr. Miller says somewhat dismissively that this is only because “the First Amendment protects you against imposition of religious ideas in the public schools — it doesn’t protect you against the introduction of stupid ideas.”

And Louisiana does not stand alone. Tennessee, home of the Scopes trial, passed a comparable law in 2012. Efforts along the same line have been tried in other states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Indiana, South Dakota, Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma.

With the passage of ESSA and the abandonment of the common core, expect more states to adopt curricula that abandon science… and at some point, who knows, maybe students will be required to demonstrate an understanding of intelligent design in order to earn a diploma. Nine states down… 41 to go. And for my friends in New Hampshire, please pay attention! It could happen in our state.

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Fordham Institute’s Ratings of the Ratings Underscores One of ESSA’s Biggest Flaws

November 15, 2017 Comments off

I read with dismay the Fordham Institute’s recent analysis of each state’s rating systems for public schools written by Brandon Wright and Michael Petrilli. The Fordham Institute’s assessment was a problem for me, but their framework for assessments was drawn from ESSA’s language, which, in turn, is ultimately based on the premise that public schools are a commodity that can be rated like motels, automobiles, and restaurants. Here’s a synopsis of the Wright/Petrilli algorithm used to to assess each State’s accountability plan:

The Every Student Succeeds Act grants states more authority over their accountability systems than did No Child Left Behind, but have they seized the opportunity to develop school ratings that are clearer and fairer than those in the past? Our new analysis examines the plans submitted by all fifty states and the District of Columbia, and whether they are strong or weak (or in-between) in achieving three objectives:

  1. Assigning annual ratings to schools that are clear and intuitive for parents, educators, and the public;
  2. Encouraging schools to focus on all students, not just their low performers; and
  3. Fairly measuring and judging all schools, including those with high rates of poverty.

Their overall findings are summarized in the subsequent paragraph in bullet form (my emphases added):

Key findings include:

  • Thirty-four states—67 percent—received a “strong” grade for using clear and intuitive ratings such as A–F grades, five-star ratings, or user-friendly numerical systems. These labels immediately convey to all observers how well a given school is performing, and is a major improvement over the often Orwellian school ratings of the NCLB era.
  • The country is also doing much better in signaling that every child is important, not just the “bubble kids” near the proficiency cut-off. Twenty-three states earned strong grades on this objective, and another fourteen earned medium marks.
  • There is somewhat less progress when it comes to making accountability systems fair to high-poverty schools. Only eighteen states are strong here. But twenty-four others earn a medium grade, which is still an improvement over NCLB.

The fact that Mr. Wright and Petrilli place a high value on ratings such as A–F grades, five-star ratings, or user-friendly numerical systems means that they are simultaneously placing a high value on anything that can be measured numerically and devaluing any element of schooling that cannot be reduced to a number. This would likely contradict their second finding in any state that places a high value on standardized testing, since the best way for a school to improve their standardized testing is to target the so-called “…”bubble kids” near the proficiency cut-off.

In assessing the states who got low marks on their grading system Mr. Wright and Petrilli show their true colors, and their true intent is for states to use some form of rank ordering despite the fact that ESSA does not mandate such an approach:

On the flip side, three states received weak grades in each of the three areas: California, Idaho, and North Dakota. They rely on proficiency rates, don’t emphasize student growth, and propose using a dashboard-like approach with myriad data points and no bottom line for reporting school quality to parents, beyond identifying their very worst schools, as required by federal law.

So the three states that used a nuanced and detailed approach to rating schools and identified only the lowest performing schools got low ratings in the Wright/Petrilli algorithm but states that came up with a simplistic means of rating got higher marks. One thing we’ve learned in education is that the aphorism “what gets measured gets done” is absolutely true. That aphorism created the “bubble kids” and it created the endless gaming of the US News and World Report’s ratings that ultimately reward colleges, universities, and public schools that spend the most and punish the schools who serve first time enrollees and/or children raised in poverty.

KISS— Keep It Simple Stupid— is a great marketing strategy if your plan is to rank order schools and thereby identify the “fact” that 50% of the schools are “failing”. If you want to improve schools for all children, you might seek a system that flags only the worst schools and use a dashboard approach. My advice in examining the Wright/Petrilli algorithm: think of it as upside down.


