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Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

Diane Ravitch Identifies Root of Problem: BOTH Political Parties are Beholden to Wall Street… and Wall Street LOVES $$$

May 24, 2017 Leave a comment

In a New Republic article published yesterday, Diane Ravitch savages the Democratic Party for its adoption of an educational policy that mirrors that of the conservative Republicans. And this “inconvenient truth” makes it difficult for them to push back on the Trump-DeVos voucher agenda:

Democrats have been promoting a conservative “school reform” agenda for the past three decades. Some did it because they fell for the myths of “accountability” and “choice” as magic bullets for better schools. Some did it because “choice” has centrist appeal. Others sold out public schools for campaign contributions from the charter industry and its Wall Street patrons. Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Party has lost its way on public education. In a very real sense, Democrats paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.

While the “sell out” for campaign contributions is listed last, it rightfully gets the most play in her article as she describes the many candidates who rely on donations from hedge funders who love the idea of replacing publicly governed schools with deregulated privately operated charter schools, emphasizing the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that these charters improve educational opportunity at all.

Her article concludes with a challenge to the Democratic Party: change their position on public education NOW!

The agenda isn’t complicated. Fight privatization of all kinds. Insist on an evidence-based debate about charter schools and vouchers. Abandon the obsession with testing. Fight for equitable funding, with public money flowing to the neediest schools. Acknowledge the importance of well-educated, professional teachers in every classroom. Follow the example of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed a bill to expand charters in March. Or Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who insists that charters employ certified teachers, allow them to unionize, and fall under the control of local school districts. Democrats should take their cue from Bullock when he declares, “I continue to firmly believe that our public education system is the great equalizer.”

There is already an education agenda that is good for children, good for educators, good for the nation, and good for the Democratic Party. It’s called good public schools for everyone. All Democrats have to do is to rediscover it.

And here’s the challenge for all of us who value public education— AND democracy: we need to find a political means of achieving the agenda Ms. Ravitch lays out if the Democratic Party does NOT take on the fight against privatization.

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

May 21, 2017 Leave a comment

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.

 

Who Paid to Support Pro-Charter Board Candidates in LA? The Usual Suspects

May 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Two news stories dominate the education blogs today: the fallout of the LA Board election that gave a majority of seats to pro-privatization candidates (covered in this post) and the DeVos-Trump budget (covered in the later post).

Diane Ravitch had two posts yesterday that had links to articles that dealt with the dark money funding “school reform”. Peter Dreier’s Huffpost article, “Big Money Wins in LA” delineates the huge amounts spent on that election which pitted pro-privatization candidate Nick Melvoin and incumbent Steve Zimmer, specifically identifies the donors to the pro-privatization candidate’s campaign, and briefly describes their backgrounds and home towns:

Among the big donors behind Melvoin and the CCSA were members of the Walton family (Alice Walton, Jim Walton, and Carrie Walton Penner) ― heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune from Arkansas, who’ve donated over $2 million to CCSA. Alice Walton (net worth: $36.9 billion), who lives in Texas, was one of the biggest funders behind Melvoin’s campaign. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflicks (net worth: $1.9 billion), who lives in Santa Cruz, donated close to $5 million since last September to the CCSA’s political action committee, including $1 million a week before the election.

Other moguls behind Melvoin and the CCSA include Doris Fisher (net worth: $2.7 billion), co-founder of The Gap, who lives in San Francisco: Texas resident John Arnold (net worth: $2.9 billion), who made a fortune at Enron before the company collapsed, leaving its employees and stockholders in the lurch, then made another fortune as a hedge fund manager; Jeff Yass, who lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, and runs the Susquahanna group, a hedge fund; Frank Baxter, former CEO of the global investment bank Jefferies and Company that specialized in “junk” bonds; and Michael Bloomberg (net worth: $48.5 billion), the former New York City mayor and charter champion. Eli Broad (net worth: $7.7 billion), who hatched a plan to put half of all LAUSD students in charter schools by 2023 — an idea that Zimmer fought — donated $400,000 to CCSA last Friday, on top of $50,000 he gave in November. He made his money in real estate and life insurance.

