Posts Tagged ‘Measurement’

This Just In: Common Core Benchmarks Unattainable in ANY Country in the World

January 18, 2018 Leave a comment

The National Superintendents Roundtable and Horace Mann League released a report yesterday that included several findings that contradict the “failing schools” narrative set forth decades ago by the Reagan administration and built upon by every administration thereafter. The primary take away from the report is this:

Globally, in just about every nation where it is possible to compare student performance with our national benchmarks, the vast majority of students cannot demonstrate their competence because the bars are set unreasonably high.

And as the report notes at the outset, this inability for students to demonstrate competence is intentional:

One motivation for establishing the NAEP benchmarks was the desire to demonstrate that “large numbers of students were failing,” according to a former New York Times national education correspondent.

A rushed process for developing the benchmarks was adopted by the policy body governing NAEP – despite experts’ objections – in part because a prominent member of the policy body acknowledged he was “fed up with technical experts.”

It isn’t difficult to adjust cut scores on tests to “prove” students are improving OR failing… and it isn’t difficult for “think tanks” to generate “benchmarks” that have some official seal of approval that is untethered to the realities of child development or the realities of teaching students from challenging backgrounds. And, unfortunately, it isn’t difficult to persuade the public that their public schools are “failing” as a result of attaining low scores on tests with impossibly high standards while implying that other nations are doing far better.

And here’s the saddest news of all: the “reformers” who want to undercut support for the institution of public schools are succeeding. According to a recent survey conducted by NPR, only 43% of the public has confidence in public schools. But educators should be heartened to know that the public has far more confidence in them than they have in Congress (8%), or either political party (29% for the GOP and 36% for the Democrats). Somewhere Ronald Reagan and his acolytes are happy, though. The voters all agree with his assertion that Government is the Problem. Our founding fathers, though, weep. Democracy counts on an electorate that supports public institutions… and the NPR survey shows that the only institution that has broad public support is… the military.


Technology is Fast and Cheap… but it Isn’t Good.

January 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday included on that had a link to an article she wrote recently for EdSurge, a pro-technology website. In the article she identified five major risks associated with the use of educational technology. After reading her article I left this comment with a link to this post:

The tech industry is serving shareholders, politicians and, alas, voters who don’t want to spend more for education. Technology is currently cheap and fast… but it isn’t good.

A consultant whose name escapes me gave a presentation to the administrators in the MD district I served in the early 1990s. She wrote three words on the board (this was pre-powerpoint era): “fast”, “cheap”, “good”. She said that in any undertaking you could only choose two of these. (NOTE: I just learned from my friend “Google” that this is now called the “Iron Triangle”— and example of technology’s utility).

Technology promises to provide all three… but it really only provides “fast” and “cheap” means of covering the curriculum that is measured by standardized tests. It’s faster than the laborious face-to-face tutoring it supposedly replaces. Its’ cheaper because it lowers the costs to school districts by selling the data it collects to third parties. But because it is fast and cheap it isn’t good: it takes the “costly” human interaction out of teaching; it has a limited scope because it only delivers instruction in areas that can be measured by standardized tests; and it requires schools to compromise the principle of student and parent privacy in order to secure the low costs valued by politicians and voters.

Like Diane Ravitch and several of her commenters, I was an early adopter to technology applications. As a public school administrator I found technology a godsend for scheduling, tracking budgets, preparing cost-benefit analyses, calculating the impact of collective bargaining proposals, and especially for writing. And while the introduction of the internet was a mixed blessing (emails tended to eat into my daily schedule on the job and outside of it), it did provide a means of making every decision transparent and disseminating information rapidly. And as one who tends to think in bullet points and one who used an overhead projector as a teacher, I found powerpoint to be very useful in preparing presentations on everything from budgets and building projects to future directions I hoped we might be able to take.

But unlike Ms. Ravitch and her commenters, I was a school superintendent and, as such, witnessed the intense pressure to suppress costs while simultaneously introducing children in schools to the technology school board members and I were using every day on our jobs. One thing I learned was that the use of technology required some degree of standardization.. and some teachers and parents bridled at any form of standardization. In devising schedules and linking the schedules to computerized report cards, for example, I needed to demand that teachers re-name some of their courses to “fit” the fields “the computer” allowed. In implementing a computerized parent portal that enabled parents to monitor their child’s progress in various subjects periodically we needed to ensure that teachers entered grades into their grade books regularly and not at the very end of the grade period. In collective bargaining, we needed to make certain both parties were using the same spreadsheets to calculate the impact of changes in compensation. Each of these “standardization” efforts resulted in faster and more efficient operations… but whether it was BETTER was debatable in the minds of some people in virtually every case.