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Technology’s Promise, OBE, CBE Thwarted by the Factory Model Which is Reinforced by Standardized Testing

November 8, 2017 1 comment

Blogger Tom Ultican, described by Diane Ravitch as a California physics and math teacher who formerly worked in technology, wrote a post in early October that excoriates the role of technology in public education and decries the failed attempts to introduce various forms of mastery learning into public schools. In doing so, Mr. Ultican, like many technology critics, overlooks the fact that technology’s advantages are undercut by our current factory school model and the standardized tests that reinforce it. Moreover, some of Mr. Ultican’s assertions regarding the outflowing of new money for technology do not appear to be substantiated.

Mr. Ultican opens his post lamenting ESSA’s inclusion of billions of dollars for “blended learning”, which is defined in the law as:

…a formal education program that leverages both technology-based and face-to-face instructional approaches—(A) that include an element of online or digital learning, combined with supervised learning time, and student- led learning, in which the elements are connected to provide an integrated learning experience; and (B) in which students are provided some control over time, path, or pace.”

He then delineates the funding provided for ESSA and, absent any evidence, purports that “…it is clear that Title-I authorizes spending tens of billions of tax payer dollars on education technology.” What is clear to me is that Title I allows districts to use these funds for technology, but since this money is already being spent for existing Title One programs and is only a .6% increase over the baseline it is highly unlikely that funds currently being spent for Title One personnel will be redirected to technology. Similarly his assertion that Title IV is 100% for technology is inaccurate. As the Center for Digital Education notes in an April blog post:

ESSA is authorized to spend up to $1.6 billion on Title IV, which includes provisions of use for access to well-rounded education, school counseling, school health and safety, and education technology. By placing those important areas under the same umbrella for funding, the amounts left to use on education transformation through the use of technology are lower than the funds initially received from Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), which at it’s peak was allocated $700 million. Based off of initial Congressional proposals, the $1.6 billion authorized seems highly unlikely to come to fruition.

So… where Mr. Ultican sees a treasure trove for technology, the technology industry itself sees a diminishment of funding… and as the closing sentence in this paragraph indicates, the authorization of funding is different from the allocation of funding

Mr. Ultican’s distaste for technology appears to be rooted in his distaste for what he calls “behaviorist education”, which includes some concepts that I fully support:

The behaviorist ideology of B.F. Skinner informs “competency based education.” CBE is the computer based approach that replaces the failed 1990’s behaviorist learning method called Outcome Based Education. Outcome Based Education is a renamed attempt to promote the 1970’s “mastery education” theory. Mastery education’s failure was so complete that it had to be renamed. It was quickly derided by educators as “seats and sheets.” These schemes all posit that drilling small skills and mastering them is the best way to teach. It has not worked yet.

Today’s proponents of behaviorist education hope that technology including artificial intelligence backed by micro-credentials and badges will finally make behaviorism a winner. It will not because little humans are not linear learners. Non-alignment with human nature is a fundamental flaw in this approach. In addition, behaviorism is not known as a path to creativity or original thinking. Those paths are created between teachers and students through human contact; paths undermined by “digital education.”

Earlier in his post, Mr. Ultican writes about the uselessness of standardized testing, yet he bases his conclusion on the failure of OBE on test results. Standardized tests, unlike the “micro-credentials and badges” he derides, assume that all children learn at the same rate. He also fils to see that technology could be used to enable students to progress at their own rate without the “sheets” that made mastery learning cumbersome in the 70s and led to the failure in South Africa where teachers were compelled to develop their own self-paced learning materials for children.

My bottom line is this: technology will not make any difference in public education as long as public education is organized based on the premise that all children learn at the same rate and that, consequently, they should be grouped by age cohorts to facilitate learning. Standardized testing reinforces this notion and the “compensatory” funding that is the ultimate root of ESSA is designed to improve standardized test scores.

And here’s what surprises me the most: the technology industry seeking ever increasing amounts of money has not caught onto this and explicitly advocated a change to the factory model.