Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

Blogger Peter Greene Notes that Neo-liberals and Friedman-ites are Kindred Spirits

February 13, 2018 Leave a comment

In many previous blog posts I’ve lamented the fact that neither Presidential candidate in 2016 offered much in the way of hope for change in public education policy… and when I read Peter Greene, who’s blog Curmudgucation, post yesterday about the Center for American Progress’s (CAP’s) latest white paper celebrating the fact that under ESSA many states are continuing the “reform” initiatives I was even more convinced that was the case. CAP is often help up as a counter to the right wing think tanks funded by the likes of the Koch brothers. But, as Mr. Greene points out, there isn’t much difference between what the neo-liberal “reformers” beloved of CAP want to do to public schools and what the pro-voucher Friedman-ites want to do.

Mr. Greene described the CAP’s leadership under John Podesta as “…a holding tank for Clinton politicians and bureaucrats who were biding their time, cooking up policy advocacy, while waiting for Hillary to take her rightful place in DC”, citing the unyielding support for the Common Core, for state intervention when a district “fails” based on successive standardized tests, and/or the imposition of “alternative governance structures” if the struggles seem to emanate from Board mismanagement. Mr. Greene has particular scorn for the SIG grants that were embraced by the Obama administration, grants that imposed solutions from the top down and prescribed how funds would be used in schools:

We have the results of the School Improvement Grants used by the Obama administration to “fix” schools, and the results were that SIG didn’t accomplish anything (other than, I suppose, keeping a bunch of consultants well-paid). SIG also did damage because it allowed the current administration and their ilk to say, “See? Throwing money at schools doesn’t help.” But the real lesson of SIG, which came with very specific Fix Your School instructions attached, was that when the state or federal government try to tell a local school district exactly how things should be fixed, instead of listening to the people who live and work there, nothing gets better. That same fundamental flaw is part of the DNA of the takeover/turnaround approach.

The “takeover/turnaround” model— like the voucher model— implies that educators and elected community members are incapable of solving the “problems” in a school, “problems” that are defined by stagnant scores on standardized tests that often vary over time. This just in, CAP: the problems children bring with them school have an impact on their schools and need to be addressed in tandem with the academic program.



DC Schools Testing Scandal Proof of the Immutability of Campbell’s Law

February 11, 2018 Leave a comment

For the past several days, report-after-report has emerged from Washington DC where the public schools “fudged” the accountability data they were submitting in a way that made them look good. Here’s an excerpt from one of the latest reports of such “fudging”, which was brought to light by the local ABC station WJLA:

The DC Council Education committee held an accountability hearing with the DC Public Schools Chancellor, the State Superintendent and the Executive Director of the Charter School Board Thursday morning.

An investigative report from WJLA revealed the recording of a DCPS principal, telling teachers that the DCPS central office pressured principals to pass more students,” pointed out Councilmember Robert White.

White referenced a secretly recorded conversation with Roosevelt STAY High School’s principal in 2015 directing teachers to ignore DC attendance law, first reported by ABC7 News Monday.

“Here’s the thing: we have to pass and promote. If we are not then what are we here for? I’m sitting in a meeting to tell the chancellor you’ve got to give me more resources. I can’t sit in the meeting with the chancellor and I’m with big stats in red,” said Principal Young in the recording.

White called the recording, “a clear indication of widespread fraud in DCPS that was only brought to light because of investigative journalism.”

A few days ago, Diane Ravtich wrote a post on the immutability of Campbell’s Law, which was formulated by psychologist Donald Campbell at the end of the 1900s. Here’s the law in its entirety:

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

The Roosevelt STAY High School Principal’s directive to “pass and promote” illustrates the immutability of Campbell’s Law… and here’s the way to avoid Campbell’s Law coming into play: avoid the use of ANY quantitative social indicator for social decision-making. 

This Just In: Parents Education Has Impact on Child’s Success in School… Confirming a Findings from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

When I began my career in the Philadelphia area in the 1970s , the State of Pennsylvania developed a state wide assessment called the Education Quality Assessment that was administered to students across the state. It provided administrators, journalists, and graduate school researchers with a trove of data on correlations between test scores and demographic factors and here was the finding: a child’s success in school correlated highest with the mother’s education and the father’s occupational prestige. Then, as now, occupational prestige and education attainment were correlated, though the correlation is in all likelihood higher today than it was at that time when many men could be factory foremen or even superintendents of factories without a college degree. The conclusion that journalists seem to draw was this: if you teach in an affluent district you are a much better teacher than if you teach in an urban district or an economically distressed rural district.