My bottom line is that the effectiveness of technology is limited by the factory paradigm we insist on retaining in public education. As long as we group children by age and measure their progress by tests that are linked to their cohort group we will continue to mis-use and abuse technology. The ideals espoused by progressive educators like John Dewey are not based on operating an “efficient” (i.e. cheap and fast) system in the fashion the industry leaders envisioned at the turn of the 20th century. We need to let children roam free in the real and virtual worlds and not be limited to pre-programmed electronic worksheets that quickly and inexpensively move them through a standardized curriculum. Doing so might be slower and/or more expensive than what we are doing now, but it would be better.

In an Era Where Education Policy is Nationalized and Board Races are Funded by Outsiders, Politics and Education are Intertwined

December 29, 2017 Leave a comment

In a post she wrote yesterday, Diane Ravitch explained why she finds it necessary to be “political” in her blog on public education. She wrote this in response to her being named the most “overtly political thought leader” in public education in 2017:

If you don’t like bad policies, you have to become political.

If you want change, you have to become political.

If you don’t like decisions made by the U.S. Department of Education or your state legislature, you have to be political.

If you don’t like the idea of turning Title 1 and special education funding into a honey pot for vouchers, charters, and home schooling, you must be political.

If your governor and legislature want to privatize education and destroy the teaching profession, you must be political.

If you want to protect children, teachers, and public schools from profiteering predators, you must be political.

I confess.

I am overtly political.

It is a strange role for a scholar and a historian. I am supposed to observe.

But when you observe malfeasance, fraud, lies, propaganda, corruption, and error, you can’t stand by as a detached observer. You just can’t.

You have to get political, get up, act, raise your voice, fight for what you believe in.

That’s why I am political.

When I launched this blog six years ago, I intended to make it apolitical. My career as a public school Superintendent led me to be apolitical, largely because school board races in the states where I worked were non-partisan and political discourse was counterproductive to achieving the goals of the districts where I worked. Though I served on the legislative committees of my State professional organizations during my first 17 years (1981-1997), I seldom felt that out group was fighting against a national movement that opposed public schools. Indeed, the only “national” bills we opposed in that time frame tended to be ones that national Christian organizations attempted to introduce that would limit the ability of counselors to provide services to children, loosen home schooling regulations, and forbid the instruction of “secular humanism”. We tended to weigh in on financial issues, mandates that would expand our curricula without providing additional funds (i.e. teaching animal husbandry to elementary children; requiring all children to receive first aid training; mandating RNs in each school; etc.), and “local bills” that had potential State-wide ramifications. There was no dark money funding local board elections and no billionaires funding national initiatives like the Common Core… and no one in the White House who sought to nationalize assessments. In effect, despite President Reagan’s effort to politicize public education, despite President George H.W. Bush’s efforts to mobilize volunteers to help public schools perform more effectively, and despite Bill Clinton’s efforts to engage the nation in “reform” by passing Goals 2000, public education remained a local and State level issue.

All that changed with NCLB, which created a de facto national assessment for public schools and a de facto national rating system for public schools. As I came to the end of my career, I was appalled when the Obama administration reinforced the test-driven policies that were embedded in NCLB when he used millions in federal funds to launch RTTT, which required the use of tests as the primary metric for measuring school and teacher performance. As Superintendent in NH, wrote a White Paper on the issue that then Commissioner Ginny Barry shared with my colleagues as a basis for determining a response. After lengthy deliberations, NH decided to opt out of the original applications. Ultimately, NH was one of the last states to sign to RTTT, in large measure because school boards and administrators in our state place a high value on local control and are generally suspicious of any top-down mandates— particularly those that do not come with funding.

After retiring in 2011 I launched this blog intending to refrain from interjecting national political issues. But after reading Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch’s book on the movement to privatize public education, and reading extensively about the trends toward privatization, I found politics creeping into my writing. When Mr. Trump was elected, though, all bets were off… particularly when our current Governor, Chris Sununu, replaced the widely respected Ginny Barry with Frank Edelblut, a businessman-turned-politician with no experience overseeing public schools, no children who attended public schools, and a public record that expressed nothing but disdain for teachers and public education.

I DO find political activism to be frustrating, however. My local State legislators, local House member, and both local Senators are wholly supportive of the letters I write and the positions I take… but they are now foreclosed from having any voice as the GOP drafts legislation behind closed doors. I will persist in being political, though, because to do otherwise is to accept the direction our country is headed… and democracy depends on forcing the doors open when legislation is being written, depends on having one’s voice be heard, and depends on engagement when doors are slammed, ears are closed, and dissent is unwelcome.