Not surprisingly, most of these billionaires are big backers of conservative Republican candidates and right-wing causes. Several are on the boards of charter school chains.

After providing this rundown, Dreier poses the 6.6 million dollar question and offers an insightful answer, one that makes the distinction between “reform” and “privatization”:

What do the corporate moguls and billionaires want? 

They want to turn public schools into educational Wal-marts run on the same corporate model. They want to expand charter schools that compete with each other and with public schools in an educational “market place.” (LA already has more charter schools than any other district in the country). They want to evaluate teachers and students like they evaluate new products — in this case, using the bottom-line of standardized test scores. Most teachers will tell you that over-emphasis on standardized testing turns the classroom into an assembly line, where teachers are pressured to “teach to the test,” and students are taught, robot-like, to define success as answering multiple-choice tests…

The corporate big-wigs are part of an effort that they and the media misleadingly call “school reform.” What they’re really after is not “reform” (improving our schools for the sake of students) but “privatization” (business control of public education). They think public schools should be run like corporations, with teachers as compliant workers, students as products, and the school budget as a source of profitable contracts and subsidies for textbook companies, consultants, and others engaged in the big business of education.

And Dreier emphasizes that one thing the “reformers” did NOT want was someone like Melvin’s opponent, Steve Zimmer, to be on the school board. Why?

Like most reasonable educators and education analysts, Zimmer has questioned the efficacy of charter schools as a panacea. When the billionaires unveiled their secret plan to put half of LAUSD students into charter schools within eight years, Zimmer led the opposition….

Now the billionaires and their charter school operators will have a majority on the school board. LA will become the epicenter of a major experiment in expanding charter schools – with the school children as the guinea pigs.

In the coming weeks it will be interesting to see who turned out to vote for Mr. Melvoin and why the voters decided to put Mr. Zimmer out of office. As noted in a post yesterday, what is most telling is that Arne Duncan came out several weeks ago in support of Mr. Melvoin, advocating a need for a reformer to be elected to the board to allow a change to the status quo. If the likes of Mr. Duncan really sought a change to the status quo they would abandon the reliance on standardized test scores based on groupings of students by age cohorts… the reliance of which results in classrooms that are turned into “…an assembly line, where teachers are pressured to “teach to the test,” and students are taught, robot-like, to define success as answering multiple-choice tests.” That is hardly a change to the status quo: it reinforces the factory model that is failing children and creating failure where success might be possible.

VAM: The Mathbabe Declares The Death of a Bad Idea… But I’m Not So Sure!

May 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Cathy O’Neill, a.k.a the Mathbabe, is now writing a column on the use and misuse of statistics for Bloomberg News. Her latest piece for Bloomberg titled “Don’t Grade Teachers with a Bad Algorithm” opens with this heartening paragraph:

For more than a decade, a glitchy and unaccountable algorithm has been making life difficult for America’s teachers. The good news is that its reign of terror might finally be drawing to a close.

Ms. O’Neill then provides a concise history and analysis of VAM— an acronym for Value Added Model– one that has been offered in earlier posts on this blog but one that bears recounting:

The VAM — actually a family of algorithms — purports to determine how much “value” an individual teacher adds to a classroom. It goes by standardized test scores, and holds teachers accountable for what’s called student growth, which comes down to the difference between how well students performed on a test and how well a predictive model “expected” them to do.

Derived in the 1980s from agricultural crop models, VAM got a big boost from the education reform movements of presidents Bush and Obama. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act called for federal standards, and Obama’s Race To The Top Act offered states some $350 billion in federal funds in exchange for instituting formal teacher assessments. Many states went for VAM, sometimes with bonuses and firings attached to the results.

Ms. O’Neill describes the flaws in VAM, the major one of which was it’s opacity. One of her friends, who was Principal of a school in Brooklyn asked to get a copy of the algorithm when VAM was instituted in NYC and was dismissively told it was unavailable and, anyway, “it’s math, you wouldn’t understand it.” So a building administrator, who was held accountable for the VAM results in her school, was not let in on the way VAM was calculated.