Now, 40+ years later we have rediscovered this same reality in a slightly different form: Education Week blogger Catherine Gewertz reviewed a recent report from NCES and headlined her findings thus: “First Generation College Students Face Challenges in High School Too“. She summarized the findings as follows:

The report draws on the experiences of more than 45,000 students in three ongoing longitudinal studies. Among those who graduated from high school in 2003-04, only 27 percent of first-generation students took high-level math courses such as trigonometry/statistics/precalculus, compared to 43 percent of their peers with college-educated parents. Only 7 percent took calculus, while 22 percent of the students with college-going backgrounds took calculus.

Forty-four percent of the students with college-educated parents earned college credit through Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, compared to 18 percent of first-generation students.

First-generation students were less likely to choose an “academically focused curriculum,” too, which NCES defines as four years of English, two credits of the same foreign language, three years of math including a course higher than Algebra 2, three years of science including one class higher than general biology, three years of social studies including U.S. or world history.

Students without college-going parents were less likely to finish high school in a given period of time, too. The study shows that 92 percent of first-generation students who were sophomores in 2002 had finished high school 10 years later—by earning a diploma or equivalency credential—compared to 97 percent of peers whose parents had some college experience and 98 percent of those whose parents had bachelor’s degrees.

As one who grew up in a household where both parents had college degrees, headed a similar household, but worked mostly with students whose parents had no college degree as a teacher and administrator, I can attest to the different mindset that college educated parents bring to bear on their children. First and foremost, as a child and parent, there was never a question regarding college attendance other than which college one would attend. As a HS administrators serving parents who mostly lacked college degrees, I witnessed indifference toward seeking entry into college or, in some cases, downright opposition to seeking a degree…. particularly in instances where the student in question was female and aspired to something other than teaching or nursing.

When students lack the push at home to achieve in school, don’t hear the mantra “if you don’t apply yourself you won’t be able to get into college”, or aren’t encouraged to challenge themselves with the courses they take, they will too often take the course of least resistance, which is to avoid tough courses and take only the minimum credits required.

The reality is this: the children of parents who support their academics and understand what is needed to get into college still outshine the children of parents who are indifferent toward academics or are hostile toward schooling altogether. While this might be discouraging news, there is another reality I witnessed in my six years as a high school administrator in the late 1970s: one teacher can really make a difference! If a teacher connects with a child and sees a talent or a spark in that child they can motivate the student to enroll in more difficult courses and to aspire to an education that exceeds that of their parents even if the parents are resistant. In an era where parents can point to many people they know who went to college and never “made it”, making that connection is what is needed… but making those kinds of connections cannot be readily measured on a standardized test like the Education Quality Assessment and so it is undervalued.

Raj Chetty’s Latest Study Demonstrates that High Inequality = Lost Opportunity and “Lost Einsteins”

February 4, 2018 Leave a comment

Early last December when I was on vacation away from the internet I missed an article by NYTimes columnist David Leonardt titled “Lost Einsteins: The Innovations We’re Missing“. In the article Mr. Leonardt describes the most recent research of Stanford professor Raj Chetty, who has done extensive work documenting the effects of income inequality on our country. His latest research examines the impact of income inequality on invention, and the results show that more than half of our students are missing out on opportunities to develop the backgrounds needed to become inventors. Mr. Leonardt, in examining Mr. Chetty’s research and the actions of Congress regarding “tax reform” writes:

The project’s latest paper, out Sunday, looks at who becomes an inventor — and who doesn’t. The results are disturbing. They have left me stewing over how many breakthrough innovations we have missed because of extreme inequality. The findings also make me even more frustrated by new tax legislation that will worsen inequality. This Congress is solving economic problems that don’t exist and aggravating those that do.

The key phrase in the research paper is “lost Einsteins.” It’s a reference to people who could “have had highly impactful innovations” if they had been able to pursue the opportunities they deserved, the authors write. Nobody knows precisely who the lost Einsteins are, of course, but there is little doubt that they exist.

Using tax records and data on the issuance of patents, Mr. Chetty’s research team reached the following conclusions:

  • children who excelled in math were far more likely to become inventors

  • Only the top students who also came from high-income families had a decent chance to become an inventor

  • Low-income students who are among the very best math students — those who score in the top 5 percent of all third graders — are no more likely to become inventors than below-average math students from affluent families

  • Middle-class students have innovation rates closer to that of the poor than the affluent

  • children from the southeastern United States are notably unlikely to become inventors.

  • (innovation rates) are low for African-Americans and Latinos

  • innovation rates are low for women

There are a host of conclusions that could be drawn from these findings. Mr. Leonardt focuses on the clearest and most unarguable ones and concludes:

Our society appears to be missing out on most potential inventors from these groups. And these groups together make up most of the American population.

The groups also span the political left and right — a reminder that Americans of different tribes have a common interest in attacking inequality.

How can we do so? We can stop showering huge tax breaks on the affluent and reinvest the money where it’s needed. We can work to narrow educational inequities.

