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Posts Tagged ‘Evaluation’

Shameful Shunning of Nobel Prize Winners: Evidence of Anti-Intellectualism in an Evidence Free World

December 26, 2017 Comments off

I read with deep dismay a recent NYTimes article by Sarah Bowen and Mark Nance, associate professors of sociology and political science, respectively, at North Carolina State University. Both are visiting researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and both had the opportunity to attend the Nobel Prize Award ceremony this year, a ceremony where eight of the 12 individual laureates were American. But Ms. Bowen and Mr. Nance were distressed to learn that President Trump was turning his back on this opportunity to display patriotism and support for the educational opportunities in our country. They write:

As Americans, this was an especially good year to attend. An impressive eight of the 12 individual laureates were American. Watching the ceremony, it was easy to feel patriotic. The laureates on stage represented decades of persistent, innovative work. They showed the intellectual power of the United States’ educational system and the transformative research it produces. We thought about the thousands of students who had passed through their labs, classes and office hours. While the awards are given to only a select few, we know well that each laureate represents an entire intellectual community.

But this year, the American Nobel laureates were shunned by President Trump. Breaking with recent tradition, he refused to invite them to the White House. This is difficult to understand. If you’re interested in building up and blaring out American greatness, why not show off what’s already great about the country? In this scenario, the laureates are like the proverbial canaries in a coal mine. The contrast between their warm celebration in Stockholm and their cold reception back home is a harbinger of the United States’ future irrelevance.

It’s clear to me why Mr. Trump decided to shun the American Nobel laureates. To have them come to the White House he’d have to acknowledge the “…intellectual power of the United States’ educational system and the transformative research it produces” and in doing so reject the longstanding narrative of “failing American schools” that so-called reformers use as the basis for privatization. To have them come to the White House he’d have to acknowledge the America doesn’t need HIM to make the nation great, it needs to build on the intellectual greatness of its colleges and universities. And Ms. Brown and Mr. Nance point out another problem Mr. Trump would face if he invited the Nobel Laureates:

Finally, two of the eight American laureates this year are immigrants. In fact, since 2000, 39 percent of prizes awarded in physics, chemistry or medicine have gone to immigrants The Trump administration’s hostility to immigrants and refugees is well documented. It deports children brought to the United States by their parents, children who have never known another home. It hammered away at the ill-considered travel ban until it squeaked — for the moment — past judicial review. It even tried to block a girls’ robotics team from Afghanistan from entering the United States for a competition. 

In short, Mr. Trump’s decision to shun the Nobel laureates, to deny them an opportunity to receive as much praise in America as they received internationally, exemplifies the anti-intellectual bent of his entire administration. And that anti-intellectualism is NOT the way to greatness. It will fulfill the prophesy of a Nation at Risk. It will ensure that our students are left behind internationally and our nation will become second rate. Instead of excoriating public schools and our excellent post-secondary schools our leaders should be bolstering them and pointing out to its citizenry that they ARE the best in the world.

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“Baby PISA” Standardized Tests Support Global Education Reform Movement, Reinforce Status Quo, End Childhood

December 10, 2017 Comments off

I read the last sentence of the first paragraph of Mercy College professor Helge Wasmuth’s recent essay on the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) latest brainchild— a standardized assessment for preschoolers— and felt cold shiver.

Have you heard of Baby PISA? If not, you are in good company, as little information has been shared with the global early childhood community about the latest venture of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Unfortunately, it is a fait accompli.

It is a fait accompli because it is now a part of OECD’s widely publicized test battery called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. For the past 15 years the PISA results have been used as part of the “reform” movements arsenal to “prove” the ineffectiveness of public education. What the PISA tests have really proven, though, is that demographics and ZIP codes matter, especially in our country where there is wide disparity in spending on schools and the demographics between districts. Typically administered in 5th, 8th, and 11th grades, OECD is now planning to expand PISA to preschoolers through the use of something called the “International Early Learning and Child Well-Being Study.or IELS.They have encountered some pushback in their efforts, though. As Wasmuth reports, some countries have decided to withhold their support:

While the original plan called for participation by three to six countries in the northern and southern hemispheres, a number of early childhood communities have already successfully registered protest, urging their governments to abstain. (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, and Denmark are among them.) The only outliers are England—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not taking part—and the United States.

And Wasmuth also notes that there is virtually no support among early childhood educators,who find the assessments intrusive on the instructional process, worthless in terms of informing instruction, and likely to result in the lockstep standardization that PISA values.

The impact on our field will be disastrous—maybe not immediately, but soon enough. OECD is a powerful and influential institution. Everyone should be clear about their goals of creating a common framework with benchmarks and assessing learning outcomes.  Early childhood education will be reduced to what can be measured: literacy and numeracy.