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

December 26, 2017 Leave a comment

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.

Astrophysicist Gets It! Standardized Tests Are Driving Instruction… and Driving Creative Teachers Out

December 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s post yesterday linked to a Forbes article by astrophysicist and author Ethan Siegel that bemoans the effect standardized tests are having on teaching. In the article he notes that since NCLB was passed in 2001, teachers in most districts across the country have been focussed on one goal and one goal only: get the test scores higher! As a result some districts have adopted programs that provide scripts for teachers to read to their classes in lieu of improvising based on the immediate feedback they receive from children based on their responses to what the teacher is presenting or the impact of their day-to-day experiences outside of school. The result? The best and brightest and most creative teachers are being driven out of the classroom. As Mr. Siegel writes at the conclusion of his article:

By taking away the freedom to innovate, we aren’t improving the outcomes of the worst teachers or even average teachers; we’re simply telling the good ones that their skills and talents aren’t needed here. By refusing to treat teachers like professionals — by failing to empower them to teach students in the best way that they see fit — we demonstrate the simple fact that we don’t trust them to do a good job, or even to understand what doing a good job looks like. Until we abandon the failed education model we’ve adopted since the start of the 21st century, public education will continue to be broken. As long as we insist on telling teachers what to teach and how to teach it, we’ll continue to fail our children.

Unfortunately, Mr. Siegel is a voice in the wilderness… for ESSA, like RTTT, picks up where NCLB left off. Instead of insisting that test-based metrics be abandoned it reinforces the need for standardized testing but delegates the content to be tested and the nature of the standardization to the states, none of whom are using their new found power to introduce anything new in the way of assessments according to a recent study reported on in Education Week. And so our failure persists….

Former Massachusetts Commissioner’s Agrees With Premise of this Blog… We Need to Change Minds! But Doesn’t Appreciate WHOSE Minds Need to be Changed

December 7, 2017 Leave a comment

An article by Scott O’Connell in yesterday’s Worcester (MA) Telegram and Gazette describes a lecture by former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Paul Reville that called for a change in the mindset of schools, a call that echoes the ideas the set forth in this blog. In the annual Lee Gurel ’48 Lecture in Education at Clark University, Mr. Reville decried the fact that despite decades of effort, a child’s performance in school is still tied to their parents’ income— not just in terms of metrics based on standardized testing, but on virtually every other metric of well being.

“We should work at continuing to improve schools,” he said, explaining that his intent was not to portray the state’s education reform attempts as fruitless. But the data show that “despite our best efforts, we haven’t been able to erase that correlation.”

Instead of continuing practices that have defined reform in Massachusetts over the past two decades – and in many ways perpetuated an “outdated and outmoded” system of education that originated over a century ago, Mr. Reville asked the dozens in attendance Wednesday to consider a “mind shift in the way we think about public education.”

Specifically, he advocated for a more holistic approach to instructing and nurturing students, one that focuses not just on their time in the classroom, but their time outside it as well.

“The goal is right,” he said of the state’s recent efforts to improve its education system. “We’ve got the wrong delivery system.”

He’s on target in terms of the need for a more holistic approach… but off the mark in his concluding analysis of whose minds need to be changed:

“This isn’t a case where we don’t know what to do,” he said. The hard part, he added, is pushing through change in an industry where the people involved are often unwilling at times to abandon the comfort of conventional practices.

The current time provides an opportunity to do just that, however, as local governments take the reins of education reform while the federal government appears to be backing off, Mr. Reville said.

“We’re at a moment where we need to rethink where we’re going,” he said, “We need a new vision.”

I found myself nodding in agreement until this point… and then shaking my head in bewilderment. The people involved in “the industry” do not need to change their minds. Given the opportunity to forge a vision for how to deliver and measure the what constitutes schooling the teachers in the classroom would envision a FAR more holistic approach than preparing students for standardized tests based on age cohorts. Teachers and building level administrators, though, are seldom given the opportunity to consider anything other than conventional practices because of the accountability system put in place by business minded politicians and parents who fear that anything unconventional might result in the diminishment of SAT scores and thereby limit their child’s chances to get into a prestigious college.

Sorry, Mr. Reville: the people whose minds need to be changed are the “reformers” whose practices, in Mr. Reville’s own words “ perpetuated an “outdated and outmoded” system of education that originated over a century ago.” If Mr. Reville wants to change minds and encourage the need for a more holistic approach to public education he should be talking to the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the hedge funders in the state who want to use test scores as the basis for identifying “failing schools” and persuade them that in doing so they will be exacerbating the social and economic divide in this country. 

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

November 15, 2017 Leave a comment

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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