She concluded her article by offering two pieces of evidence supporting her contention that VAM is dead:

Happily, the tide appears to be turning. In 2015, a revamp of No Child Left Behind, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, removed the federal funding incentives that had supported the algorithm. In May 2016, a Long Island teacher named Sheri Lederman won a lawsuit against New York State in which a judge deemed the state’s VAM-based rating system “arbitrary and capricious.” And earlier this month, a group of teachers in Houston, where VAM had been used for firings and bonuseswon a lawsuit in which they successfully argued that the algorithm’s secretive and complex nature had effectively denied them due process.

VAM expert Audrey Amrein-Beardsley told me that the Houston decision, pertaining to the country’s seventh-largest school district, might have a “snowball effect,” influencing the outcome of other lawsuits across the country. Let’s hope so, because teachers deserve better.

While I sincerely hope Ms. Amrein-Beardsley is correct in her forecast of a “snowball effect”, given the inability of politicians to drive a stake through the heart of the Gaffer Curve myth (see my next post), I’m not at all certain this bad idea is dead just yet. Yes, ESSA DOES eliminate the federal funding incentives that supported the VAM algorithm… but there are several states (including NH, the State I reside in) that are led by Governors and legislators who believe in “hard data” provided by standardized tests and love the idea that these tests can prove that public education is “failing”…. and those Governors and legislators will be loathe to abandon simplistic ideas like VAM that demonstrate that “failing teachers” are the ultimate cause of “failing schools”. VAM won’t die until the public is willing to face the facts on public schools… that more money is needed to help the schools that serve the children raised in poverty.

 

Google Making Inroads in Inequity, Innovation, and Instruction… AND Making Profits…

May 14, 2017 Leave a comment

I remember the first time I came in contact with Google. I was working as Superintendent in the late 1990s in an Upstate NY district and had recently hired a Director of Technology to a position I created in order to coordinate our efforts to move ahead in that area. The newly minted administrator came into my office and asked me to enter one word next to the cursor that was blinking on the screen of my terminal… a word he spelled out for me: “G-O-O-G-L-E”. A message box appeared on my screen. He then asked me to type in a question or a phrase. Because we were both Red Sox fans in Yankee territory I typed in the words “Boston Red Sox”… and a series of links to articles about the Boston Red Sox appeared on the screen. We both spent the next half-hour using Google to help us find all kinds of arcane information from journals and periodicals on the web… and since both of us had earned doctoral degrees in the mid 1970s we could immediately see that the world of research was going to change and began forecasting how this kind of rapid access to information could transform schooling.

It’s taken nearly two decades to have some the ideas we came up with come into being… but based on Natasha Singer’s article in today’s NYTimes it appears that Google IS transforming public education and teachers and administrators are making that transformation happen… and the transformation is making it conceivable that despite the lack of an equitable technology infrastructure (roughly 20% of students do not have access to high speed internet in their homes) and despite concerns about data privacy and despite budget challenges, Google is finding a way to meaningfully integrate technology into the classroom.

The article describes how Google circumvented administrative and political roadblocks by working directly with tech savvy teachers and technology directors, providing them with free apps and tools for their schools and classrooms. Those teachers, in turn, recruited colleagues and administrators to use Google applications instead of those clunkier and costlier ones made by Microsoft.

The real breakthrough for Google occurred only five years ago: the Chromebook.

By then, Google had developed a simplified, low-cost laptop called the Chromebook. It ran on Google’s Chrome operating system and revolved largely around web apps, making it cheaper and often faster to boot up than traditional laptops loaded with locally stored software.

Although Google had a business audience in mind for Chromebooks, reviewers complained that the devices were of limited use without internet access.

But there was one interested audience: public schools. In the fall of 2011, Google invited school administrators to its Chicago office to meet (Google’s “evangelist”) Jamie Casap, hoping to interest them in Chromebooks.

Mr. Casap didn’t talk tech specs. Instead, he held the audience spellbound as he described the challenges he had faced as a Latino student growing up on welfare in a tough Manhattan neighborhood.

His message: Education is the great equalizer, and technology breaks down barriers between rich and poor students.