Ultimately, the field will fall even deeper into the clutches of GERM.  Many countries will feel compelled to do well on the IELS, and the easiest way to do that is to align the curricula to what is measured. Pedagogical compliance will follow, along with teaching to the test—especially in countries, such as the U.S., with many private providers of early education, who will use their outcomes to win new customers. As in the case of the Common Core, a new market will be created, “Aligned to IELS” the new trademark.

The quest for predictable outcomes leaves no place for the hallmarks of early childhood—for uncertainty, experimentation,  surprise, amazement, context, subjective experiences.  OECD values and measures what can be measured, but not necessarily what is important.

In short, the use of standardized assessments will reinforce the status quo in schooling by linking educational outcomes to age cohorts and using the bell curve created when normative assessments are designed to sort and select students at an early age. And the end result of this assessment will be a further diminishment of childhood.

All of the above is inevitable if we do not resist. We must widely discuss the IELS and critically follow its implementation. We must protect childhood’s unpredictable, unique, and wondrous nature—before it’s too late.

DeVos/Trump USDOE’s Penchant for Negotiated Settlements on Civil Rights Requires Oversight and Follow-up… Which are in Short Supply

October 7, 2017 Comments off

Thursday’s Politico Morning Education News Feed by Benjamin Wermund with help from Caitlin Emma and Michael Stratford described the Trump/DeVos USDOE’s penchant for negotiated settlements in civil rights cases. The Politico writers report:

The Trump administration has ended more than 700 civil rights investigations through a negotiation process concluded with so-called “302 agreements.” Under these agreements, the school agrees to make changes and the Education Department ends the investigation but says it will keep an eye on the school to make sure it falls in line.

Politico indicates these “302 agreements” are not a new feature, but the increase in their use is notable… and every indication is that their use will accelerate in the months ahead.

The (Trump) administration had resolved 706 civil rights complaints this way as of Aug. 29, according to records obtained by POLITICO. Under the Obama administration, the Office for Civil Rights resolved 462 cases this way through all of last year, according to the records. In 2015, it resolved just 387 complaints this way. The Trump administration had begun negotiations on, but had yet to resolve, 168 more cases as of Aug. 29. The bulk of them – 130 negotiations – started after Candice Jackson, the department’s acting civil rights chief, issued a June 8 memo telling civil rights investigators to take a smaller scope in their investigations. The memo also gave regional civil rights offices more autonomy by scrapping a requirement for the D.C. office to sign off on cases.

The Trump?DeVos USDOE  administration is spinning the increase in “302 agreements” as a means of achieving expedited settlements, settlements that do not result in resolutions being dragged out for years.

“The Office for Civil Rights is working to make sure that justice is no longer unduly delayed for students who have filed civil rights complaints,” Liz Hill, an Education Department spokeswoman, said. “OCR is pursuing a longstanding tradition of reaching voluntary resolution agreements with institutions willing to address civil rights concerns that ensure appropriate policy changes and remedies in individual cases.”

Politico quoted civil rights activists who were distressed over the pace of “302 agreements” because they felt such agreements diminished the depth of the investigations and assumed a higher degree of innocence on the part of institutions…. and there is ipso facto evidence of such handling.  As Politico noted in earlier reports:

DeVos’ Education Department had closed more than 1,500 civil rights complaints at the nation’s schools – including dismissing more than 900 outright – in the two months since her acting civil rights chief took steps to reduce a massive backlog.

As one who is concerned with the pending budget cuts to USDOE in the name of “efficiency” I wonder how the USDOE can possibly “keep an eye on the school to make sure it falls in line” given the marked increase in “302 settlements”. My hunch is that not only will they be unable to monitor these settlements, they will be unable to investigate future ones… and I don’t think the Trump/DeVos administration sees this as a “bug”… they view it as a desirable feature.

Differentiated Accountability Sensible for Doctors… and Schools

July 17, 2017 Comments off

An article by Kate Taylor in today’s NYTimes called to mind a conversation I had several years ago with a Dartmouth Hitchcock doctor regarding metrics used in the medical field. Titled “New York Schools for Off-Track Students May Face Stricter Rules”, the article describes a proposal to be reviewed by the NY Regents that recommends holding “transfer schools” to the same standards for graduation rates as regular high schools. The problem is that the transfer schools are designed to address the problems failing students encountered in regular high schools and, consequently, the students enter well behind their age cohorts when they enroll. Here’s an overview of the problem these districts face under the proposed regulations:

Under the (proposed) regulations, schools that fall short of a six-year graduation rate of 67 percent would be put on a list to receive “comprehensive support and improvement.” Only four of the city’s 51 transfer schools currently meet, or are on track to meet, that benchmark.

The transfer schools do poorly on this benchmark because by the time a student enrolls in a transfer school they are often three years behind their peers making it mathematically impossible to succeed.