Mr. Leonardt also offers another possibility drawn from Mr. Chetty’s research: we could offer opportunities for those who have the potential to become innovators with those who already are. Chetty’s research team determined that “Children who grow up exposed to a particular type of invention or inventor are far more likely to follow that path.” Given that finding, it might be possible to develop social networks with role-model-innovators or create mentoring programs that do so.

Mr. Leonardt and Mr. Chetty could be missing a major factor that, based on my experience over the past 15 years, is glaringly obvious. Schools serving affluent students do not worry about the standardized tests that determine whether a school is “failing” and, consequently, spend more time and money on the arts and offer a wider array of electives. It is not surprising that a student who scores well on the math section of a standardized test might lack the same propensity for inventiveness and innovation as any student who attended an affluent school, for the student in an affluent school has been more widely exposed to a wide range of topics, and one important element of innovation is the ability to apply ideas across different modalities of thinking. A student whose curriculum is marly focussed on passing a standardized test might do well on that test but might also lack the opportunity to draw on skills learned in music classes, art classes, or drama. Our emphasis on standardized testing, then, combined with the income inequality exacerbates the innovation gap and adds to our “lost Einstein” population.

I’ll conclude this post with a couple of quotes from an entrepreneur who concurs with Mr. Leonardt’s alarm, and Mr. Leonardt’s closing:

“There are great differences in innovation rates,” Chetty said. “Those differences don’t seem to be due to innate ability to innovate.” Or as Steve Case — the entrepreneur who’s now investing in regions that venture capital tends to ignore — told me when I called him to discuss the findings: “Creativity is broadly distributed. Opportunity is not.”

“We do a pretty good job at identifying the kids who are good at throwing a football or playing a trumpet,” Case said. “But we don’t do a particularly good job of identifying the kids who have the potential of creating a phenomenal new product or service or invention.” We all suffer for that failure.

Minnesota High School Promoting Social Justice Berated for Lower Ranking, Stagnant Test Scores

February 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Two articles in today’s Google Alert for Public Schools excoriate the Edina, Minnesota public schools for their decision four years ago to emphasize social justice (see here and here). Both articles draw from a Weekly Standard article written by Katherine Kersten, a Senior Policy Fellow with a free-market think tank called the Center of the American Experiment, an article that criticizes the school districts decision to place an emphasis on racial inequality. And both articles flag the same quotes from Ms. Kersten’s article:

The shift began in 2013, when Edina school leaders adopted the “All for All” strategic plan—a sweeping initiative that reordered the district’s mission from academic excellence for all students to “racial equity.”

“Equity” in this context does not mean “equality” or “fairness.” It means racial identity politics—an ideology that blames minority students’ academic challenges on institutional racial bias, repudiates Martin Luther King, Jr.’s color-blind ideal, and focuses on uprooting “white privilege.”

The Edina school district’s All for All plan mandated that henceforth “all teaching and learning experiences” would be viewed through the “lens of racial equity,” and that only “racially conscious” teachers and administrators should be hired. District leaders assured parents this would reduce Edina’s racial achievement gap, which they attributed to “barriers rooted in racial constructs and cultural misunderstandings.”

And both articles use standardized test scores to conclude that this emphasis is a failure:

Four years into the Edina schools’ equity crusade, black students’ test scores continue to disappoint. There’s been a single positive point of data: Black students’ reading scores—all ages, all grades—have slightly increased, from 45.5 percent proficiency in 2014 to 46.4 percent proficiency in 2017.

But other than that, the news is all bad. Black students “on track for success” in reading decreased from 48.1 percent in 2014 to 44.9 percent in 2017. Math scores decreased from 49.6 percent proficiency in 2014 to 47.4 percent in 2017. Black students “on track for success” in math decreased from 51.4 percent in 2014 to 44.7 percent in 2017.

The drop was most notable at the high school level. Math scores for black students in 11th grade at Edina Senior High dropped from 31 percent proficiency in 2014 to 14.6 percent in 2017. In reading, scores for black students in 10th grade at Edina Senior High dropped from 51.7 percent proficiency in 2014 to 40 percent in 2017.

And one of the articles indicated that (horror of horrors):

“US News & World Report ranked Edina Senior High as the 4th best high school in the state in 2017 (based on 2014-2015 academic year data), but that’s down from 1st place in US News’ 2014 ranking (based on earlier data). It’s still an outstanding high school but the trend appears to be heading in the wrong direction.