Some critics, me included, would caution against technology as a means of providing the equalizing effect because of disparities in internet access… but Google was aware of that reality and had an answer:

Google was already working on offline capabilities, Mr. Casap said, and ultimately modified its education apps so that students could take their work home on Chromebooks, then upload homework the next day using school Wi-Fi.

Indeed, based on Ms. Singer’s account, one of Google’s greatest attributes was its willingness to listen to concerns of educators and adapt accordingly. Based on her account, Google’s “build-it-first-and-tweak-it-later culture” has adapted to the “bureaucratic school districts with student-protection rules to uphold” and has now understood that before launching a major change it needs to be mindful of the way democratic organizations like school districts function.

The marked increase in the use of technology is remarkable… Now comes the tough change: can the gurus who developed the software making it possible to individualize instruction unlock the age-based grade levels that prevent educators from meeting the unique needs of each child because they must ensure that age cohorts progress in lockstep? Stated differently, can they break the stranglehold of standardized testing that grips the mindsets of politicians from school board members to the USDOE? Here’s hoping they can help launch a grassroots effort among parents in the same way they did among teachers.

Joe Nathan’s Rebuttal to CHARTER School Metrics Should Apply to ALL Public Schools

May 10, 2017 1 comment

A few weeks ago the Fordham Institute issued a report identifying “Three Signs That a Proposed Charter School is at Risk of Failing”. The report found three “risk factors” in approved applications that were significant predictors of a school’s future weak performance in its first years of operation. They were:

  1. Lack of identified leadership: Charter applications that propose a self-managed school without naming a school leader.
  2. High risk, low dose: Charter applications that propose to serve at-risk pupils but plan to employ “low dose” academic programs that do not include sufficient academic supports, such as intensive small-group instruction or extensive individual tutoring.
  3. A child-centered curriculum: Charter applications that propose to deploy child-centered, inquiry-based pedagogies, such as Montessori, Waldorf, Paideia, or experiential programs.

Further, when an application displayed two or more of these risk factors, the likelihood of low performance rose to 80 percent.

In a rebuttal to this report that was printed in the Fordham Institutes blog, Joe Nathan, one of the authors of Minnesota’s charter school laws and a longstanding advocate of charter schools disputed the Institute’s findings based on the fact that their sole metric for determining “success” was standardized test results. Mr. Nathan wants to see a wider range of factors taken into consideration, factors that he presents as “Four Key Questions”:

First, and most importantly, shouldn’t (the Fordham Institute) recognize that the public wisely cares about much more than a school’s “value added” on standardized tests? The short answer is: they should!

Second, what are the best measures to predict success as an adult? Mr. Nathan cites the findings ACT researchers who sought to determine which of four factors best predicted success as an adult: high grades in high school, high grades in college, high scores on their test, and participation in debate, speech, drama, and student government. They found that participation in those extracurriculars best predicted success in adulthood, as they defined it. Given those findings, Mr. Nathan rightfully suggests that this participation rate should be an important factor.

Third, given that schools in a democratic society are not just places to prepare students for work, don’t we want young people to graduate schools with the tools and attitudes needed to be active citizens? The short answer, again, is YES!

Finally, fourth, policymakers, educators, and authorizers should ask: “Do strong assessments exist beyond standardized tests that could help assess what’s happening with students in a school?” In responding to this question Mr. Nathan offers five examples of research-based metrics that are far superior to standardized testing.

Mr. Nathan asserts that Fordham Institute does a disservice to charter schools by limiting their metrics to standardized tests and suggests they broaden their scope of measurement to include other factors. He writes:

Strong reading, writing, and math skills are vital. But Americans wisely want more from their schools. Students, the charter movement, and the broader society will gain if we:

  • Recognize the importance of assessing a broad array of skills and knowledge, not just those that are measured by standardized tests.
  • Refine and encourage use by states and authorizers of valid assessments that measure a broader array of skills and knowledge.
  • Support and encourage development of schools, chartered and otherwise, that help students develop many strong skills and broad knowledge.

Chartering has grown in part because it builds on the fundamental American values of choice within some limits, and the belief that those creating new products and services should expect to be judged on results. 