How does this relate to medical metrics? My doctor friend noted that one of the clearly and unarguably objective metrics proposed for measuring the effectiveness of doctors was the death rate of patients… a metric that was quickly rejected since oncologists ended up having a horrific death rate as compared to, say, dermatologists. This kind of inherent disparity led each field of medicine to develop their own metrics that had nuances within them… in effect a form of differentiated accountability.

And in the end, that is what the city schools are seeking, as noted in the closing paragraph of Ms. Taylor’s article:

New Visions for Public Schools, a nonprofit group that oversees and supports 69 high schools in the city, including 10 transfer schools, has urged the State Education Department to convene a panel of experts to come up with a customized accountability system for transfer schools.

Ms. Ramirez, from the city’s Education Department, said it was not that the city did not want the schools’ performance to be scrutinized. “It’s all about differentiated accountability,” she said.

Will the Regents “…convene a panel of experts to come up with a customized accountability system for transfer schools”? I hope they will… and in doing so I hope they might examine ALL of their accountability systems to determine if they might tailor them to address the unique needs of students each school serves.

 

Fact Challenged Administration Doing It’s Best to Prevent the Sharing of Facts

May 21, 2017 Comments off

One of the most appalling aspects of the current administration from my perspective is its unwillingness to face facts in ALL arenas. As noted in many earlier posts and in at least one of the White Papers found on this blog, the Obama administration conveniently overlooked the studies presented by statisticians when it came to VAM. But the Obama administration did not make an effort to suppress facts for fear that they might contradict the narrative they were concocting. But, as this May 14 Washington Post article by Juliet Ellperin indicates, the current administration is not only ignoring unpleasant facts, it is preventing them from being collected and/or shared. Ms. Ellperin writes:

The Trump administration has removed or tucked away a wide variety of information that until recently was provided to the public, limiting access, for instance, to disclosures about workplace violations, energy efficiency, and animal welfare abuses.

Some of the information relates to enforcement actions taken by federal agencies against companies and other employers. By lessening access, the administration is sheltering them from the kind of “naming and shaming” that federal officials previously used to influence company behavior, according to digital experts, activists and former Obama administration officials.

As widely publicized, the Trump administration has taken down Federal government websites that provided information on climate change. But until I read this article I did not realize that they had removed links to organizations supporting Syrian refugees, “…the ethics waivers granted to appointees who would otherwise be barred from joining the government because of recent lobbying activities… or the White House logs of its visitors”  But, no surprise, his spokespersons see no problem:

“The President has made a commitment that his Administration will absolutely follow the law and disclose any information it is required to disclose,” said White House spokeswoman Kelly Love in an email Sunday.

The White House takes its ethics and conflict of interest rules seriously,” Love added, “and requires all employees to work closely with ethics counsel to ensure compliance. Per the President’s Executive Order, violators will be held accountable by the Department of Justice.”

As one who supports public education, I find it hard to believe that the White House is at all serious about ethical issues, having appointed a Secretary of Education who has worked hard to dismantle public schools in her home state and owns a collection agency that collects student debt. But the elimination of data from the White House web page undercuts the Department of Education’s mission beyond his decision to appoint an agency head who supports the dismantling of the agency. The USDOE had “technical difficulties” with its FAFSA application materials earlier this year arousing some suspicions given the Trump administrations opposition to providing affordable college and Ms. DeVos has taken steps to withhold some of the consumer protections the Obama administration put in place to protect prospective students from enrolling in fly-by-night for profit post secondary institutions like, say, Trump University.

As time goes on, public school advocates will need to keep a watchful eye on the information no longer available on the web page… information that might be used to help determine which schools are providing quality programs and whether Mr. Trump’s voucher programs are doing anything to improve the educational opportunities for children raised in poverty.

 

Could the USDOE Learn from Veterans Affairs? Some “What ifs…”

May 9, 2017 Comments off

I just finished reading a NYTimes article by Dave Philips and Nicolaus Fandos profiling David Shulkin, the new secretary of veterans affairs. Dr. Shulkin took office in 2015, being appointed by President Obama after the Veterans Affairs department was scandalized because veterans experienced extraordinarily long wait times to get appointments. Since taking over, Dr. Shulkin has taken on this issue of inefficiency as well as many others to good effect. Indeed, he has done such a good job that President Trump ultimately decided to retain him in that cabinet position and he was confirmed by a 100-0 vote in the Senate. After reading the article I was struck by how his no nonsense approach might be beneficial to the US Department of Education. Here are some emphases Dr. Shulkin places on health care that might transfer to education:

  • Evidence-based decision making: In medicine, examining best-practices and putting them into place is often a life and death decision and the factors associated with poor practices are readily identifiable. As “a tireless student of efficiency” Dr. Shulkin spent his time poring over data to determine how and when post-operative infections occurred, when the most errors occurred during surgery, and when patients experienced the least satisfactory care. He then focussed his organization’s time, effort, and resources on fixing those areas of deficiency. As Philips and Fandos report, “By standardizing best practices, Dr. Shulkin believed, he could save money and patients… he pushed each system he worked in to train its focus on quality. Financial savings, he argued, would naturally follow.” What if USDOE focussed on quality using metrics other than standardized test scores? 
  • Patient-centered service: Throughout the article Philips and Fandos describe incidents where Dr. Shulkin, despite his leadership role, spent time in face-to-face contact with patients to determine the impact of the Veterans Affairs medical services on their lives. In this way he was able to identify how flaws in the system effected those receiving services. What if USDOE insisted that schools talk with parents and students to identify areas where there are gaps? 
  • An urgency to take action: One of the telling anecdotes involved Dr. Shulkin’s impatience with his department’s inability to take quick decisive action in developing a strategy to address suicide. When he was told it would take 10 months to schedule a “summit” of experts to address the issue of suicide among returning veterans, Dr. Shulkin took out a calculator and estimated that 6,000 veterans would die in that time interval. The summit was scheduled in a month. What if USDOE insisted that major issues like racial inequality, the effects of drug abuse on children, and the grinding effects of poverty on children be addressed with that kind of urgency? 
  • A willingness to tackle the toughest political issues: Another telling anecdote involved Dr. Shulkin’s willingness to immediately set up a mechanism to offer “...free mental health care to veterans long barred from its hospitals because of less-than-honorable discharges, including thousands with post-traumatic stress disorder”. There are countless examples of how this might play out in the USDOE. What if USDOE provided funds to schools to provide free mental health care to children who abused drugs? Teen parents? Parents of children who abused drugs? 
  • A refusal to see privatization as the solution: Dr. Shulkin rejects the notion of privatization of veteran’s  hospitals because he realizes that “many of the agency’s patients have a complex mix of physical and mental health issues”, issues that the private sector could not address. He does see the private sector as being able to address some of the routine issues, though. The provision of eyeglasses, hearing aids, and other “routine cases”. What if USDOE recognized that public school students ALL possess and complex mix of physical and mental health issues that do not lend themselves to routinized instruction? 

I have long believed there are parallels between the delivery of medical services and public education… which leads to one final “what if…” What if our society valued teachers as much as they valued medical professionals? 

My Alma Mater Abandons Class Rank… Well Done West Chester High Schools!

October 31, 2016 Comments off

An article by Kathy Bocella in in Philly.com describes a recent decision by the West Chester (PA) school district to abandon the practice of ranking graduates. Why?

Educators who favor dropping the system argue that in the best districts, where the students are highly competitive, the differences in grade-point average between the No. 1 and No. 20 or 25 students can be minuscule. Yet colleges might look unfavorably on that lower-ranked student.

A No. 25 in West Chester might be a No. 5 or 6 in another district, said Scanlon, whose school board voted earlier this month to eliminate ranking and weighting systems – that can push GPAs well above 4.0 – to account for the more challenging courses, effective with next year’s freshman class.

Hanover (NH) High School, the HS in the last public school district I led, abandoned the practice well before I came there in 2004 for the same reason. Given that the graduating class had roughly 20 National Merit scholars or semifinalists among its typical grading class of roughly 175 it made no sense to rank students. Indeed, it makes little sense to use GPA as the basis for any ranking at ANY high school. In virtually every HS in every district I led the difference between the top student and the students in the top 10% were microscopic and there were many instances of co-valedictorians and co-salutatorians as a result. Worse, in some instances the discriminating factor might be an A+ earned in an elective course that “earned” someone the distinction of being the valedictorian.

As the article noted, though, not every community is ready to abandon the practice:

But it was a different story in the well-regarded Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, which took heat from top-performing students and their parents when it eliminated its decile ranking system – in which seniors are grouped in the 10th, 20th, 30th, etc., percentiles, – starting this year. Critics said students were told as freshmen to work hard and aim for the top decile, which is based on three years of grades.

“They believed they would get this recognition if they succeeded, and to pull the rug out from under them is unfair,” said Timotha Trigg, a mother of a senior, who spoke out at several heated school board meetings.

I am certain Ms. Trigg’s position is heartfelt, but I doubt that the external reward of being in the top decile is as important to most students in the school— say those in the bottom deciles— as getting a passing grade or, heaven forbid, learning for the sake of learning… and if the Board in Unionville-Chadds Ford wanted to address Ms. Trigg’s concerns they could agree to phase in the new “non-ranking” system over time. My hunch: the entering Freshman class that DIDN’T have the ranking system would work every bit as hard as the last class that experienced the rankings…