I don’t know if the “All for All” plan is working well or not, because the effectiveness of the plan cannot be measured by the seemingly precise standardized test scores or the US News and World Report’s ranking system that is rooted in test scores. I am certain that when the Edina School Board adopted their strategic plan they did not intend to rely on standardized test scores to determine if their program was effective, for I am certain that the test scores were not the sole factor that compelled them launch the “All for All” initiative. But I am certain of this: the Weekly Standard and the two sites that published these articles— Hot Air and the Independent Women’s Forum are full of articles promoting the kind of libertarian ideas that the Koch brothers hold… and libertarians, contrary to their professed beliefs, are not open minded when it comes to economic and racial equality or the funding equity that “government schools” seek. Here’s hoping that these broadsides fall on deaf ears in Edina… but my hunch after reading about the Koch brothers’ intentions to spend freely to introduce “reform” is that these articles are the beginning of a drumbeat to unseat the “soft-headed” Board members who introduced the idea of social justice and replace them with board members who seek accountability based on hard data.

Given the Choice, 2011 NYTimes Articles Indicates Tech Moguls Choose Waldorf Schools… I’ll Bet They STILL Do Today

January 27, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch shared one of her favorite articles in yesterday’s stream of posts, a NYTimes article from 2011 titled “A Silicon Valley School that Does’t Compute“. The article describes the curriculum offered at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, described as

…one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.

The irony is that this particular Waldorf School attracts the children of several tech magnates who reside in the area, technology experts who intentionally keep devices out of their children’s hands. Why?

“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter, Andie, is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school; his son William, 13, is at the nearby middle school. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”

Mr. Eagle knows a bit about technology. He holds a computer science degree from Dartmouth and works in executive communications at Google, where he has written speeches for the chairman, Eric E. Schmidt. He uses an iPad and a smartphone. But he says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)

The article describes the kinds of activities Waldorf students engage in at each grade level and how Waldorf schools ignore any metrics that involve standardized testing. Waldorf parents, though, are confident that their children will learn the skills needed to succeed given Waldorf’s 94% college placement figures. But how will Waldorf students cope in a Google-world where cell phones and technology are ubiquitous?

And where advocates for stocking classrooms with technology say children need computer time to compete in the modern world, Waldorf parents counter: what’s the rush, given how easy it is to pick up those skills?

“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”

Knowing several Waldorf teachers and several Waldorf students, I believe their mantra might be “WHAT’S THE RUSH? Waldorf Schools batch students by age but allow their skills to develop at whatever pace is comfortable for the child… and they allow the children a lot of freedom in selecting the content they pursue. The notion of slavishly following a curriculum based on test questions tied to an age is preposterous to them.

Could the Waldorf model work in public education? Matt Richtel who wrote the article for the Times seems to infer that it couldn’t be because their results are largely the result of the families who enroll in the schools. He notes that Waldorf students are “…from families that value education highly enough to seek out a selective private school, and usually have the means to pay for it“. In that observation, Mr. Richtel seems to echo the attitude of the “reformers”, who think that instruction driven by standardized tests is good for children raised in poverty but inappropriate for those with the means to attend selective schools. Poor children need to rush… affluent children, not so much…

“Disaster Capitalism” Nothing New in Public Education… Test Scores Lead to “Failing Schools” that Privatization can “Fix”

January 24, 2018 Leave a comment

An article by Common Dreams staff writer Julia Conley titled “Disaster Capitalism in Action as Puerto Rico Governor Announces Plan to Privatize Electrical Services” immediately struck a nerve and raised a question:

  • How is the Puerto Rico Governor’s decision to privatize the electrical services after a hurricane any different than any State Governor’s or city mayor’s decision to privatize public schools after standardized tests indicate they are “failing”?

And these two paragraphs made me even more on edge and raised two more questions:

Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch called the decision “catastrophic” and indicative of the same pattern of the Trump administration prioritizing wealthy companies that aim to take over public services.

“The decision to privatize Puerto Rico’s state-owned power company follows the same dangerous path mapped out in the Trump administration’s draft infrastructure plan,” said Hauter. “Whether it’s water or energy, privatization helps Wall Street at the expense of the wellbeing and health of communities, particularly low-income families and people of color.”

I am far from a fan of the Trump administration, but I do have a two questions for Ms. Hauter:

  • Do you see any difference between “the decision to privatize Puerto Rico’s state-owned power company” and Arne Duncan’s decision to privatize Chicago’s city owned schools because they were “failing” based on standardized test scores? Or Governor Cuomo’s decision to expand Eva Moskovitz’s empire? Or ANY mayor or Governor who decides that privatized deregulated charter schools will solve the problems of “failing government schools” that “everyone knows” are a “disaster”?
  • Do you see either party backing away from Wall Street’s privatizers and advocating more money for State and local governments? Or, stated slightly differently, how is the neoliberal Democratic Party different from the GOP when it comes to advocating for greater role for state and local government, particularly when it comes to their treatment of low income families and people of color?

The drive to privatize public services is a feature of both parties and has been for over two decades. This isn’t a “Trump” issue or a GOP issue. It’s baked into our politics and will be hard to undo as long as corporations are citizens.