I tend to begrudgingly acknowledge that the kinds of charters Mr. Nathan supports are needed in order to get US schools out of the rut they are in— away from the factory model and into one that emphasizes the “soft” skills needed to function in the emerging new economy and in a democracy. But I do not think that the drive for charters should be based on the consumerist values of “choice within limits”. Rather, we should drive for better schools based on the egalitarian values that our forefathers envisioned when they founded our government: that all citizens no matter what station they were born into would have an equal opportunity to achieve well being. By basing the charter movement on economic principals instead of egalitarian ideals we are playing into the hands of those who see schooling as job preparation and not a means of developing self-motivated lifelong learners,

Huffington Post Columnist/Contributor ALMOST Gets it Right…

May 8, 2017 Leave a comment

I just finished reading “The Public School System is Rigged Against Poor and Black Children” by Paul Gassaway, a Huffington Post commentator identified as an urban school educator and author and self identified as a “…former public school student, teacher, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent“.  With those credentials and that background, I was not surprised to see the title he chose for his article nor was I surprised to read his scathing assessment of standardized tests:

The emphasis on standardized tests may be the most damaging type of deception that public schools practice. Politicians persistently pressure public school personnel to produce improved standardized test results, which are the main measurement of school quality. This places teachers in a dilemma. They either teach to the test, as often directed by school administrators, or they risk their job security.

But he makes a link between this misuse of standardized tests and the power of unions, a link that I believe is tenuous at best. He writes:

Teachers know that if their students’ tests scores are low, they face the threat of a negative rating or termination. This is one reason they support unions: job security.

Other than collective bargaining, the job of teachers’ unions is basically twofold: increase and retain membership. The more members there are, the more money unions raise by collecting dues, money that can be used to lobby politicians for more and stronger job protections as well as higher salaries. In this scenario, children only matter because each child comes with a dollar amount. That is one reason unions fight against any form of school choice. Parents who pull their children out of public school hurt the unions’ bottom line: money.

In my 29 years of experience I found that the unions I worked with wanted to make sure that when a teacher was disciplined that the teachers received due process. That is, that if they were disciplined or dismissed or non-renewed that the administrators acted fairly and even-handedly. Moreover, in the states where I worked the legislature passed laws that enabled local boards to negotiate language that segregated the funds unions raised to serve local issues from the funds they raised to lobby at the State and local levels. This seemed fair to the unions where I worked because they found that their own members occasionally disagreed with the support for some of the candidates the unions membership wanted. This past election would have been a case in point. Most Democratic Party supporting teachers I know supported Bernie Sanders’ candidacy but the union leadership supported Hilary Clinton. And, contrary to popular belief, not all teachers are Democrats! I believe many teachers would have been resentful to find that their dues went to support a candidate they disliked because of their political positions or political party affiliation.

Mr. Gassaway linking of unions to the anti-charter school movement is also contrary to my experience. Most teachers I worked with have long supported school choice within the public education sphere. Vocational centers, alternative education programs, and specialized learning centers were all supported by teachers unions in districts where I worked. The notion of using limited tax dollars to support a child sitting in front of a computer screen in a storefront or at home, though, would leave virtually all teachers cold, union and non-union teachers alike.

Despite this anti-union slant, though, Mr. Gassaway’s closing observation about the structure of schools is accurate:

There is evidence to support the claim that some charter school leaders pressure children with special needs to attend their local public schools. It is also true that some low-performing children are encouraged to leave charter schools. It is, however, ironic that public school educators speak out against this practice when they are guilty of doing the same. It is harder to detect the push-out strategy in traditional public schools because of their size, particularly in New York City, whose public school system serves slightly over 1 million children…

Unfortunately, in public schools that serve majority of poor and Black children, teachers, parents, and children are used as pawns to perpetuate a system that remains unchanged because of deception, fear, and misinformation.

Had Mr. Gassaway focussed more on the deception, fear, and misinformation that result from the misuse of standardized testing and less on his anti-union rhetoric I would have agreed unequivocally. Moreover, had he examined the relationship between our traditional grouping practices and testing it would have been a more powerful condemnation of the status quo.